Feng Dance Theatre: Planting Orchid
Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei, Taiwan;
April 18, 2015
Last year, (Dominique) Yen Feng-Hsi’s (顏鳳曦) Tainan-based Feng Dance Theatre (風乎舞雩) company picked up good reviews as part of the Taiwan Season at the Edinburgh Fringe for the double-header, Kid Box (孩子磁場, 箱子), which explored relationships between people, and people and their environment.
It’s a theme that is continued in Yen’s Planting Orchid (栽種關係), the flower of the title, and indeed the potted orchid on stage, being a metaphor for love and relationship between two people; something that just as equally requires a seed planting, then care to make it grow and bloom.
Linking everything together is Yang Hsiu-ju (楊琇如), a slightly mysterious, enigmatic figure in black; a ‘gardener’ or perhaps Eros, who looks after the flower and the leading couple carrying variously a bucket, spade and watering can, and to quite literally at times water and nurture the human love. Maybe it was the theatre set-up, but it was unfortunate that there were times when whatever it was she was doing on the floor was happening so close to the front row that anyone sitting more than a couple of rows back couldn’t see what was going on.
The lead couple (the ‘lovers’ if you prefer), Lin Chun-yu (林俊余) and Huang Wei-lun (黃偉倫), are dressed all in white, which can be read as a reflection of innocence or purity. Their relationship parallels what can be seen as the gardening year: spring and summer blooms, autumn gales and winter chill.
Unsurprisingly, Lin and Huang get the dance highlights, most notably an impressively staged duet that sees them dance out an autumnal argument on and around a sofa. It is full of pushes, shoves and gestures that needed no explaining. Lin and Huang don’t speak but they don’t need to. You can easily imagine what is being said.
That dance is good, but the most striking scene comes later when the relationship winter arrives and love goes into deep freeze. To the sound of a howling winter wind, the potted orchid is put away in the cupboard, and Lin stands on a chair as if frozen into a block of ice as Yang slowly dismantles the set and takes it to the wings. Her face is a picture of emptiness, although one senses her mind is a maelstrom of emotions, her partner having seemingly abandoned her. The scene is perhaps a little long, but it’s a classic “less is more” and holds the attention remarkably well. It would have made a memorable end, but the message of the piece is that love triumphs adversity, and so spring comes, the sun returns, and all is well with the world.
Rather less convincing is some miming of eating, drinking and reading. Quite why Yen chose not to use real props is unclear.
Backing up the lead roles are the also white-clad trio of Wang Xiu-shan (汪秀珊), Cheng Wan-chen (張菀真) and Kan Han-hsing (甘翰馨). An early prolonged section sees them exploring the various items of white furniture scattered around the stage, most notably climbing on and through a shelving unit. They can be seen as spirits embodying the moods and feelings of the others, but their choreography is very one-paced and they tend to be overused. During the sofa duet in particular they distract considerably from the main action.
In fact, much of the piece is one-paced. Planting Orchid is always pleasant on the eye and ear, but it’s too pleasant. I admire the gentleness and evenness, and the slow clearing of the set is daring indeed – speed it up and the effect would be lost – but equally I can’t help feeling that a little more variation, tone and colour in the dance would not go amiss. The whole cast are excellent, but somehow it all seems too beautiful, too light, and with too little depth, although it has to be said that the typically dreamy music by Einaudi does not help any.