The opening of new performing arts venues in the past few years – the National Taichung Theater (NTT), the Cloud Gate Theater, the Taiwan Traditional Theatre Center and, in October, the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) – has made life richer, more complicated and much, much more expensive for dance and theater fans in Taipei, and elsewhere, as the number of programs on offer each weekend has soared.
It has become a logistical, if not physical, impossibility to see everything, so coming up with a year ender “best of” list can truly only scratch the surface of the shows on offer.
However, of the programs I was able to see, there were several standouts: shows that made one giddy with delight, happy to be alive, moved to tears, and sometimes all three at once.
Photo Courtesy of Liu Chen-hsiang
In the dance world, these included productions by acclaimed masters, young choreographers and those in mid-career, as well as artists at the pinnacle of their talent.
Topping the list was Huang Yi Studio’s (黃翊工作室) Under The Horizon (地平面以下) at the Metropolitan Hall as part of the Taipei Arts Festival in October.
Huang Yi (黃翊), now in his mid-30s, is one of a stellar group of first graduates of the Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA, 國立臺北藝術大學) seven-year high school-college program, and he has continued to live up to the promise that led Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門) founder Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) years ago to label him an enfant terrible.
His embrace of computer programming and technology has led to several emotionally touching works, including his choreography for the industrial KUKA robot, but Under The Horizon, a collaboration with Berlin-based Japanese artist Ryoichi Kurokawa and the Nederlands Kamerkoor (Netherlands Chamber Choir), was a finely crafted, richly layered show inspired by the global plight of refugees that reminded audiences that the desire for love and home are universal, as are longing and loss.
NTUA faculty member and choreographer Ho Hsiao-mei’s (何曉玫) New Paradise of Silent Island at the Taiwan Traditional Theatre Center in May perfectly captured the social and cultural changes in Taiwan over the past few decades, while challenging its audiences to cross the barrier between observation and participation.
From the noise and color of temple processions and night markets to the narcissistic and voyeuristic social media-addicted lifestyle of modern society, Ho explored social interactions and the bonds of culture.
Bulareyaung Pagarlava, another NTUA graduate mentored early on by Lin, has moved on from his purely contemporary dance works as he seeks to fuse his training with the heritage and culture of his Paiwan community and those of Taiwan’s other Aborigines for his Taitung-based Bulareyaung Dance Company (布拉瑞揚舞團).
This year’s production, LUNA (路吶), inspired by the Bunun’s polyphonic songs, got off to an uneven start with its premiere at the NTT in May, but by the time it was at the Cloud Gate Theater the following month, it lived up to its potential.
Among the foreign productions this year, there were two stood out, but from opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.
Betroffenheit, created by two Canadians, choreographer Crystal Pite of Kidd Pivot and playwright/actor Jonathon Young of the Electric Company Theatre, launched the 10th Taiwan International Festival of Arts (TIFA) at the National Theater.
A harrowing tale of loss, despair and addiction based on Young’s struggles after the death of his daughter and two of her cousins in a fire turned out to be a powerful affirmation of love and the will to survive, performed by Young and a terrific troupe of five dancers.
Jerome Bel’s Gala at the Zhongshan Hall in August as part of the Taipei Arts Festival, was a celebration of diversity, individualism and inclusivity, but most of all it was just pure fun. Performed by a cast of local amateurs and trained dancers, the show had the audience clapping, cheering and crying, often at the same time.
Another example of the sheer delight that dance performances can be was the Hong Kong Ballet’s (香港芭蕾舞團) Taiwan debut at the end of last month with ALICE (in wonderland) at the at the Taiwan Traditional Theatre Center. It was a joy from start to finish.
The prowess and finesse of highly trained professionals is always on display at the annual Ballet Star Galas produced by Wang Tzer-shing (王澤馨), but this year one dancer really made the June evening at the National Theater memorable.
Royal Ballet principal Marianela Nunez, partnered by Vadim Muntagirov, was absolutely breathtaking in an Act II pas de deux from Giselle, holding her arabesques on pointe for what seemed an impossibly long time without a tremor. So ethereal that her Giselle really was more of a spirit than human, Nunez’s performance was a reminder of just how the powerful the pull of the classic ballet canon can be.
The virtuosity of veteran artists was also on display at the Cloud Gate’s 45th Anniversary Gala Program, which opened its national tour at the National Theater last month, from Chou Chang-ning’s (周章佞) opening solo, to Huang Pei-hua’s (黃珮華) exquisite solo from Moon Water (水月), to the Pollen duet from 2013’s Rice (稻禾) by Tsai Ming-yuan (蔡銘元) and Huang.
The show was also a reminder, although none is really needed, of the depth and range of Lin’s artistic talent and vision, and the audience’s cheers and tears kept calling the full cast back for multiple curtain calls.
With all the dancing going on, it was hard to find time to see non-dance shows, but two that stood out were the Contemporary Legend Theatre’s (當代傳奇劇場) revival of The Water Margin: The Hall of Righteousness (水滸108 II: 忠義堂) at the National Theater in April, the second installment of its “108 Heros” trilogy, and Riverbed Theatre’s (河床劇團) The First Time I Walked on the Moon (當我踏上月球) at the National Experimental Theater in March as part of TIFA.
Contemporary Legend Theatre’s show, a hybrid of jingju (Beijing opera, 京劇) and a rock musical, featured an 18-strong cast that included some of the best young Chinese opera performers in Taiwan and veterans performers, and was simply a blast.
Riverbed’s production was yet another in a long line of visual delights by a company that celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
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