Thu, Nov 08, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Where did all the years go?

Ku Ming-shen is known in Taiwan for her promotion of contact improvisation, but as her company marks its 25th anniversary, she says she is still trying to create something different

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Ku and Dancers are celebrating their 25th anniversary this weekend with YI XI WEI, a double bill featuring a new work by founder Ku Ming-shen by the same title and 2018 , a contact improvisation piece, at the Wellspring Theater in Taipei.

Photo courtesy of Ku and Dancers

Choreographer and dance professor Ku Ming-shen (古名伸) is marking an unexpected birthday this weekend, the 25th anniversary of her troupe Ku and Dancers (古名伸舞蹈團).

“Personally I don’t feel excited,” she said in a telephone interview last month. “Where did all the years go?”

Twenty-five is an anniversary she never anticipated celebrating, since she never set out to form a troupe, and even in 1993, it was created on the spur of the moment — more for financial reasons than artistic.

“I just presented my work, never thought of having a company. Then my staff told me that [the government’s] policy had changed, you had to have a tax number to get funding,” she said.

“I thought of finding a unique, beautiful name, but didn’t have time. Then I thought of New York choreographers who have companies with their own names, like Merce Cunningham, so I just went with my name,” she said.

“A company is like a promise, like having a child … it must be true love, otherwise it’s too much trouble, too much difficulty, too much responsibility,” she said.

Her anniversary program, YI XI WEI (夷希微的凝視) is a double bill, to represent the two lines she has taken.

Ku did her first contact improv performance 26 years ago, as part of a concert program with US dancer/choreographer Steve Paxton, the founder of contact improvisation.

“Every night I dressed up in a costume, soldier, surgeon, cook, basketball player; I talked, the characters became a kind of metaphor. I got into more and more contact improv … then merged my choreography and contact improv, like parallel lines,” she said.

“I love improve, it represents true life,” she said.

Ku took the title, YI XI WEI, from chapter 14 of Lao Tzu’s (老子) Tao Te Ching (道德經), which begins: “Look, it cannot be seen, so it is called invisible. Listen, it cannot be heard, so it is called soundless. Touch, it cannot be caught, so it is called elusive. These three cannot be examined, so they unite into one.”

She said the piece is about weight and gravity, with the dancers balancing on a 3m by 3m wheeled board, so it is always moving.

“I tried to find some movement to show how people survive when their foundation is not stable, and to show how the perspective of a choreographer and audience different, how everyone sees a work through their personal history,” she said.

The second half of the program, DECODE 2018, is an improvisational work, “to show what company really believes in,” she said.

Ku said creating the second piece was a big challenge for company, because she is using 11 dancers, several more than normal.

The dancers cover the spectrum, she said, with some in their 20s, some 30s, 40s, “and Chris [Chu, 朱星朗] and I in our 50s.”

“If dancers all look the same I don’t like it. It’s an aesthetic choice,” she added.

Ku said she feels her company is very special because the dancers do not change very often, so it is like family.

“Chris has been with me 25 years,” she noted.

“We met regularly, not just for productions. We know each other’s personalities, their families, how to deal with differences, we embrace like family, that’s what special,” she said.

The key is trust, she said, it is the foundation of the troupe.

“We don’t worry about what’s next, we know the person behind you will back you,” she said.

This story has been corrected since it was first published to show that 2018 is the 25th anniversary of the company, not 20th. The Taipei Times regrets the error.

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