Dreams of space and love

Two enjoyable productions for the Taiwan International Festival of Arts this past weekend explore some connected themes with drastically different outcomes

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Mar 14, 2018 - Page 13

The two shows performed the National Theater last weekend as part of the Taiwan International Festival of Arts, both by well-loved troupes, were connected by images from the past and their explorations of longing, although vastly different in scale and execution.

Upstairs in the Experimental Theater, Riverbed Theatre’s (河床劇團) new production The First Time I Walked on the Moon (當我踏上月球) was inspired by childhood dreams of exploration, of being freed from the gravity of reality to venture into new realms.

It was yet another great visual treat by the company famed for its image-based theater of the subconscious.

Downstairs on the main stage, a field of fake carnations provided a carpet for Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s performances of Nelken (Carnations), which is about the longing for love in an often oppressive world.

Riverbed director Craig Quintero said his show was about the desire to escape from the monotony of everyday life, the desire for the magical and the miraculous.

He used images and broadcasts of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon as a starting point for the show.

The company usually seeks to draw its audiences in closer by creating almost an claustrophobic intimacy with the performers, as with its One-thousand circles for space travel (千圈之旅) homage to Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, or its “Just for You” series of one-on-one shows.

With The First Time I Walked on the Moon, Quintero sought to impose a distance, creating a four-sided seating area for about 60 people that was raised more than 3m above the stage floor, so that the audience looked down at the performers in the square well.

The four-sided set was basic, though it included Riverbed’s standard hidden doors and secret wall pockets, but it meant the floor could be used for amazing video projections created by Su Hui-yu (蘇匯宇), Lan Yuan-hung (藍元宏) and Huang Wei-hsuan (黃偉軒) that ranged from multi-TV screen grids, to huge melting faces to a lunar landscape.

The show was much more text-based and multi-media than Riverbed’s previous works, but there was the usual dreamy slow-pace moves, silent communications between characters, and weirdness — how many slices of half-eaten bread can one woman stuff in her mouth? I lost count at 11.

The cast was led by Vera Sung (宋孟璇) and Chung Li-mei (鍾莉美) and included Liu Yu-tsen (劉郁岑) Dan Chang (張佳芝), Hsu Jia-ling (許家玲), Lin Hui-chieh (林慧潔) and Chen Yi-hsuan (陳怡瑄).

Riverbed’s shows tend to sell out within hours and The First Time I Walked on the Moon sold out months ahead of time.

However, the company’s next project, a very short “Just For You” work, Ventriloquism, is scheduled for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei at the end of this month. There will be 10 shows daily from March 26 to March 30, from 1pm to 4:40pm.

The company plans to formally announce the show tomorrow and ticketing is to open on Monday. For more information, check the company’s Facebook site.

I missed Nelken when the troupe performed it in Taipei in 1997, though I have seen most of its other Taipei shows since then.

Nelken, which premiered in 1982, seemed to feature even less dance that usual for a Bausch work. It begins with a man standing in the middle of the blooms giving a sign-language translation of George Gershwin’s The Man I Love and ends with a line of dancers repeating a series of gestures as they weave back and forth along the now well-trodden flowers.

If it is about love, it is also about violence.

Dark-suited stunt men appear with guard dogs along the perimeter of the carnations, repeatedly standing atop a table and falling off of it as they move the table ever closer to a seated woman, who reacts physically and vocally to each fall, even though the men never touch her. It is an apt depiction of the emotional violence and coercion that the #MeToo movement has highlighted.

Then there is Dominique Mercy’s character, who occasionally demands stops another performer to demand their papers.

In between, men dressed in badly fitted dresses cavort among the flowers like rabbits, there are a number of children’s games, and a woman clad in just underpants with an accordion strapped across her chest carefully picks her way through the flowers.

Like Riverbed’s shows, sometimes you just have to stop thinking about Bausch’s message and enjoy the performance.

The Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch is now in Taichung, where they will perform Nelken at the National Taichung Theater, staring tomorrow night. There are still tickets available for tomorrow, but Friday night’s show and Saturday’s matinee are sold out.