C Venues C, Edinburgh, UK; August 20, 2014
Interdisciplinary exchange is integral to the artistic ethos of Macau’s Point View Art Association (點象藝術協會). And that was certainly to the fore in parts, at least, of “Playing Landscape 7.0” (玩·風景 – ‘7.0’ because, just like software, there have been previous ‘releases’ going back to 2008) in which ink, water, movement and theatre come together in Taiwanese director Chiang Chen-yun (蔣禎耘) and choreographer Lee Pei-jung’s (李佩融) pleasantly engaging work.
“Playing Landscape” opens with shiny black material covering the floor, and the four dancers. It really does look like someone has poured a huge vat of ink over the stage. As it is pulled off, it reveals the four dancers in skin coloured underwear, making them appear naked.
In the sections that follow immediately, the fluid movement in Lee’s choreography makes clear connections with some beautiful film of the contemporary Chinese ink art of Macao-born now Beijing-based artist Cindy Ng (吴少英) that is projected onto hanging scrolls of paper that form the backcloth. A soundscape of droplets falling adds to the atmosphere. The way the dancers replicate the splashes and ripples of ink is particularly impressive.
As the work unfolds, the cast (now dressed in everyday clothes) traverse real and imaginary in various landscapes that depict events past and hopes for the future, in doing switching the pace from fast to slow and back again at regular intervals. There’s also plenty of use of props, including umbrellas, flowing fabric, bowls of water and that those hanging strips of paper. Sometimes the events and hopes are depicted quite realistically, Mostly though, it’s more abstract, and often difficult to see much beyond the movement itself.
In general, the dancers work as two couples, but while there is always a physical connection, emotion and feeling are generally absent. There are exceptions, memorably in a humorous game of footsie that one pair indulge in as they lay half hidden by the hanging paper so we can see only their legs and feet. Another excellent extended section comes when the pace of the dance moves up several gears, the choreography suddenly including lots of turns, quick embraces and beautiful long limbs.
Indonesia-born, now Canada-based composer Njo Kong Kie’s music supports the dance well, and the dancers perform the choreography they’ve been given with great assurance.
For all the positives, “Playing Landscape” does lose its way from time to time. Too often the choreography veers in the direction of middle-of-road and safe; typical, in fact, of much of the modern dance that seems to come out of China. The end is particularly anti-climactic. A long section involving ceramic water bowls that has a sense of ritual feels as if it should be important, but lacks the impact of what has gone before. And there are many opportunities missed. Particularly disappointing is the fact that, after the striking opening, relatively little is seen of Ng’s ink art.
“Playing Landscape” was one of four Fringe productions nominated for this year’s Asian Arts Award, but I can’t help feeling it could have been so much more. The dancers certainly looked capable of much more.