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 Post subject: 2010 Taiwan International Festival (2010台灣國際藝術節)
PostPosted: Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:17 am 
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Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2001 11:01 pm
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Location: Rugby, UK / Taipei
Under this topic you will find a series of reports and reviews from this years Taiwan International Festival.

The Festival website is at http://tif.ntch.edu.tw/


Last edited by David on Mon Feb 22, 2010 8:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: 1433 - The Grand Voyage (鄭和1433)
PostPosted: Mon Feb 22, 2010 7:19 am 
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Robert Wilson and the U Theatre of Taiwan (羅伯•威爾森,優人神鼓)
1433 - The Grand Voyage (鄭和1433)
National Theater, Taipei; February 20, 2010


Loosely based on historic texts, avant-garde American stage director Robert Wilson’s new work “1433-The Grand Voyage” reinterprets the life, and particularly the final seventh voyage, of 15th-century Chinese explorer Zheng He (鄭和). Between 1405 and 1433 Zheng led naval expeditions designed to establish a Chinese presence in other parts of the world and to control trade. His fleet travelled as far as East Africa, promoting diplomacy and trade and fighting pirates. His voyages were however called off by a new emperor, one reason often cited for curtailing interaction between China and other countries, leading to a more insular view of the world.

Receiving its World premiere here as part of the 2010 Taiwan International Festival, the production was created in collaboration with the Taiwanese group U Theatre, a well-known professional company that specialises in staging traditional drama using a modern theatrical approach that incorporates high energy percussive drumming, and Tang Mei-yun (唐美雲), a noted Taiwanese opera diva. On stage, Taiwanese opera and drums share the stage with Western jazz music and avant-garde designs. But just how successful Wilson has been in embodying a mix of cultures probably depends on your personal standpoint. Is “The Grand Voyage” truly a mix of cultures, something I am not sure is truly possible anyway, or does it involve more Wilson’s own view of Taiwanese culture? After all, he does admit that the work is as much about his journey from West to East, as Zheng’s from East to West.

But does it matter anyway? From the choreographed entry of U Theatre’s white-faced drummers into the pit, the production is great theatre and hugely watchable.

Wilson once said that “An artist recreates history, not like a historian, but as a poet.” That is certainly true here. Rather than presenting a straight historical tale, he looks back and reflects on different events and experiences in Zheng’s life. Throughout the work Zheng, portrayed by U Theatre drumming director Huang Chih-chun (黃誌群), speaks only through stylised movement or appearance in tableaux. Never does he speak or sing. In the context of the work it is effective. So strong is Huang’s presence that he seems to be communicating with the audience even when standing in silence. But all this does add to a sense of him being a man fundamentally alone, and a rather cold, distant figure. Only at the end did I feel anything for him.

Star of the show though was Tang Mei-yun. She was quite outstanding as the narrator guiding us through events. Actually, narrator barely does the role justice. At different times she was wizened old man, young boy and young man; singer and dancer. She moved from being serious or philosophical to jokey and outgoing with amazing ease.

Running her close was American saxophonist Richard (‘Dickie’) Landry, playing the free jazz of Ornette Coleman. Usually appearing alongside the action on stage, Landry produced sounds that were often jolly and jazzy, but at times extremely mournful and full of emotion. His playing both harmonised and contrasted with the U Theatre’s drummers.

From Wilson’s sets and lighting to long-time U-Theatre collaborator and Oscar-winning designer Tim Yip’s costumes, the work is also very much feast for the eyes. The visuals and sparse sets, essentially only in black, white, red and a very dark blue for Zheng, with lots of use of silhouette, somehow add to the sense of place and emphasise events.

There are many highlights and clever devices, including the building and breaking of the dam, made from bamboo box-shaped frames, behind which Zheng’s ship was constructed; the toy-like small ship that represented Zheng moving across the oceans; and the clever ‘venetian blind’ that separated the past from the present.

“The Grand Voyage” may be historically-based, but in many ways it is a tale for today. It is about people coming from different places, different cultures, and different backgrounds. It is about someone searching for peace both personally and politically. And the very moving scene that ended the first act when, after losing a battle with the Chinese, the Vietnamese are forced to cut down their forests to provide timber for the fleet resonated with current concerns about the environment.

It is possible to take issue with some aspects. It always is. I know that in making reference to the fact Zheng was a eunuch Wilson was making the point that he was still capable of love, but did we really need to be reminded several times? The Africans and their giraffe were quite Disney-esque and straight out of “The Lion King”, and Wilson ignored a much more effective natural ending about two minutes before the curtain came down. But to be quite honest these are small points.

This was an evening I will long remember. The two and half hours simply flew past. Despite being narrated in Taiwanese with Mandarin and English subtitles, like all good dance (and you can debate whether this is dance theatre or musical theatre) it was generally easy to follow without having to constantly look to the side of the stage to work out what was happening. I am sure the work will be a hit wherever it is staged. If it comes your way, don’t miss it.

Attachment:
File comment: Tang Mei-yun as the Narrator in "1433 - The Grand Voyage". Photo: National Theater and Concert Hall.
1433 - The Grand Voyage. Photo National Theater & Concert Hall.jpg
1433 - The Grand Voyage. Photo National Theater & Concert Hall.jpg [ 35.18 KiB | Viewed 4839 times ]


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1433 - The Grand Voyage. Photo Hsu Ping.jpg
1433 - The Grand Voyage. Photo Hsu Ping.jpg [ 41.7 KiB | Viewed 4835 times ]


Attachment:
1433 - The Grand Voyage. Photo Rick Yi.jpg
1433 - The Grand Voyage. Photo Rick Yi.jpg [ 82.76 KiB | Viewed 4835 times ]


Last edited by David on Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Compañia de danca Sol Picó - Sirena la plancha (火烤美人魚)
PostPosted: Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:10 pm 
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Compañia de danca Sol Picó
Sirena la plancha (火烤美人魚)
National Theater and Concert Hall Plaza, Taipei; February 21, 2010


“Heavy rain forecast sinks Spanish mermaid show” was the headline in the Taipei Times, which added that “A mermaid who tries to save her world from its worst-ever drought has been done in - by too much rain.”

Never was I so pleased that a show had been postponed. Not only had it rained like crazy all week, but by Taipei standards it was decidedly cold. With more of the same forecast, the thought of standing outdoors for a performance, probably not seeing much through a forest of umbrellas, was not pleasant.

But two days later the weather had improved enormously, and Sol Picó’s “Sirena a la plancha” went ahead on the huge plaza framed by the National Concert Hall and National Theatre.

It was soon easy to see why they had called things off previously. The work involves an 8 metre-long mobile mermaid, an 8 metre-tall puppet, people with flaming torches and a stage made up of five mobile platforms, all not only sharing the same space as the audience, but moving around and through them. It would all have been far too dangerous for audience and performers.

The 60-minute show, premiered in the summer of 2008 as a special commission for the Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, tells the story of a woman who changes into a mermaid to save the world. Caught by fishermen, she is sold and lost before being seduced by a giant. It is a sort of environmental tale for our times that focuses on protection of marine-life and the issue of dwindling water supplies.

For me, the story rather got lost as the performance unfolded. Then again, I don’t speak any Spanish. And although the words of the accompanying songs, mostly sung live by the fabulous Cee (the stage name of Christine Hinterkörner), were shown at the bottom of giant screens that showed close ups of the action, my Chinese isn’t up to that either, and anyway, everyone’s attention was often taken by what was happening live.

There was certainly plenty to see and plenty of surprises. It took a while to get going, but much of the performance was both humorous and sensual. A particular highlight was the five male actors, who also propelled the giant and stages, giving “five tenors” type rendition. Some of them were no mean dancers either, some excellent partner work taking place on and around the huge mermaid. I would guess the audience was around 1,500 people, and with everyone constantly on the move as the focus of events changed and the performers ran through the masses, it was certainly a spectacle I’m pleased I didn’t miss.

There was a bonus to Sol Picó’s two-day postponement. It meant that the Festival was actually opened by the Formosa Aboriginal Song & Dance Troupe (原舞者) and a performance of the traditional Ilisin-Amis Harvest Festival Dances. The Amis is one of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes, with a culture much closer to that of Polynesia than China. More than 100 Amis Aborigines performed their stirring group dances, often circular in nature, presenting a condensed two-hour overview of their traditional end of year festival, Ilisin.


Attachments:
Compania de danca Sol Pico in Sirena la plancha. Photo David Mead.jpg
Compania de danca Sol Pico in Sirena la plancha. Photo David Mead.jpg [ 69.61 KiB | Viewed 4839 times ]


Last edited by David on Sat Feb 27, 2010 6:37 am, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: 2010 Taiwan International Festival (2010台灣國際藝術節)
PostPosted: Sat Feb 27, 2010 9:42 pm 
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I've already commented that a Taiwanese aboriginal group opened the festival, but it is interesting to note that, although this is an international event, with companies and artists flying in from all over the world, there is an important place for indigineous culture (which is very different from 'Chinese' music and dance).

This was certainly true last night. Although it contained some dance, "On the Road" at the National Concert Hall was very much a celebration of contemporary aboriginal culture, mixed in with some classical music, a western classical orchestra, and even American blues with a Taiwanese twist. Featuring video, and singers and dancers from south-east Taiwan it told the story of an orchestra conductor searching for his Taiwanese music roots. To say it was uplifting doesn't do it justice. And you should have heard the reception at the end.

Although some young choreographers here now take a very international approach to contemporary dance in particular (including Huang Yi as in "Spin 2010", not part of the Festival but performed at the same time and reviewed in another thread), it is very noticeable that many do try and instill a Taiwanese essence, or draw on their Taiwanese roots, in the choreography, to an extent I do not see elsewhere. This is even true of ballet choreography. Perhaps it has something to do with being relatively isolated politically. I'm sure it has something to do with the island's history. I hope to goodness it is not lost completely as more artists work and study abroad.


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 Post subject: Ballet Preljocaj - Snow White (Blanche Neige)
PostPosted: Tue Mar 09, 2010 12:14 am 
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Snow White
Ballet Preljocaj
National Theater, Taipei; March 4, 2010


Attachment:
Copy of Ballet Preljocaj. Blanche Neige (Snow White) 07.jpg
Copy of Ballet Preljocaj. Blanche Neige (Snow White) 07.jpg [ 48.91 KiB | Viewed 4699 times ]

After “Empty Moves” and “Eldorado”, Angelin Preljocaj says he was tiring of making abstract ballets and was keen to tell a story. “No doubt to avoid getting into a rut. And, because like everyone, I love stories,” he says. In a move that goes against pretty much everything you expect from the contemporary ballet choreographer, he looked for something magical, enchanted, and that he felt had not been fully dealt with before. He settled on the Brothers Grimm version of “Snow White”, which, dare one suggest, with its beautiful heroine, handsome Prince, evil stepmother, and, of course, the Seven Dwarves, has all the necessary ingredients for a box office hit.

The fact the story is so well-known gives Preljocaj the advantage of not having to spell the story out, but rather focus on portraying the feelings and emotions of the characters through movement. All he had to do was remain faithful the story. And, although there are a few personal variations and a little pruning he has done just that. The result is a contemporary ballet that follows quite closely the structure of one of the classics, with an opening ball, adventures in the middle part, before our Prince finds his princess, and they get married.

Preljocaj claims that his central character is the wicked stepmother, and that the work examines her narcissistic determination not to give up her role as a female seductress, even at the expense of sacrificing her stepdaughter. Well, that may have been how he set out, and she certainly gets most of the best of well-known fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier’s costumes. Céline Galli seemed to tower above everyone else in what looked suspiciously like a black and red leather dominatrix outfit, complete riding crop and stockings that made it look like she was wearing thigh-length boots. And it is true that she dominated one of the most dramatic scenes in the ballet, tempting Snow White with a beautiful red apple before forcing the poisoned fruit into her stepdaughter’s mouth, and hauling her around stage before it took effect. But elsewhere she seemed to do little more that strut around and slap her riding whip against her thigh.

The real honours were taken by Nagisa Shirai. Slight, pale skinned, with long black hair, and in a simple white dress that flowed like her dance, she was the perfect incarnation of Snow White. The mirror definitely got it right when asked “Who is the fairest of them all?” Even better, she danced as if under a spell, as light as a feather and with just the right level of innocence.

The ballet is full of the sharp, precise, sometimes angular dance, with plenty of jumps and turns, that characterises Preljocaj’s choreography. But there are times when it seems unexciting; especially during the far too long opening ballroom scene. Classical ballet with its formal vocabulary and lines does this sort of thing very well. But while he makes great use of different formal patterns, and small and large groups, Preljocaj never gives an opportunity for individuals to shine. It all gets a little tedious, and it is a relief when the story moves on.

The music here does not help and while never at odds to the dance, seems almost incidental rather than integral to it. Although there are a few additions, Preljocaj chose excerpts from Mahler symphonies for the bulk of the score, feeling that they are the essence of romance. They were also contemporaneous with Grimm’s version of the tale. But despites some misgivings, there are times when it gels surprisingly well, most notably the brilliant use of the variation on Frere Jacques from the 3rd movement of Symphony No.1 for the entry of the seven dwarves, and the adagietto from Symphony no.5 that accompanies the Prince finding Snow White’s body.

The entry of the dwarves is undoubtedly the choreographic highlight of the ballet. They emerge from holes at various levels in a wall that rise the full height of the stage - well, they were miners, don’t forget - before treating us to a quite outstanding display of aerial dance using bungees, ropes and harnesses. Unison in aerial work is very difficult, but this was truly outstanding with some very impressive patterns and formations. We even got upside down pirouettes on one-hand.

The dwarves are run a close second by the finding of Snow White by the Prince and her subsequent awakening. With our heroine laying on her modernist glass slab, and the Sergio Diaz dancing his despair at her death, the echoes of “Romeo and Juliet” are loud and clear. And they get deafening when he picks her up and dances with her lifeless body. Shirai seems like she is floating on air. Of course he finally gets round to kissing her, but even more like Romeo, believing her to be dead turns away and does not realise she has woken up. The big difference of course is that here we have a happy ending.

After the experiences of the opening ball, thankfully we are spared a lengthy wedding scene. Indeed, it is all over in a flash. It is perhaps just as well. Gualtier’s wedding dress is a truly stunning creation, a sort of white conical lattice affair with just a fringe hanging from each tier, but completely impractical for much in the way of dance. The less said about the Prince’s near-fluorescent salmon orange-pink affair that looked more like it belonged to one of the more gaudy Spanish matadors, the better.

But that is a minor point. Preljocaj proves that contemporary ballet and fairy stories can come together. His choreographic spell is helped along by Thierry Leproust’s captivating sets that take us on an enchanted journey from the futuristic, minimalist ballroom complete with square-cut thrones that rise up the wall as if by magic, to the to the dark beauty of the forest and the dwarves mine, before returning home. Even though it is 110 minutes without an interval, once past that opening ball the time flew past.


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 Post subject: Re: 2010 Taiwan International Festival (2010台灣國際藝術節)
PostPosted: Fri Mar 12, 2010 11:42 pm 
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Schwanengesang
Tanztheater des Staatstheaters Darmstadt
National Theater, Taipei; March 12, 2010

Attachment:
Simone Deriu and László Kocsis in Lin Mei-hong's Schwanengesang. Photo Barbara Aumüller.jpg
Simone Deriu and László Kocsis in Lin Mei-hong's Schwanengesang. Photo Barbara Aumüller.jpg [ 36.64 KiB | Viewed 4579 times ]

Despite being born and bred in Yilan in the north-east of the island, and achieving considerable international success, Lin Mei-hong (林美虹) is not a choreographer whose name is to the forefront of most Taiwanese dance-goers minds. That is not all that surprising. She left Taiwan at 16 to study in Rome, and later in Essen with Pina Bausch. Almost all of her subsequent achievements as a dancer, director and choreographer have also all been in Europe. But things should change following her return home with Tanztheater Darmstadt, where she has been artistic director since 2004, and the Asian premiere of her “Schwanengesang” (Swansong).

The work was inspired by the Belgian poet George Rodenbach’s 1892 symbolic short story Bruges-la-Morte, which tells the story of Hugues Viane’s obsession with his dead wife, Marie. Following her death he takes refuge in Bruges, a city similarly lost in the beauties of the past and whose gloomy, moody atmosphere mirrors his mourning, where he sees and becomes infatuated with dancer Mariette, who has the misfortune to be his wife’s double.

Lin does tell the story, but rather than presenting a detailed dance-dramatisation of the novel, she explores the mind of the distressed widower and his psychological condition. Often with penetrating force she focuses in on six different scenes in his struggle, painting an often haunting picture of love, grief and murder.

The opening, during which Marie, danced by Andressa Miyazato, dies from a terminal illness, suggests nothing of the drama and outstanding dance theatre to come. But the tempo ups considerably as Simone Deriu as Hugo recalls many episodes from their life together. As he sits, desolate, head in hands, a host of tender, passionate and sometimes desperate situations are represented simultaneously by multiple Hugo and Maries.

Although his maid, Barbe, slowly comes to love Hugo, she doesn’t stand a chance, not so much against him, as against Marie’s ghost, played by the outstanding Lásló Kocsis. It really is like watching the living dead. As a man constantly walking on tiptoe he presents a grotesque image anyway, but in a yellowing, off-white dress, with a bleached, deathly, expressionless face and spidery white hair, he presents a truly grotesque image of Marie’s former beautiful self. Time and again her spirit appears, holding on to Hugo from beyond the grave. In a particularly dramatic and powerful scene Hugo even symbolically murders his former wife as he tries to rid himself of her memory, but it is no use.

Lin mixes the dark and dramatic with fun and a sometimes macabre sense of humour, often switching suddenly from one to the other and back again. There are many highlights in the work, but entry and dance of a group of nuns is one of the best. Although the rules of the nunnery define noise as a profanity, they suddenly become caricatures of themselves, and break into an orgy of frenzied talking, laughing and screaming as they discuss the immoral goings on in the city. Then abruptly, the outbreak of noise ceases as suddenly as it came.

Then, fatefully, Hugo meets Mariette (Eszter Kozár), a nightclub dancer. Although he pursues her, the dead Marie cannot be escaped. He sees Mariette as Marie, yet her true self contradicts his memories. She cannot escape her fate. A choir of black demons dance drunkenly about her as if she finds herself in some macabre nightmare. Still watched over by her omnipresent ghost, Hugo forces his dead wife’s dresses on his new love to enhance the resemblance. When she rejects them, the outcome is inevitable. This time murder is real as she meets her gruesome end.

All this takes place on the simplest of sets, which only serves to emphasise Lin’s talent for telling a story or situation. A raised stage within the stage is fronted by a channel of water, no doubt representing the canals of Bruges. To one side a column is covered in white lilies. It is here that we first see the dead Marie, her ghostly figure returning Giselle-like to haunt her lover. A wardrobe slides on and off, a place from which memories appear and retreat, while the religious city of Bruges is represented by nothing more than church bell ropes.

Special mention too for Michael Erhard’s composition for piano, keyboard, clarinet, saxophone, cello, bass and drums, played live with Erhard himself on the keyboards. The expressive score is the perfect accompaniment, swinging violently from the melancholic and sentimental strains of a solo piano, to the jazzy and hectic sounds of the whole band.

“Schwanengesang” has the occasional less intense moments but it is largely gripping stuff that tugs at the emotions. The work is full of unforgettable impressions. Lin even makes us feel sorry for Hugo. She proves that dance theatre does not have to be extreme and can be used to tell a story effectively. Great storytelling, live music, and outstanding performances all round. This dance around death is the sort of thing that gives dance theatre a good name.


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