Experimental Theatre, National Theater, Taipei; February 25, 2010
Just 26 years old, and still studying for his Masters degree in Choreography, which he went straight into from his first degree in dance, Huang Yi (黃翊) has already carved out quite a reputation as one of Taiwan’s foremost young choreographers. He achieved national recognition with his work for Taiwan’s noted all-male company Horse Dance Theatre (驫舞劇場), including picking up the prestigious Taishin Arts Award in 2007 for “Velocity”; and has had critical success with works for Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2舞集). He seems to be a man in a hurry.
“Spin 2010” is described in the publicity as an ‘integrated work’ that combines dance, photography, video, music and arts. That set off alarm bells! All too often choreographers start such projects with great intentions, but then the dance becomes secondary to the video and everything else going on around it. But there was hope. This was far from the first time Huang has worked with cranes and video, the piece being the culmination of four years of work that includes installations and projects in France and Taiwan.
Even so, it was with some trepidation that I took my seat, and cast my eyes over the 5-metre square stage dominated by a custom built mechanical boom hung from above, replete with an arm on the end holding a video camera, and four giant video screens behind and above the audience, seated in the round.
As the work crackled into life, and the ‘music’ really did sound like crackling electronic interference, the boom started spinning. And it continued to revolve around the stage, occasionally changing speed or level, for the whole 60 minutes. Surprisingly, far from being a distraction it became part of the dance, as if it was an extra dancer in the space. It was also a home for some LCD and laser lighting, the rotations allowing some impressive effects to be created on the stage floor.
The programme referred to a series of flowing images from a car window. The ‘flowing’ part of that is certainly correct, although the choreography simply seemed to be a collection of abstract ideas. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Despite the generally one-paced nature of the work the interest was almost held throughout, with only one duet in the middle of the piece struggling to keep one’s attention. I could, though, have done with rather less strobe lighting. Although it was mostly confined to one section, it made watching uncomfortable and was grossly overdone.
Given the ever-present risk of being hit by the boom, the ten dancers performed Huang’s largely fluid choreography with its constant intertwining of bodies with great assurance. Particularly impressive was the smoothness with which dancers arrived and left the space and on-stage partnerships constantly changed.
Perhaps it was the fact the video screens were placed above the audience combined with the fact we were looking slightly down at the dance, but they were not intrusive at all. Or perhaps it was the fact that the choreography was good enough not to notice them. When the screens stopped working half way through the piece the attention continued to be held fully, although whether that was due to Huang’s choreography for his real life dancers or more a result of the hypnotic effect of the boom is open to question.
When I did take time to look at the projections, I was struck by how well the ever-circling boom captured the movement of the dancers. The on-screen view of the dance was enhanced by many special effects, combining, inverting, superimposing and otherwise transforming the real-life movement below in many ways. Particularly potent was the way the screen was sometimes split in two, each half mirroring the other. I hope the video was recorded. Properly edited, I suspect it would make an excellent stand-alone dance film.