Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, Taiwan: November 30, 2013

David Mead

Scarecrow Contemporary Dance Company in 'Natural is Not Nature', part of 'Step In MOCA Taipei. Photo © Liu Chia-chin (劉嘉欽)

Scarecrow Contemporary Dance Company in ‘Natural is Not Nature’, part of ‘Step In MOCA Taipei.
Photo © Liu Chia-chin (劉嘉欽)

Over the years, Scarecrow Contemporary Dance Company (稻草人現代舞蹈團) from Tainan in the south of Taiwan has produced a number of site-specific works, with performances at a range of sites, mostly around their home city, including historic buildings, art galleries, parks, and even a tree house. Latest in the ‘Step In’ series was “Step In‧MOCA Taipei” (《2013足in‧複合體》) an evening at Taipei’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), a Japanese colonial building that has previously served as a junior high school and Taipei city hall.

The evening took the audience (limited by the restrictions of the venue to just forty) on a promenade around the ground floor. Su Yu-ting’s (蘇鈺婷) “Natural is Not Nature” (《自然不是自然》) first saw Li Pei-shan (李佩珊) and Su Yin-ling(蘇尹聆) dancing on a small patch of flooring illuminated from below in various shades of green and yellow. Dressed in tight fitting dark costumes with cable ties very cleverly used to give the impression of spines, the pair rather gracefully slid, slithered and stretched over and around one another, looking rather like prickly insects in a bug terrarium. It was very effective and engaging.

Su Yu-ting herself then appeared from within a circular information desk wearing a dress and veil made from aluminium cooking foil. Strange, mysterious bride or space traveller emerging from a spaceship? Take your pick. What followed was not especially memorable until she moved to beneath Australian artist Patricia Piccinini’s “Aloft”, a suspended work that rather appropriately considers the symbiotic relationship between different forms of life, and that consists of a huge cocoon through which some larvae-like objects emerge, and from which an innocent-looking boy peeps over the side.

Any number of interpretations of what followed were possible. As Su moved below the artwork it seemed she was being watched by the boy. The images were conflicting and slightly disturbing: the innocent child and the strange being who, although moving gracefully, was certainly mysterious and maybe dangerous. Was there a message here about the origins of innocence or that we can all live in harmony? Or something else? Again, take your pick. Whatever, it was certainly arresting.

Tso Han-chieh’s (左涵潔) “Plastic Surgery” (《整膠手術》) saw the action move to an elevator and hallway, with unusual materials in the costuming again central. A section titled “Butterfly” took place in a goods elevator whose doors constantly opened and closed. Unfortunately, the hallway was narrow and, despite everyone’s best endeavours, not all could get a decent perspective on what was happening. For the “Packages” and “Bloom” sections, the attention turned to the corridor itself. Two dancers appeared, each wrapped in transparent plastic. For “Packages”, the programme note referred to beings alive, yet seemingly floating lifeless, wrapped in silence, but although I can see that now, at the time the message struggled to make the leap from choreographer to audience. “Bloom” involved a woman in a dress adorned by, then popping balloons, apparently a reference to be contraction of the life support system. I was not convinced.

Scarecrow Contemporary Dance Company in 'Plastic Surgery', part of 'Step In MOCA Taipei.  Photo © Liu Chia-chin (劉嘉欽)

Scarecrow Contemporary Dance Company in ‘Plastic Surgery’, part of ‘Step In MOCA Taipei.
Photo © Liu Chia-chin (劉嘉欽)

Scarecrow Contemporary Dance Company in 'The Existence of Excess', part of 'Step In MOCA Taipei.  Photo © Liu Chia-chin (劉嘉欽)

Scarecrow Contemporary Dance Company in ‘The Existence of Excess’, part of ‘Step In MOCA Taipei.
Photo © Liu Chia-chin (劉嘉欽)

Things perked up again for Artistic Director Luo Wen-jinn’s (羅文瑾) closing “The Existence of Excess” (《過剩的存在》), in which she considered how things we once valued can become worthless: in this case CDs, once used to hold documents, films, images and more about and needed for work and life, but that have been superceded by flash drives and Cloud technology. Although the most simple, the initial scene on a staircase was the most absorbing of the evening. In a white mackintosh, Luo herself produced CD after CD which she secreted in the garments numerous pockets. That a dancer can make such a simple action so compelling speaks volumes. Luo was later joined by Tso Han-chieh (左涵潔), who proceeded to trash and toss the objects away, their shine the only clue to their past value.

As an evening’s dance, “Step In‧MOCA Taipei” certainly left its mark on the memory, and largely in a positive sense. It was somewhat disappointing that more was not made of the architecture and environment, especially possibilities offered by the depth of the hallway as it stretched into the far distance, although no doubt restrictions were placed on the company by the museum. I’m also sure that it was no coincidence that one of the best parts of the performance was the only part that interacted in a major way with a displayed artwork. Still, all credit to Luo and her company for taking dance to another new and unusual space, rarely the easiest of things to do.