National Theater, Taipei, Taiwan; December 27, 2013
An incredibly busy month for dance in Taipei drew to a close with an excellent and enjoyable double bill in the National Theater’s main house, “1+1” comprised “Wings of Desire” (蒼穹下) by Yao Shu-fen (姚淑芬) and her Century Contemporary Dance Company (世紀當代舞團), and “My Dear” (親愛的) by Ho Hsaio-mei (何曉玫) and Meimage Dance (玫舞擊).
“Wings of Desire” piece was inspired by Wim Wenders’ 1987 film of the same name about invisible, immortal angels who live in Berlin, listening to and comforting the city’s inhabitants who are in distress. Yao’s dance certainly has a cinematic sweep, helped in no small part by the involvement of collaborators German opera director Thilo Reinhardt and videographer Chang Hao-jan (張皓然), whose stunning footage also backs Lin Hwai-min’s “Rice” for Cloud Gate.
The work includes several references to the film, perhaps most obviously in references to a circus. In the movie, one of Wenders’ angels, Damiel, falls in love with a profoundly lonely circus trapeze artist named Marion. One scene sees one of the dancers throwing herself from an ever increasing height off a stepladder, a nod to Marion’s dicing with death. There is some clever interaction with the projections, most notably when the dancers appear to clamber up a building, leap between and dance on window ledges.
Yao and her dancers explore human memory, sometimes happy, sometimes decidedly down. A constant presence, even when she is not on stage, is her ‘angel’, the diminutive, white-haired Liu Da-yuan (劉大元). Incredibly, Liu does not have a performing background. Reinhardt suggested to Yao that she should look for an older adult with childlike presence. She found him by chance one day when travelling on the Taipei metro. When onstage, Liu rarely does much but walk around, often referring to a book, yet he always has such force. His innocence and that of the two delightful young children (aged just three and five) who put in an appearance, is in contrast to the emotional baggage, embodied memories and sensuality of the rest of the cast, who are equally convincing.
Like the Tung and Su pieces at TNUA, “My Dear” started life at ArtsCross. Against a striking white set of various slopes and ledges designed by Taiwanese modern paper-cutting artist Jam Wu (吳耿禎) and inspired by some of Ho’s own readings, it explores the fleeting nature of emotions. Surely referencing recent difficulties in her personal life, shadows and reality, intimacy and conflict are never far from the surface.
As with “Wings of Desire”, the imagery in “My Dear” is sharp throughout. It opens (and closes) with the dancers in stylish mackintoshes that they variously take off and put back on in between dancing a series of solos and duets. The coat represents a barrier to the inside being. Only when it is taken off, is the real person, and his or her real feelings, revealed. Towards the end there is an arresting image of a couple of centaur-like parings, one dancer, facing backwards and bent over double, forming the hind legs for another dancer perched above on his lower back.In between, mostly clearly delineated sections come and go as if one is reading pages in a diary, remembering events past. The mood is intensely personal. Scenes reflect caring friends and lovers, trusted partners, lovers, a worrying son, but most memorably, arguments and shouting at oneself in the dark. A little surprisingly, the interesting set is not really used until towards the end when dancers throw themselves at it, hang on its ledges and slide down its slopes.
There is a lot here, and Ho clearly has much she wants to say. Perhaps it’s a little too much, for the work occasionally loses its way in the middle sections, although it does always find itself again.