Beauty and despair in student performance

The four works on the TNUA Dance Department’s summer concert were a challenge for the students, who proved their mettle

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 14

Experience pays off was the lesson I took from Saturday night’s performance of Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA, 國立臺北藝術大學) School of Dance’s annual summer concert, for both the choreographers and the dancers.

As always, I was struck by the high level of technical skill, and the ability of the young dancers to handle the demands of very different choreographic styles — and sometimes contortionist movements.

To give all the students a chance to perform in the concert, there were two casts for each work. Saturday night’s show, which I saw, featured the second casts for all but the opening work, but there was nothing second-rate about their performances.

While the highlight of the Muted Spring concert program, and rightly so, was the restaging of Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian’s 1980 masterpiece Soldier’s Mass, which he created for the Nederlands Dans Theater, I was most impressed by Ho Hsiao-mei’s (何曉玫) renaissance of its ashes (極相林), the first piece on the program.

Set to extracts of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Symphony No.3, Op. 36) and Terra Tremuit The poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ Templar Chants, renaissance of its ashes is a beautiful work for eight dancers, clad simply in flesh-toned leotards, one that tests their physical abilities and their musicality.

The slow measured pace and liquid movements of the dancers as they furled and curved their bodies over and around one another or the platform on which they danced was sensual and hypnotic.

The dance was also completely different from Ho’s previous works that I have seen, whether for her own troupe, MeimageDance (何曉玫MeimageDance), or other productions, such as the brilliantly colored, raucous and fun New Paradise of Silent Island (默島新樂園) at the Taiwan Traditional Theater Center’s Experimental Theater the previous weekend.

Ho left the audience wanting more, and the good news is that renaissance of its ashes is the first part of a longer work that should be finished in time for the dance department’s fall concert in November. I cannot wait.

However, the next two works on the program suffered from the inexperience of their choreographers, who let them drift long after they had interesting things to say, or watch. Both pieces could do with some judicious editing to bring them down to 20-minutes, or less.

South Korean Lee Jeoung-yun’s From Inside, was helped immeasurably by the music and lighting provided by AudioBanan, but every time it appeared to be reaching an end point, it didn’t. After about the third one, I gave up trying to figure out what Lee’s message might have been.

However, his use of large fans, both as mask/headdresses and props for his 20 dancers, was visually striking and added an occasional touch of humor. Hsu Li-en (徐立恩), Hsieh Chih-ying (謝知穎) and Tseng Ai (曾嬡) did a fine job of leading their fellow dancers in the piece.

Also visually striking, at least initially, was Su Shu’s (蘇淑) Chasm (出), which opens quirkily with most of the 14 dancers standing with their backs to the audience and half-hidden by the lowered front curtain, poking their heads through their legs and making a variety of faces.

Unfortunately for them, Su then made them spend most of the rest of piece either bent over, hands on the bottoms of their legs, or bent halfway backwards, scrabbling about like a gaggle of arachnids, including two that were walked by a third dancer as if they were large leashed pets.

I kept thinking that Chasm looked like something film director David Lynch might create, if his forte was choreography.

While I admired the suppleness of the dancers, my back twinged in sympathy for theirs, and I felt that, no matter its length, this is a work that could only be performed by very young dancers. Anyone older would revolt.

Kylian’s Soldier’s Mass for 12 male dancers, set to Bohuslav Martinu’s Field Mass, was a classic example of his elegant style and mastery of patterning.

It is a great test for young students, and the cast I saw were all in their first or second year at the university, so their lack of experience showed in a few places.

Overall, however, the young men acquitted themselves admirably, and provided a fitting end to what was a fairly strong concert program.