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Winter Concert - Taipei National University of the Arts

by David Mead

December 17 and 19 , 2010 -- Taipei National University of the Arts, Taipei

It was something of a coup when Taipei National University of the Arts, one of Asia’s leading
vocational dance schools, persuaded Anna Markard agreed to stage Kurt Jooss’ 1932 classic “The
Green Table” on the students. Jooss’ expressionist style is not the easiest to master, but both casts
did themselves proud.

“The Green Table” remains the most powerful of works, its message as relevant as ever. It was
difficult to believe that the dancers were students, still to complete their training such was the way
they invested their performances with clarity and dramatic punch. More than once they sent a shiver
down the spine, none more so than towards the end as death leads his victims across the stage.

As the central character Death is always going to catch the eye, but particularly impressive was
Hong Kang-jie’s portrayal. Whether robotically slamming his feet into the floor in a demonstration
of his unstoppable force, or in those almost tender yet even scarier moments when he fixed his gaze
on his next prey, he suggested great menace. Elsewhere, Tu Lee-yuan was a perfect as the sly and
grasping Profiteer, while Zhan Shu-han’s Young Girl was so innocent it was impossible not to feel
for her as she succumbed to her fate. The only disappointment was the use of a recorded score.

Hugo Fanari’s “Lagrimas” has a similar anti-war sentiment, this time focusing on destruction and
suffering conflict brings. After opening with the closing speech from the classic Chaplin movie
The Great Dictator, the work takes place in front of some powerful video projections depicting the
holocaust, the results of bombing, and personal loss. Arvo Part’s “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin
Britten” is used far too often by choreographers but for once it seemed the perfect choice, adding to
the atmosphere and helping create moments of great emotion.

Farani mostly uses his huge cast well, but he has a tendency to overstate his message, none more
so than when, out of the blue, and out of keeping with the rest of the piece, the women scream
and shout in anguish, totally destroying the mood he had carefully crafted. It is as though he lacks
confidence in the movement alone to make his point. Later he ignores the beauty and poignancy of
the dancers collapsing in a pile of intertwined bodies, preferring to push on briefly to suggest that
even amid such destruction and loss there is hope for the future. While understanding his point, it is
not only weak choreographically but unbalances the piece greatly.

Far more impressive was Zhang Xiao-xiong’s “The Sorrowful Song”, set to part of Gorecki’s
thick and heart-wrenching Third Symphony. Zhang follows the score’s central theme of loss
and mourning, yet simultaneously keeps everything mysterious and enigmatic. The opening
is stunningly beautiful, the side-lights picking out individual features in the line of black clad,
shadowy lit figures that frame the opening scene. Initially they seemed like real mourners, but
more and more there was an overbearing sense that they were rather embodiments of the central
character’s memories and feelings for the person he has lost. Dark and intensely physical, full of
explosions of energy as the pent up grief releases itself, this was special indeed.

On stage, light relief was provided by Kong Ho-ping’s “Songs from the Mountains”. A lyrical pure
dance response to Debussy’s “Prelude de l’après midi d’un faun” it is full of pleasant patterns,
although it never really scales the heights. Completing the programme was a series of traditional
indigenous dances of the Puyuma people, one of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes. These should be
danced outdoors in the round and that is just what happened, the performance taking place during
the intermission, outdoors around a blazing fire. The dance and chanting was so engrossing I even
forgot just how cold it was.

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