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Dance Forum Taipei and Cie Herve-Gil

'Will There Really Be a Morning'

by David Mead

February 24, 2012-- Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei

Dance Forum Taipei has engaged in a number of interesting collaborations with overseas artists in recent years, but the latest, culminating in “Will There Really Be a Morning”, presented as part of this year’s Taiwan International Arts Festival, is surely the best yet.

The work came about following a chance meeting between French choreographer Myriam Herve-Gil, well-known for her exploration of feminist themes, and noted Taiwanese theatre actress Hsu Yen-ling at the 2009 Avignon Fringe Festival. They found they shared a love of the poetry of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, whose often low-key, unassuming work gained recognition only after her death in 1886. Their subsequent conversations gave rise to the production, for which Herve-Gil invited French playwright and poet Anne Mulpas to write a script that emphasised both Dickenson and female life in the twenty-first century. She then asked Dance Forum Taipei to participate having seen them perform in the US.

The result is a mix of Dickinson’s text, spoken in Chinese and English, dance and music (mostly played live by Lin Jin-yao) as Herve Gil and her team explore what it means to be a woman and an artist. Many of Dickinson’s poems focus on death and immortality. “I felt a Funeral in my Brain”, “The grave my little cottage is” and “Because I could not stop for Death” are just three of those used. Yet, the work is far from heavy. True, it is mostly slow and contemplative, but this is one of those productions, though, that creeps up and grabs you without you realising that it has done so.

It gets off to a slow start. There is little action as three women (Hsu, French dancer/singer Pascal Degli Esposti and Dance Forum Taipei dancer Cheng Yi-wen) sit and recite snatches of Dickenson’s poetry, later moving, but little more than very simple, slow turns along straight lines across the stage. The interest increases rapidly as three men, each on their own plinth, were brought into the action. At different times they had the appearance of statues, automatons, and real people. They often lifted their partners gently off the floor, holding them in mid-air as if they were floating, in just the same way the Dickinson used dashes to separate text, thus leaving rhyme sort of suspended.

The men were largely cold, little more than physical supports for the women, whose movement in stark contrast quite clearly reflected their innermost feelings and emotions. More often than not the stage was lit by a shaft of light from above left that cast shadows and left hidden corners. It was as if we were being let into their, or maybe Dickinson’s, mind, maybe both. Yet all the time much remained uncertain.

The sound of the spoken word and the effect of Dickinson’s unique approach to punctuation came together to provide a sense of rhythm. An English translation of the poems used was provided for those in the audience not fluent in Chinese. It made interesting reading and added another layer afterwards, but not being able to read it at the time didn’t really matter. In any event, Dickinson was noted for her poems often having multiple meanings.

The end comes gently, and in many ways leaves the work hanging, despite the final lines suggesting death and eternity. What I can say is that the memories of this beautifully and delicately crafted and staged work still linger.

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