Wed, Oct 09, 2019 - Page 13 News List

REVIEW: Soaring singers and crisp choreography

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Fura del Baus’ production of Richard Wagner’s Gotterdammerung concludes the National Taichung Theater’s The Ring of the Nibelung cycle. The final performance is tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of Eva Ripoll / Fura del Baus

The National Taichung Theater’s (NTT) “ Fall for Great Soul” series has gotten off to a very strong start with two terrific shows — Dance Forum Taipei’s (DFT, 舞蹈空間) Dance Force, and the final installment of Fura del Baus’ The Ring of the Nibelung cycle, Gotterdammerung.

DFT is marking its 30th anniversary this year, and founder Ping Heng (平珩) invited frequent collaborator, Japanese choreographer Toru Shimazaki, to be part of the celebrations.

Shimazaki and Ping put together a mixed bill program for the two NTT shows on Sept. 28 and 29 — which were followed a few days later by two more performances in Taipei — featuring three of his works, performed by his own group, Team Shimazaki Star Dance as well as the Taipei troupe’s members.

The first piece, 2014’s Zero Body (零極限) was performed by DFT in 2016 to great success and it was wonderful to be able to see it again, although this time performed by Japanese dancers, who crisply executed Shimazaki’s rippling pattern of movements.

South (南之頌), from 2015, was inspired by the music and cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and set to music by Sanpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw, the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe and others, and Shimazaki incorporated some traditional dance elements into the work. Performed by 11 DFT dancers and one Japanese, it was an introspective work featuring duets, solos and group movement that soared along with the music.

In the blink of an eye (瞬舞力), which premiered in 2016, was the final work on the program and it was easy to see why.

Set to music by Radiohead, Tom Waits and Murcof, it is a pounding piledriver of a piece, relentlessly pushing the 12 DFT dancers along lines and around circles on the floor.

It was as exhilarating to watch as it must have been exhausting to perform.

Equally exhilarating was NTT premiere of Gotterdammerung on Friday last week.

Somewhere in the afterlife my father, a huge opera lover, must be laughing at the idea that I would not only sit through a five hour-plus production of a Wagner opera, but enjoy it.

The Catalonia-based Fura del Baus is famed for its massive spectaculars, and its Ring productions, which premiered in Spain between 2007 and 2009, have been no exception.

Franc Aleu’s video projections of roaring flames, flowing water, spilling blood, mountains, glaciers and the Earth isolated in space were enhanced in Taichung by the NTT’s use of a loaned Japanese projector, so new that it is not even on the market yet, which provided brilliant color and crispness to the imagery.

Canadian tenor Lance Ryan, who was the original Siegfried in the Spanish productions, reprised his role and his acting ability allowed him to be convincing no matter what costume he was wearing, which was equally true of British soprano Rachel Nicholls as Brunnhilde and Estonian Lauri Vasar as Gunther.

The costuming was as bizarre as the sets, ranging from a Bronze Age hunter to 20th century suits to Steampunk bridal gowns.

As I had not seen the earlier Ring productions, it took me some time getting used to seeing the three Rhinemaidens, garbed in bathing suits, clear plastic boots and breastplates, each suspended their own hanging aquarium, among other usual features.

While the visual imagery and staging sometimes threatens to steal the limelight from the cast, they are surely what attracted a large contingent of young people raised on video games and Hollywood blockbusters to Friday’s show, not a bad thing in terms of helping build audience for Western opera — in Taiwan or elsewhere.

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