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Taiwan International Festival of the Arts 2013 (台灣國際藝術節)
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Author:  David [ Wed Feb 20, 2013 6:50 am ]
Post subject:  Taiwan International Festival of the Arts 2013 (台灣國際藝術節)

Barak Marshall Dance Theatre
National Theater, Taipei; February 15, 2013

David Mead

Barak Marshall Dance Theatre in Rooster. Photo Yossi Zveker.JPG
Barak Marshall Dance Theatre in Rooster. Photo Yossi Zveker.JPG [ 53 KiB | Viewed 4697 times ]

Opening this year’s Taiwan International Festival of the Arts, Barak Marshall’s “Rooster” combines dance, music, story-telling, lots of theatre and a little opera as he takes us on a journey through a man’s dreams. In a series of vignettes punctuated with the sort of energetic, punchy dance so typical of Israeli companies, we see his encounters with love, jealousy and death. It is based loosely on literature; and quite a mix of literature at that. The main reference is I.L. Peretz’s short story “Bontsha the Silent”, but according to the programme, there is also Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”, folk and bible stories. Not all were immediately apparent.

Bontasha, we are told, was an insignificant man who lived unknown, in silence. When he passed away, one of the dancers tells us, “It was so silent he didn’t know he’d died.” Marshall’s staging certainly conveyed that feeling that he was more like a shadow than real person. More than once we saw the central man in physically in scenes, but in other ways not there.

Running through the work is the image of the rooster, Hebrew for which is ‘gever’, which also means ‘man’. Roosters and hens are portrayed using huge purple feathers of the variety so common on cabaret stages and floor shows. The fowl, especially the ladies, strut around, peck, flirt and fight, mirroring the way some humans flaunt their vanity, gossip, get jealous and argue. It is amusing. Thoughts of the late Pina Bausch’s women came to the fore. Towards the end, the central character (as a rooster) is slaughtered, I believe a reference to the kaparot, a symbolic rite of atonement in preparation for Yom Kippur in which a chicken or rooster is waved over one’s head before being killed in the appropriate manner. There’s also a scene in which he produces eggs from his mouth; one assumes a reference to the existential question, ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ Elsewhere there are hints of Kafka and the Theatre of the Absurd. The dreamlike quality of the dramatic, the fragmented narrative and the way scenes appear and dissolve inconsistently all draw comparisons with Lloyd Newson’s work for DV8.

Marshall uses spoken text in a mix of English and Hebrew. The former was not always clear, and the latter I would guess was understood by no more than a handful of people in the audience. The tone of the speech gave little away, so given it was used, one assumes the content was important. I understand the problems of translation, but even so, why use a language so few can understand? I also had problems deciding if Marshall is trying to be dark and meaningful, or simply entertaining. More than once there is the suggestion of the former, but sometimes it all looks decidedly tongue-in-cheek.

The very visual, theatrical scenes give way without warning to earthy ensemble dance sections, each pushed along by a mix of music from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The dance is crisp and packed with gestures. The Batsheva-Naharin influence is plain, but does not dominate. Even though largely in unison, it was possible to appreciate Marshall’s twelve dancers as individuals. Unfortunately, it all started to feel very familiar. Similar movement and phrases reappear often. I could have done with rather more variation in content, tone and structure.

Overall, “Rooster” proved an interesting start to the Festival. It was certainly good to see something a little different come out of Israel, and something that combines that country’s dance and drama traditions. I do, though, suspect the piece would work much better in an even slightly more intimate theatre. The dance seemed lost on the big stage, and the work as a whole failed to project effectively into what is admittedly a huge auditorium. It all seemed rather remote, even to someone sitting only halfway back in the stalls.

Author:  David [ Wed Mar 27, 2013 7:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Taiwan International Festival of the Arts 2013 (台灣國際藝術節)

Sun Shang-chi
Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei; March 8, 2013

David Mead

Sun Shang-chi, David Essing and Ross Martinson in Uphill. Photo NTCH.jpg
Sun Shang-chi, David Essing and Ross Martinson in Uphill. Photo NTCH.jpg [ 28.15 KiB | Viewed 4594 times ]

The lights go up to reveal a stark, bare stage. Towards to front, and off to one side, a man lays motionless on the floor. So begins “Uphill” (《浮‧動》), Sun Shang-chi’s (孫尚綺) latest work, commissioned specially by the National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center for this year’s Taiwan International Arts Festival.

Slowly, very, very slowly, he comes to life and is joined by another. Dancers David Essing and Ross Martinson then embark on a conversation in movement, although much of the time it seems more like an argument. Their duet is full of fast flowing, sweeping limbs that arc through the space become a metaphor for words. It is hugely effective. It also turned out to be the high spot of the evening.

Into this world, and adding complexity to it, comes Sun himself. The dance that follows is often again sharp and aggressive, again reflecting provocation and argument. Gestures are made and limbs move at high speed. All three dancers were quite excellent. The physicality, clarity of movement and partnering was exceptional. Yet, it often seemed too much. This sounds an odd thing to say with only three dancers, but there were times when it seemed too busy.

The dynamic between the dancers changes often and there are slower sections when trust and dependency are to the fore. What was missing, on this occasion at least and especially from these more contemplative moments, was much in the way of tension or feeling. Although the movement itself could be appreciated easily, it appeared largely devoid of meaning. That may have been as much to do with Jörg Rotzenhoff’s unmelodious, harsh and strident score as anything else. If you can imagine a fire alarm going off backed by the constant and intense throbbing of industrial machinery, you are starting to get close. The cacophony blasted away at the audience for the whole hour save a short respite after about forty minutes. It went on for so long, with only marginal changes in tone, that far from ramping up the emotional impact, it had the reverse effect and numbed the senses to the dance and circumstances unfolding on stage. As if the score was not annoying enough, Sun also treats his audience to a lengthy period of strobe lighting. Again, far from adding to matters it took away, and in fact became so bad I covered my eyes.

The position of some of the dance was also an issue. One section, lasting several minutes, took place extremely close to the front row. So close, that unless you were sitting in the front few rows, it was impossible to see what was happening. It was so bad that those at the back stood up; not something your audience should find necessary.

According to the programme, “Uphill” is all a game of hide and seek; and to an extent that is visible. The dancers are both the question and the answer. They are the obstacle to resolving matters and the means by which they should be resolved. It is an excellent premise, but unfortunately it too much of the time it failed to communicate.

Having been very impressed with Sun’s work previously, perhaps I expected too much, but “Uphill” left me disappointed, more than anything else.

Author:  David [ Wed Mar 27, 2013 9:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Taiwan International Festival of the Arts 2013 (台灣國際藝術節)

‘Temporal Pattern’, ‘Haptic’
Hiroaki Umeda
Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei; March 15, 2013

David Mead

Temporal Pattern by Hirako Umeda.jpg
Temporal Pattern by Hirako Umeda.jpg [ 32.46 KiB | Viewed 4587 times ]

36-year-old Japanese avant-garde artist Hirako Umeda intended to follow his father into a career in photojournalism, but while studying at Nihon University, he realised he was more interested in movement than taking pictures. He took lots of classes in lots of styles, including with prominent Japanese dancer-choreographers such as Saburo Teshigawara and Kota Yamazaki. Despite not finding a dance style he felt suited him, and undeterred by his lack of a dance background, he decided to take up choreography. Discovering that music and lighting for shows was expensive, he decided to learn how to do it himself on computer, which brings us this double bill, choreographed, lit and scored by Umeda himself.

Premiering here, “Temporal Pattern” (形式暫留), the fourth work in Umeda’s Superkinesis choreography project, was co-commissioned by the Taipei’s National Theater and Singapore’s Esplanade. It brings together Taiwanese dancer Cheng Yu-jung (鄭郁蓉), Hema Sundari Vellaluru from India and Cambodian Rady Nget. Umeda says his goal was to connect their bodies and dances while retaining their uniqueness and personal dance styles.

As an idea, it promised much. “Temporal Pattern” opens with the three dancers spaced diagonally across the stage. Each shows snippets of their home grown styles. Despite each showing different force and dynamic, and despite the physical space between them, there was a sense of connection. I wanted to see if, and how, Umeda could bring them in closer proximity and what effect that would have on their bodies and on me as a viewer.

I was never to find out, because it never really happens. Instead, the electronic light show takes over. Frequently using multiple parallel lines of light, that show is visually impressive. Although the light never actually engulfs the audience, Umeda gives the impression that it does so, and so draws us mentally into the performance space. As a piece of visual art, “Temporal Pattern” has points to commend it, but as a work of dance choreography, it could have been so much more.

“Haptic” (觸‧覺) is a 25-minute solo work premiered in 2008 and in which Umeda is the sole performer. Here, he dispenses with video projections, although lighting is still integral to the piece. The focus is instead on colour and line. The stage is sometimes washed with the changing colours of a prism, alternately glowing blue, green, yellow and red, while at other times it is lit only by a single beam. In the midst of this, against music that is all pulsing experimental electronic beats and rhythms, sometimes little more than a silhouette, sometimes a solid shape, Umeda ripples and shifts.

His dance is invariably initiated by his lower body. His legs move at a great pace. It reminded me of frenetic high speed scribbling. It often looked uncontrolled, although I am sure it was anything but. That movement transmits itself into his torso, which is often surprisingly more graceful. When his lower limbs do provoke robotic jerks and shifts in the upper body, they are altogether clearer. It all clearly has elements of hip-hop, but lacks the same clarity or whole body dynamism.

Dictionary definitions of ‘haptic’ relate the term to non-verbal communication, the sense of touch and tactility. Initially, “Haptic” is boring. Umeda’s body does not command you to watch. But slowly, Umeda does start to communicate the effect of colour and different lighting states on his movement. Sometimes it highlights one part of the body; sometimes it makes him appear and disappear. At one point he dissolves beautifully into a marine blue.

As works of choreography as usually assessed, both “Temporal Pattern” and “Haptic” fall short of the mark. But on reflection, perhaps they should more accurately be seen as art installations that combine light and movement. Looked at like that, and considered as works that one should experience rather than merely watch, a somewhat different view starts to emerge.

Even so, quite where Umeda can go with his ideas, I am not sure. Dance performance that relies so heavily on, admittedly wonderful, lighting ideas and brutal music is likely to soon become tedious.

Author:  David [ Sat Apr 13, 2013 10:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Taiwan International Festival of the Arts 2013 (台灣國際藝術節)

‘Café Müller’, ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
National Theater, Taipei; March 30, 2013

David Mead

Tanztheater Wuppertal in Cafe Muller. Photo Maarten van den Abeele.jpg
Tanztheater Wuppertal in Cafe Muller. Photo Maarten van den Abeele.jpg [ 37.66 KiB | Viewed 4507 times ]

In these days when so much is over-hyped, ‘masterpiece’ is a something of an overused term. It is, though, hard to think of any other description for the late Pina Bausch’s seminal “Café Müller” (《穆勒咖啡館》) and “Le Sacre du Printemps” (Rite of Spring, 《春之祭》).

Bausch’s parents ran a small hotel with a restaurant - not, incidentally a café as stated frequently, or tavern as described in an overly descriptive programme note that told of everything that was going to happen in detail but without ever really addressing the essence of the work. When she was supposed to go to bed, she would hide under the tables and simply watch. She once explained how, when she looked back on her childhood, she sees pictures filled with people, smells and sounds. In “Café Müller” she brings each of those into public view. The friendship, love and quarrels that she observed, are given life. Yet, it is as if those memories are somehow wandering around, ill at ease and still searching for a place where they can be at peace.

It opens with a woman, dressed in an ethereal gown, apparently sleepwalking into a cluttered café or restaurant. She bumps into the chairs and tables strewn around the room, later keeping to the wall, existing on the margins, almost like an outsider looking in. An enigmatic lady with a mop of ginger hair totters through the maze of furniture in her red heels and black coat. Another woman enters more forcefully but still in a sort of trance. This time, a man hurls the furniture out of her path. But rather than a sense of caring, there’s an atmosphere of frustration and violence. Are these different sides of the same woman, or perhaps different aspects of life? Whichever, all the time the tables and chairs seem to represent more than furniture.

The famous scenes still hit hard. A man holds a woman in his arms but drops her. Is he tired, careless or cruel? That is for the viewer to decide. Another man replaces her in the embrace, but she is dropped again. It repeats until eventually she positions herself; again and again, faster and faster. It is about memory and, perhaps, a sad comment on how much we are prepared to endure for love, both feelings emphasised by the words of Purcell’s despairing aria from “Dido and Aeneas” at this point, “Remember me, remember me, but ah forget my fate!”

Violence recurs later too, notably when a man and woman repeatedly hurl each other against a wall. It is funny, then sad, then disturbing. The multiple repetitions, a trademark Bausch device, are hugely effective.

A testament to the staying power of “Café Müller” is that I still find new things to see, even after countless viewings. I find things making impacts in new ways, here not least the lady repeatedly ‘walking on air’ far upstage during the closing moments. It may be 34 years old, but it has lost none of its power. “Café Müller” still mesmerises.

With 2013 being the centenary of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, we are no doubt in for a riot of “Rites” new and old. Choreographers and companies worldwide are gearing up for new and restaged productions. The exact date is May 29, by the way. Slightly strange, then, that reference to the anniversary in the programme was restricted to a single sentence.
Tanztheater Wuppertal in Le Sacre du Printemps. Photo Ulli Weiss.jpg
Tanztheater Wuppertal in Le Sacre du Printemps. Photo Ulli Weiss.jpg [ 45.98 KiB | Viewed 4507 times ]

Many choreographers have tried and failed to match Stravinsky’s thrilling score. Bausch had no such problems. It was her 1975 “Le Sacre du Printemps” that first truly propelled her onto the international stage, and it remains the one of the best interpretations around.

“Sacre” opens with a woman lying on top of a red slip that looks like a pool of blood beneath her. It is a portent of things to come. Slowly, against a grim and dark background, on a blank stage carpeted in soil that slowly stains the dancers and their costumes, Bausch shows us the selection and death of a sacrificial victim, although the chaos on stage means we do not find out who the chosen one is to be, who is to finally don that slip that remains on stage throughout, until near the end.

Bausch delineates sharply the men and the women, emotionally and in movement. The men are strong, muscular and forceful. Fear is writ large through the choreography. As in “Café Müller”, violence runs through the work. There is an overwhelming sense of fury and rape, even terror, as they dance with the cowering women. All the time, it is as if the bodies are trapped by the music, heading towards a climax that they cannot escape. If anything, her moments of stillness, which often come suddenly, only heighten the tension still further. Welcome to a nightmare world

This was a powerful performance that set the spine tingling - until the final solo. For the performances in Taipei, local dancers were added to the company, with the lead role of the victim taken here by Yu Tsai-chin (余采笒). She certainly had all the steps. She was beautiful and lyrical. But she didn’t make me believe. It all seemed to be about the external look with little coming from the inside. The raw, earthy, physicality of the dance that sets this version of “Sacre” apart and that makes it so special was sadly missing.

Four years after Basuch’s death, Tanztheater Wuppertaal is still in remarkably good shape. Rolf Borzik and Dominique Mercy, the latter wonderfully evocative in “Café Müller” are clearly doing a great job. The company is no doubt lucky in still having so many dancers who worked with the great lady. But questions still remain about the future. There is clearly still a huge appetite for her works. Theatres could still be sold out many times over. But I do wonder how long can the company go on dancing only historical works, especially given that so many of them are rooted so solidly in the original performers.

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