Challenging times make for great performances

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 13

The dance portion of the National Theater Concert Hall’s (NTCH) 10th Taiwan International Festival of Arts has gotten off to a rousing start with two programs that pleased their audiences even as they challenged them. For those who took a chance on one or both shows, the shows were proof that you cannot judge a show by its programs notes.

Betroffenheit, a collaboration between Vancouver-based choreographer Crystal Pite of Kidd Pivot and playwright/actor Jonathon Young of the Electric Company Theatre, was never going to be an easy sell, given it was inspired by the nightmare that enveloped Young following the death of his only daughter and two of her cousins in a holiday cabin fire, which he turned into a story about a drug addict’s battle to survive depression and guilt.

A work about death and guilt so soon after Lunar New Year holiday was apparently a turn-off to many, but it proved to be a powerful affirmation of love and human will to survive.

In the first act, set in a bleak, dismal room surrounded by a back void, where cables move like snakes — an apt representation of Young’s anguish and depression — he keeps reliving events in a conversation with himself.

The room is invaded by five dances — the amazing Jermaine Spivey as Young’s tormenting alter ego, Tiffany Tregarthen, David Raymond, Christopher Hernandez and Cindy Salgado, clad in a mix of circus-like outfits and clownface — who lip sync and project Young’s words through movements both fluid and contorted; they are the physical representation of the fracturing of Young’s mind, of his pain.

In Act Two, the wordplay is largely replaced by pure dance across a stage split by a floor-to-ceiling pillar, with amazing solos and duets that highlighted the versatility and prowess of the dancers, now clad in casual pants and tops. Dancing through Young’s pain, joined occasionally by him, they remind us that that physical activity can help alleviate depression and anxiety, and that where there is movement, there is life.

In the end, Young realizes that he cannot escape his memories, pain, guilt or regrets, but he can learn to live with them.

Betroffenheit is an emotionally wrenching show that leaves the audience marveling at all six performers ability to go through it time and time again, but makes you glad you saw it. Like Young’s memories of his loss, it is a show that will stay in your mind for years to come.

I was also glad to see Su Wen-chi’s (蘇文琪) Infinity Minus One (從無止境回首) at the National Experimental Theater the following weekend, even though there are flaws, not the least of which was the deafening pitch of the soundscape toward the end.

Infinity Minus One is part two of Su’s “Rainbow Trilogy,” inspired by a residency at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). It is supposed to be about representing a particle and the universe in human terms and in terms of physical energy, though I’m not sure how.

However, her all Indonesian cast — former Cloud Gate 2 (雲門 2) dancer Danang Pamungkas and Luluk Ari Prasetyo, and the members of the experimental musical duo Senyawa, Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi — were terrific.

Shabara’s vocalizations — a mix of breathing and guttural chantings — created an otherworldly environment while Suryadi added a metal, electronic element, although he got so loud that I stuck a finger in my good ear in an attempt to save my hearing.

Pamungkas was a joy to watch, right down to his delicate hand gestures. A lot of his movements reflected elements of traditional Javanese court dances and I wondered if those isolationist, nuanced moves were supposed to be the particles against a universe created by Prasetyo’s broader steps, since little else connected the two men until the end, when they danced as a pair.

Laser beams shot out at intervals, but did not add much to the show except to remind the audience that Su was impressed by CERNS’s Cloud Chamber, which helps visualize the passage of ionizing radiation.

However, once I stopped trying to decipher Su’s message and just watch the show, it got more enjoyable.

There are sold-out performances of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s Nelken this weekend and Dance Forum Taipei’s (舞蹈空間) collaboration with Spanish choreographer Ivan Perez, Becoming, in the Experimental Theater the following weekend.

There are still tickets available for all four performances of Becoming.