Sun Shang-chi Company
by David Mead
August 12, 2012 -- Wellspring Theatre, Taipei
I’m sure we’ve all been there, sat at the breakfast table, staring into some distant space, bodies and minds somewhere between night and day, being awake and asleep, being fully conscious and still living a now hazy dream. That is the starting point for fast rising Berlin-based Taiwanese choreographer Sun Shang-chi’s latest creation, “Breakfast”, a collaboration with dramaturg Gordon Florenkowsky and filmmaker Krzysztof Honowski.
Sun likes to experiment and present the viewer with different and unusual perspectives, in this case via live film of the action, projected onto a screen hung above the stage. The three performers are as much videographers as dancers as they constantly reposition cameras or even shoot footage handheld throughout. And very good they are at it too, as is Honowski’s impromptu editing and clever switching from black and white to colour that gives a sense of past and present. The video would make an outstanding dance for the camera piece without too much work. Indeed, one of the first questions that sprang to mind was whether we were watching a dance piece that happened to use film, dance for the camera piece, or the making of a dance for the camera piece. The answer, of course, was all three.
Much of the film is shot in close-up. The very first sequence has a camera tracking across the floor towards Fernando Balsera Pita slumped at a small breakfast table. Every scuff and mark is not only made visible but magnified hugely. Surprisingly it was rather beautiful, looking for all the world like leaves or other greenery floating on top of a still pond. Soon he is joined by Annapaola Leso, Ruben Reniers for one of several sharp, quickfire and precise gesture-filled sequences that often had all three dancers’ arms interweaving at speed.
The three performers then took the audience on a somewhat surreal journey. Sun’s choreography is intelligent, subtle and beautifully crafted. He shows fragments of thoughts that may give hints of meaning. There is much jagged, accented movement, as though the twitching we all do when we dream was being magnified many times. But importantly, if “Breakfast” is anything to go by, here is a dance-maker who understands that less is often more. Just as the film would have been a success without the live action, so is the reverse undoubtedly true.
Other props occasional put in an appearance including a bright red tomato, at first bitten into by Balsera Pita, but later jointly held by him and Leso in their mouths. Forbidden fruit maybe? A statement about desires? Later, Reniers traverses the stage wearing a pair of large butterfly wings, putting in a few ballet steps on the way, and Leso takes a shower courtesy of a household water sprayer; a scene that produces some particularly impressive film. Are these clues about dreams or something real? Sun leaves it for us to decide.
All the time there was a sense that something had happened in this strange household and between these people, each in his or her own world pitched between reality and fiction. That feeling was given extra strength when, about half way through, a camera zoomed in on the words “Yesterday everything was still fine” chalked on the stage.
Of course, the combination of film and real life action brings its usual problem: whether to watch the film or the dance. Or maybe even to try switching back and forth. They both held great attraction, but for me the real life won. Given how powerful video can be that speaks volumes for the dance and the dancers.
A special mention too for Finnish musician Markus Pesonen as he matched the dancers with sometimes dark, almost eerie, sometimes more tuneful sounds produced live from his electric guitar, which at one point he played with a violin bow; and recorded on his tablet.
“Breakfast” was a quite engaging hour’s dance and film. I just wish Sun had not had his dancers ‘treat’ the audience to a fortunately brief outburst of groans, growls, shrieks and squawks when the dance was speaking clearly and loudly on its own. Goodness knows why has this suddenly become the fashion with so many choreographers, but it happens so often these days it is starting to get tiresome. Ditto the short excursion by Leso and Balsera Pita into the audience, the latter by now clad only in his underpants. I’m sure it gave those in the centre of the front two rows yet another perspective as their bodies quite literally became the stage, although I suspect they got a bit of a shock too. It certainly wasn’t in bad taste (it was million miles from Dave St. Pierre’s antics, for example) but, as with the vocalising, was unnecessary.
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