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Winter Dance Concert

by David Mead

December 17&18, 2011 -- Dance Theatre, Taipei National University of the Arts, Taipeo

TNUA’s winter concerts are always one of the highlights of the crowded end of year dance calendar in Taipei. That’s hardly a surprise given that most of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s dancers were trained there. The 2011 show was no exception, although somewhat unusually, the programme featured a host of restagings and reworkings of existing pieces rather than the usual crop of new works. Not that this mattered one jot, because the programme turned out to be one of the most balanced for some years and terrific entertainment.

Two short Indonesian dances reconstructed by retiring faculty member Sal Murgiyanto got things underway. “Pendet” is a dance of welcome usually performed at the beginning of a secular party or celebration, although originally it had close links with Hindu-Balinese religious festivals. “Panji Semirang” had also undergone a reworking. Originally a male solo depicting Princess Chandrakirana of Jenggala in East Java disguised as a young man in search for her beloved fiancée Prince Panji Inu Kertapati, here it was rearranged for three women. Both dances were striking for their intricacies and subtleties, not only in the detailed movement of the hands and fingers especially, but also in the traditional dress of the costumes, full of stunning golds and reds.

Lin Wen-chung’s “My Drunken Self”, the final section of his “Evil Boy Trilogy” originally made for Dance Forum Taipei in 2007, could hardly have been more different. It’s an intensely musical piece danced to Tchaikovsky’s rich yet musically difficult Violin Concerto. The dance cracks along at quite a rate and is packed with bright moments. There’s plenty of fun too, right up to the final note when the cast quite unexpectedly bend over and drop their trousers revealing a rainbow of brightly coloured underwear.

“Foreseen” by Bulareyaung Pagarlava saw another change of mood. That the music comes from Polish composer Wojciech Kilar’s soundrack of “Dracula” tells you all you lots. It was minus the original set here, but even so the choreography and beautiful, dramatic lighting certainly induced a sense of being in some mysterious, other-worldy place. Don’t think it’s all slow and moody though, much of the dance is very physical and very fast, with plenty of Graham-like contractions, especially for the ladies, thrown in for good measure. Unlike “My Drunken Self”, though, the extracts shown (we saw just a third of the original 45-minute piece) lacked much in the way of a sense of completeness. The final section, in which the women had disappeared and the men were now in totally different costumes, in particular didn’t seem to hang together with what had gone before.

Yang Ming-lung’s “Feng Yun” was adapted from “Eastern Tale”, another Dance Forum Taipei, this time from earlier in 2011. The full version of the original drew on questions surrounding the fate of Yu Ji, favourite mistress of Xiang Yu, king of Western Chu (suicide, death in battle or survival with her lover), although reports indicate that little narrative came through on stage. There was certainly none here. There was plenty of impressive partner work though, and often a sense of battle, even if the piece never really took off. Perhaps the change of costumes was a factor. Those who saw the original told me that the change to simple T-shirts and trousers from the previous overtly Asian dress was not a good move.

TNUA is very much a modern dance school, albeit with plenty of East Asian influence. It would be fair to say that ballet in performance has never been the university’s strong point. The students’ pointework in particular is often lacking, the partnering less than convincing (odd when the modern dance partner work is usually so good), and the teacher-made or teacher-adapted choreography uninspiring. All credit then to Australian Graeme Collins for coming up with a quite delightful and hugely enjoyable “Concerto in D”, set to Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand”. Collins’ sensibly focused on what the students could do. So out went the pointe shoes and in came lots of large ensemble work and use of relatively simple ports de bras. That doesn’t mean the choreography or structure was simple though; far from it. There was much to get your teeth in to in what turned out to be a very enjoyable contemporary ballet. And there was plenty of opportunity for some of the students to show off their leaps and turns. I will admit it was a great and very pleasant surprise. In fact, I would go so far as to say this was the best ballet choreography seen at the university, and the best performed, in the last ten years.

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