Horse’s (驫舞劇場) production of Three Men on a Horse at Novel Hall over the weekend was a revelation. The show provided a side to the work of all three men involved — American choreographer Eliot Feld and Horse cofounders Chen Wu-kang (陳武康) and Su Wei-chia (蘇威嘉) — that has not been seen before in Taipei.
For those who know of Feld’s work mostly from his ballets, the five pieces on the program showed more of his modern dance side. For Chen and Su, who usually dance as part of their collective troupe, it was a chance to show their individual talents, especially for Chen, who demonstrated a tightly controlled technique that is usually reserved for his performances with Feld’s group in New York City.
The show opened with Zeppo, subtitled “an Intermission in 3 Acts) Act 1,” which Su first performed here in 2010. The piece begins with the stage completely bare except for the exposed lighting apparatus — and the two stagehands standing atop elevated lifts to control the spotlights. Then Su entered, clad in a white long-underwearish style costume, with big black buttons, black and white striped socks with garters and a black bowler hat.
Zeppo is a delightful 10-minute piece, set to the music of Les Paul and Mary Fordy that is at turns comedic and melancholy, and really gives Su a chance to shine. It was wonderful to have the chance to see it again, and Su appeared more confident and expansive in the role this time around. He lept, he bounced, he executed some pretty fancy footwork. While the title makes reference to the fourth brother of early US film comics The Three Stooges, Feld said he was actually inspired by the character Pozzo, from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Earlier this year Feld expanded on Su’s Zeppo characters to create Zeppo Act 2, which Su premiered at the Joyce Theater in New York in June. It is set to four songs by Louis Armstrong. It takes off where part I ends, though much more lighthearted overall, starting with the very “bare all” beginning. Su held the stage alone, helped along only by a black umbrella, which sometimes doubled as a propeller.
Zeppo Act 3: Mr. XYZ as in Zeppo is set to Leon Redbone songs, beginning with Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone, and gives Su a chance to play around with a cane, a dressmaker’s form on a wheeled platform and a rolling chair. At the very end of the piece he is joined, very briefly, by seven women.
Feld obviously enjoyed working with Su, whom he praised for working so hard at rehearsals.
“He always shows up three hours early,” Feld said.
Chen’s two solos were much, much darker, especially the first one, the 30-minute Undergo, set to a soundscape of vocalizations created by Aaron Copp. The piece begins with Chen tightly curled atop a black box, his costume a kind of cut-out black leggings. Slowly he begins to uncurl, flexing and stretching parts of his body — a hand here, then a leg, then his torso — until he is standing fully upright. At that point he steps off the box, which moves offstage, and walks over to a large sheet of plastic and lies down underneath it. Lit from the side by a single lamp, Chen goes through a wave of motions, his body just barely visible through the plastic, looking akin to a caterpillar moving within a translucent chrysalis. The insect image is reinforced by the very fast rat-a-tat-rat-a-tat sounds from a woman’s throat.
The final transformation involves a long piece of some form of plasticized paper, which hangs from the rafters on a roller. Chen grabs hold of the end of the paper that is hanging down from the roller and pulls it out diagonally until the paper drops free of the roller. He then lies down on the end and begins to gather the paper over and around his body, moving like some amorphous creature from a science fiction film. The audience catches a glimpse of an arm or a leg, but otherwise Chen is completely concealed, blending in with the paper to the extent you could not tell where he left off and the paper began.
In the 10-minuteTransit, set to composer Michael Gordon’s Weather Three (Sirens) — Chen again must perform within the confines of a prop, only this time it is a large, upright wooden box, pegholed in the back. Short metal rods are placed in an apparent random pattern in about a score of the holes.
Chen begins the piece tightly balled up in the upper right-hand corner of the box. By the end, he is tightly curled in the lower left-hand side. To get from point A to point B, he must manipulate his body over and through the rods, often with his head hanging down, occasionally stretching full out horizontally, or on a downward diagonal, or in an upside down crucifixion pose.
About halfway through the piece I realized that Chen’s goal was to make it to point B; the only question in my mind was whether he would make it there before the annoying air-raid siren sounds drove me crazy. Luckily for me, Chen made it first.