Sunday, July 19, 2015

New spaces, places and performances

My local lunch spot
The owner & TV
I'm sitting in a small open air-street cafe in a laneway about three doors up from Taipei Artist's Village. It's lunchtime, there's Taiwan soap on the small raised TV to watch as we sit at small tables eating a delicious local staple, pork rice, with a plate of fresh steamed veges for just under $2 AUD. I'm feeling like a regular (after all of two weeks) and enjoying the warm air and the friendly nod of the guy who runs the place (with Mum it looks like). This last week has seen me start to sketch out my project, looking at spaces and meeting new people who are so keen to assist, it's just lovely. I've been seeing some awesome venues and performances, and experiencing the vibrancy and energy that is in the contemporary arts community in Taipei, in particular the contemporary dance scene.

Up the stairs
The newly minted resident artists had the opportunity to visit the recently opened (April this year) Cloud Gate Theater in Tamsui. On a day trip organised by the TAV, the artists and visiting studio interns take the MRT to the end of the (Red!) line, then taxi's to the idyllic lush green surrounds that is the Cloud Gate Theater and the home to international contemporary dance company Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. With our guide we toured the buildings, caught glimpses of dancers in the studio and viewed a photographic exhibition of past works. We then had the pleasure of sitting in on a rehearsal of Rice, a much loved work by the company being currently remounted for international touring and an up coming large-scale outdoor performance in Taipei's cultural center, near the National Theater. Apparently over 10,000 people will attend, and (of course) I am planning to go along and check it out. The Cloud Gate Theater has a wonderful sense of intimacy and warmth compared to the mausoleum effect of so many Chinese theaters. It's beauty in the full-length glass rear windows that let in the natural light and the rich green of the surrounding forest of trees. Magic!  It felt a real privilege to be able to see this space as the interiors are currently not open to general public viewing. Here are some images from places where I was allowed to take them.
Theatre and sculptures!
Deck view

Lunch is provided for the dancers
All those feet
Donors wall - Over 4500+ people helped to build this Theater after a fire wiped our the Company's space & storage in 2008
Nestled in amongst the trees & flowers
Some things are the same...wherever you are
Afterwards we have a traditional Chinese banquet lunch in downtown Tamsui. Off the street, up a small stairway, we are seated around big round tables, old-style fans whirring overhead. The courses keep on coming, loads of seafood, so fresh it comes straight from the tank. I try an assorted range of foods and flavours....some things I know what I am eating, others I don't...
All of us
Snails - and I ate one!
Chinese Feast

We hit the streets and its pelting rain as we trek down narrow alleys and then out along a grey beachfront making our way back up the hill. Tamsui is an historic port town and we experience a guided visit to one of the local tourist spots, Fort Hobe, before we move on to a presentation and Open Studio showing held by the New Taipei International Residency program.  The sun has come out and we are 'steaming', thrilled to take tea (in air conditioning) and chat to the diverse group of mainly visual resident artists who share their work with us. Once again we all end up on the rooftop for a collective group pic!
Tamsui waterfront walk
Fort Hobe
Open Studio - New Taipei International Residential artist
The TAV also organise a visit for us out to the other residential space they operate at Treasure Hill. I appreciate that as part of their mission they state they 'provide a home for Artistic Nomads and Cultural Interchange' and it feels a pretty accurate description of us right now. While only 30 minutes drive away Treasure Hill is another world. Partially set in the heart of a traditional village community, at the edge of a river settlement, it is the antithesis of the urbane centralised space we are living in. A Buddhist temple nestles at the edge of the community, with its warren of studio residential spaces, micro-studio work spaces, galleries and small arty shops & cafes. Here the sense of village life and past history is more prevailing, though within this sense of other worldliness nearby freeways also provide a reminder of the constant pulse of the city. We explore spaces, possible exhibition & presentation venues, and meet the locals (including the rampant mosquitos). * See Treasure Hill page for more pics
Local cafe/store
 I am also here to be introduced to Taiwanese resident artist Tseng Ting Yu who may be able to assist me with my own project. Part of my research and exploration involves working with Chinese text in translation. Not only as 'words' but I am also seeking to capture the movement quality of how it might be written or painted. As Ting is also a gifted calligrapher, the TAV team thought we could possibly collaborate. We take tea with Ting and his partner in his beautiful studio (that he has renovated himself, including building much of the furniture) and have a wonderful session. I am hoping to video him translating text I have written, and then work with this material in a number of different ways in the studio. I am lucky to be with my TAV host Wanying as I am fast learning that some forms of translation definitely require Mandarin.  
Wanying & Tseung Ting Yu
Calligraphy & me
I see another new contemporary dance work The Second Body showcased by local company Anarchy Dance Theatre. This is an exciting collaboration between highly regarded emerging choreographer Chieh-hau Hsieh and digital designers Software Architecture with sound designers Ultra Combos & Yannick Dauby. There are 6 projectors covering every area of a square white tarket, with audience on all four sides. A solo female dancer performs the work, and almost painfully it feels like she is re-building her body from scratch. This is an intimate and powerful performance...then the digital, motion capture technology takes over. In a section of the work a 360 degree full-body length projection is achieved, that pulses and vibrates. It is totally mesmerising as this 'second' created body appears, though I find myself missing the human quality as the performer's body becomes canvas to this digital visual feast. (Check out their website for a video excerpt) Afterwards there is an intensive discussion, and I enjoy the rigor of the questioning, where there is dialogue not merely critique. Thanks to my colleague Hsu Yenting who provides the translation of the exchange.
It's interesting to note that the exploration of digital technology, the use of video and multi-media elements is a key component of many new contemporary dance works in Taiwan. If you are interested in reading more on the work of Hsieh Chieh-Hua and others experimenting with new technologies there is a great article by Chen Chang-Chih The New Aesthetics of Dance & Technology in Taiwan in Culturebot.
Anarchy's new work

Audience with projectors

At other times I am watching and experiencing new work on my own with limited translation to the post-show discussions (which seem a natural part of most presentations and are involved and often lengthy). This makes for a different and unique experience which is no less rewarding as I 'feel' my way and open up to another level of allowing impression and imprint to happen organically. I view a new work in progress showing at NTU Theater by Dance Forum Taipei which reflects upon the Chinese age-old tradition of footbinding. It is a poetic and lyrical piece, that is poignant and gently moving and will grow into an interesting work. It is to be accompanied by two grand pianos played live and much of the discussion centres around the spatial design challenges. The following day I visit the Company in their own studios and I am warmly welcomed by Artistic Director Ping Heng & resident choreographer Ming-Lung Yang. We watch Company auditions and I am introduced to recent graduates and auditionees who may participate in my project. After getting lost in the labyrinth of laneways on my way there it ultimately proves to be a productive morning!
Dance Forum Taipei Studio
Work in Progress showing at NTU
Later in the week, TAV Director Wu Dar-Kuen invites me to the opening of an installation/multi-disciplinary work as part of the Songyan Culture Lab, an initiative of the Songshan Cultural Park.  Much more Mandarin text features in this exploration by a group of emerging artists under the direction of I-Fen Tung (M.O.V E Theatre) in this site-specific installation. Incorporating video, visual design, choreographed movement and text with some audience interaction (we can sit anywhere, and move about the work) the elements don't quite jell, and we are left with a feeling that the collaboration between these artists hasn't quite achieved what it might have. It is certainly the opinion of one viewer. In a post show discussion that lasts almost as long as the work, even though he is speaking in Mandarin, one recognises the familiar and universal tone of the disgruntled expert!
Songshan Culture & Art park - another converted factory space
Show ends
The Installation
It's been a stimulating introduction to feeling the 'groove and move' of the local dance/performance community. What began with a visit to Cloud Gate just over a week ago culminates in watching their open-air free public performance of Rice. To sit amongst thousands of local people in this grand historic venue is a magical and unforgettable experience. The energy is quietly anticipatory and also joyful. They are here to watch, appreciate and celebrate the work of one of the great contemporary choreographers, Lin Hwai Min (who receives a rock star welcome on stage) and experience this incredible dance company. They and I are not disappointed, it is an wonderful finale to an amazing week.

 ....we got in touch with the wind and the sun, the drizzle of rain and the mud and the soil. You can create work in a studio but the elements of nature stimulate you physically. You press down into the ground and draw energy from gravity. You feel a sense of power from pushing into the soil with your feet. It was a wonderful experience and gave us a new perspective: it's not just dancing...
(Lin Hwai Min)
Cloud Gate in action


  1. Amazing! You are really having an immersive experience - hope your head doesn't explode with it all before your three months are up ;) Cloud Gate building looks beautiful - is it just a company HQ or does it have theatres as well? Miss you here x

    1. Hi Fiona
      Yes, in addition to being Cloud Gate's home is also a venue space for the public to attend contemporary dance performances (not only by Cloud Gate). Missing you too! x