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Kaohsiung City Ballet

2013 Dance Shoe

by David Mead

February 2, 2013 -- Experimental Theatre, Taipei

Now in its tenth year, Kaohsiung City Ballet’s annual Dance Shoe programme once again featured an eclectic mix of choreography in what was an enjoyable and interesting evening. The part-time company may have its roots very firmly in classical technique but as usual most of this year’s offerings had a distinctly modern dance edge. Company founder and director Chang Hsiu-ru may encourage the use of pointe work, but Dance Shoe has never been what might be called a ‘tutu evening.’

The series aims to provide KCB’s dancers opportunities to work in a different way with a variety of often young and emerging choreographers. Opening the programme, though, was a work from someone whose name was known to everyone in the audience, even if as a performer rather than a dance-maker: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre associate artistic director Lee Ching-chun. Her well-crafted and pleasant on the eye “When the wind blows” turned out to be the most classical piece of the evening. Lee manoeuvred her cast of four women with graceful ease, frequently constructing sculptural images reminiscent of classical friezes. All the time there was a sense of loss as, in autumnal light, a soft breeze, and in costumes featuring the golds and browns of the autumnal palette, the cast of four women frequently looked out into space as if remembering someone no longer with them. Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” is greatly overused by choreographers, but on this occasion it fitted the mood perfectly.

Tsai Po-chen’s “Heartbreak” may have been another piece about separation and memory, but could not have been more different. Here, through spoken text and dance, everything was set out in the open; all was revealed. The dance featured some excellent and effortless partnering, notably in two long duets between Zhang Yu and Zhang Sheng-he, the former quite fearless as she went into one tricky lift and support after another. The staging was as stark as you can get: the dancers in white underwear-like garments, and white lighting against a black background. The music, from Peter Broderick and a lesser known piece of Max Richter worked well. I also liked the way two white screens were moved around changing the space, sometimes revealing or hiding dancers too. My only gripe was the entry of the actor speaking the text into the space. It added nothing and even took away from the dance at times, most notably when he proceeded to run round the stage. Tsai, still only in his mid-20s is clearly talented, but sometimes less is more.

Of the shorter works, Wang Kuo-chuan’s “After fashion”, a solo on a stage littered with toys and stuffed animals did little for me. It lacked impact and the intent was rather obscure. Setting the movement against a video of twin industrial chimneys belching smoke made for an effective juxtaposition though.

There was more Richter, this time a section from “Infra”, in “Heartbeat” by Chang Chung-an. This featured three women who spent most of the time stretching their long white shifts them in front of them to depict pregnancy; an idea that failed to go anywhere and that never matched the intensity of the music. Following that was the playful duet, “Someone”, by well-known modern dance choreographer and now US-based Lin Hsiang-hsiu.

The evening was given an upbeat and vibrant round off by “Beauty” from Cloud Gate dancer Wang Wei-ming, danced to three songs by Adele, and which in fact featured three beauties, in red, pink and green dresses respectively. Quite lyrical in style, this was very much an American modern dance inspired piece with some pleasing, flowing solo work. Quite why the dancers wore pointe shoes, though, is a pertinent question. One of the earlier choreographers, Lin Hsiang-hsiu was quoted as saying she wants the audience to forget the dancers are wearing them. But here, and not for the first time, the choreography had the opposite effect. Given how infrequently they were used, one started to wonder why they had them on at all.

Rumour has it that Chang has thought about at least giving the series a break, and maybe dropping it altogether. But Dance Shoe continues to ask questions, of choreographers, dancers and audiences. That is essential if dance is to progress. She should dispense with any such ideas.

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