Huang Yung-huai in SAO PLUS.  Photo © AT EASE STUDIO

Huang Yung-huai in SAO PLUS.

Eslite Performance Hall, Eslite Spectrum, Taipei, Taiwan; March 8, 2015

David Mead

Last year’s “SAO” (騷), a Taiwan International Festival of Arts collaboration between calligrapher Tong Yang-tze (董陽孜), best-known for her massive cursive works; choreographers Bulareyaung Pagarlava and Luo Wen-jinn (羅文瑾); musicians Stacey Wei (魏廣皓), Kunter Chang (張坤德) and Yohei Yamada; and multimedia artist Chen Yan-ren (陳彥任) received such a favourable response that Tong decided to expand the project to “SAO PLUS” (騷+).

For “SAO PLUS”, the choreography is by Su Wei-chia (蘇威嘉), co-founder of Horse (驫舞劇場), with the three musicians from 2014 joined by Guras Vadu. Chen again provided the projections. Tong’s calligraphy yells expression and movement even hanging on a gallery, but putting it in a theatre environment, projecting it onto the stage floor as well as the backdrop, gives it a different sort of life, one that really does move.

Huang Yung-huai in 'SAO PLUS'.  Photo © AT EASE STUDIO

Huang Yung-huai in ‘SAO PLUS’.

And yet, expanding a dance work or taking an idea further is a tricky business and often fails as dance-makers try to go just that little bit too far, but this moving, flowing, ever-changing collage of sights and sounds held the attention throughout with no scene to long or short; each running its natural length, each coming to its natural conclusion at the right time. In short, this part jazz concert, part calligraphy and light show, part dance performance, turned out to be an excellent evening.

“SAO PLUS” is very much an integration of all three arts, and one where all three have equal importance, which is a rare achievement. As the calligraphy shifts, the two male dancers move to the wonderful jazz coming from the side of the stage, constantly creating new images and new perspectives. Su’s choreography never asks the dancers to imitate or mimic the script, and although he calls occasionally calls for very obvious interaction or acknowledgement of it, in general the connection is more subtle; more a unity of colour, flow and mood.

Huang Yung-huai (黃詠淮) has a most remarkably sinuous body. He moves with grace and strength. His body has the pliability of soft dough, a quality maintained even when he shifts quickly. He demands to be watched. The taller Shai Tamir, born and trained in Israel, appears looser, more angular, his movement more anxious. He wasn’t as eye-catching, but the pairing made for an interesting combination.

The calligraphy first appears like black ribbons being spun or twirled across the backdrop by a third unseen dancer or gymnast. Among them are assorted splotches of ink. The dancers dance in rough-edged patches of light below. Before long the couple come together for a slow, almost lugubrious duet in which they never lose contact, and that is accompanied by a single large splotch and two more elongated shapes that drift around the space, turning the human duet into a performance quintet. Later, the projections appear as if in 3-D, Tamir pulling Huang off through a hailstorm of calligraphy as if battling a gale.

Shai Tamir in 'SAO PLUS'.  Photo © AT EASE STUDIO

Shai Tamir in ‘SAO PLUS’.

Other scenes include drops of ink appearing to splash into a gently swelling sea on the stage floor. Here, the dancers often pause to watch a drop fall, sometimes moving out of its way. A particularly striking section sees Huang dwarfed by a forest of white calligraphy on a black background. He appears like an insect in some strange, dark and mysterious, world, at one point appearing to retreat into a ‘cave’ for shelter.

And then the fireworks start. To a hail of percussion, and in near darkness, Tong’s calligraphy suddenly appears as strobing red-edged streaks of white on a black background. The projections spark and crackle, appearing to overwhelm the dancer below. It’s not long, though, before the sun comes out and the stage is awash with colour. Out of nowhere the ink turns multi-hued: red, yellow, blue, purple, green, pink, and in various shades.

All good things come to an end, and so “SAO PLUS” finally draws to its natural conclusion, this dance of many moods, by all three arts, a bright section sending you away with a spring in your step. The performers and artists deserved every moment of the prolonged applause.