The Franco-Taiwanese collaboration Yo Gee Ti (有機體) returns to the stage of the National Theater tonight for the first of two shows, and it is a production well worth a second look — and definitely something to see if you missed it the first time around.
Yo Gee Ti was commissioned by the National Theater Concert Hall (NTCH) for last year’s Taiwan International Festival of the Arts and premiered on March 2.
The NTCH played matchmaker between two very different men, artists working in disparate fields and born worlds apart: Mourad Merzouki, the Lyon-born founder of the Kafig Company, and London-based Taiwanese fashion designer Johan Ku (古又文), who is famed for his unusual, sculptural knitware.
The production turned out to be probably the most successful of the NTCH’s special festival cross-cultural endeavors, winning praise in Taiwan and good reviews when it hit the festival circuit in France last summer.
Given just about two months to create the piece, Merzouki and Ku — along with set designer Benjamin Lebreton, lighting designer Yoann Tivoli and a rollicking score by the composer’s brother As’n Merzouki — created a show that turns dance and textiles into a visual and artistic feast.
The cross-cultural blend extended to the performers as well, with Merzouki selecting five of his French hip-hop dancers and then five modern dancers from Taiwan, who coincidentally all turned out to be graduates of the National Taipei University of the Arts’ dance department.
Yo Gee Ti means “organism” in Mandarin. This is somewhat fitting because the production is an organic interweaving of dancers, techniques, costumes, set and music that becomes a polished whole.
Ku’s costumes and craft inspired Merzouki, whose choreographic patterns mimicked elements of knitting, weaving and sewing, with group pieces in which the dancers move and overlap with mechanical precision, their legs as pointed as knitting needles. Sometimes the costumes and set constrain the dancers — such as a segment with where the dancers emerge from knitted tubes — while other times the dancers use Lebreton’s curtains of suspended lengths of yarn to cloak themselves or playfully braid them into patterns.
The mood of the piece often shifts — for the most part seamlessly — as the choreography changes from frenetic and athletic hip hop to quiet, almost meditative movements, from group pieces to duets and back again.
While there is a strong contrast between the French hip-hop dancers and their Taiwanese colleagues, physically and stylistically, Merzouki’s choreography gives them the opportunity to shine both as individual threads and as a tightly woven team.