(Dancer Yu-Kang Chen, photo by Lois Greenfield)
The first piece of the evening, a premiere called Radiance, was an extremely lighthearted solo and uplifting display of simple joy. Female dancer, Ha-Chi Yu, wore a purple one strap dress asymmetrically cut with fabric connected into one purple boot and wore a pink ballet shoe on the other foot. Her long flowing brunette hair flipped in circles as she executed a series of turning triplets, writhing and flicking through the stage space. The stage was set as a lowered back scrim to expose the far brick wall and open side wings to show the boom and lighting fixtures. After a repetitious series of pique hops and arm waving, Ha-Chi planted her hands and one foot on the ground and lifted her leg up to a split, holding momentarily before fanning that leg open and tumbling to the ground. She resumed the same series of hair flipping triplet turns until the piece ended. The exaggerated white space created by the Marley floor and the white backdrop felt enormously vast and helped to create the contrast between the darkness that followed with the next piece, Proverb. (Dancer Ha-Chi Yu, photo by Lois Greenfield)
Darkness masked the stage until suddenly a ball of human sitting cross-legged became visible with light radiating from the center between his legs. He slowly extended limbs to reveal the glowing light attached to the palm of his hands; two gloves with compact lights connected herein. Dancer, Wu-Kang Chen, clad in a simple nude dance belt allowing the eye to see the precision of his movements slowly stood and began to encircle his body with his light-casting hands while moving steadily across the stage. His gloves were the only source of onstage light, causing the audience to focus all their attention on the multifaceted angles of his moving body. A pale yellow green light gently warms the backdrop as Wu-Kang began to flip his hands against himself and the audience, in-and-out, to create a strobe light effect on the viewers’ eyes. he had the ability to extinguish the lights, and would turn off the lights and reappear on the opposite side of stage when he re-activated them. Over and over, he reappeared in different spots, creating the illusion of transport from place to place.
The haunting music of Steve Reich echoed throughout Proverb, repeating the question, “How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life?” The minimalist repetition of the music led me to believe there to be some larger than life meaning behind the dance. Perhaps the inward and outward dichotomy was meant to provoke thought of reflection for members of the audience as we were seeing this constant hand and light flipping onstage. There are always two sides to a story. Is it I? Or is it you? Four bulbs faced outward, his hands flipped inward and outward and then disappeared into darkness. This was one of my favorite pieces of the evening as I am a fan of experimentation with light sources.
The Spaghetti Ballet premiere began with a stilted woman in a black hat (think old Clint Eastwood western movies, complete with the dueling music). She burst through center stage saloon doors and stood intimidatingly staring down the audience with her ripped abs exposed and smoke blazing from the end of her lit cigarette. (This is not a bitch to be trifled with!) Three stereotypical Mexican-types marched in close behind her (her accomplices), wearing oversize sombreros, makeshift ponchos and extra large cowboy boots. These accomplices looked exaggeratedly short next to the stilted women (dancer, Ha-Chi Yu), but are actually younger students of the ballet tech school. Three dancers entered wearing costumes with giant metal-sculptured horse butts and long swinging tails including Heather Lang, telling knock knock jokes to the audience.
The funniest part of the ballet was a scene with a blind girl (Ha-Chi Yu) sits down for a big spaghetti dinner with the male character (played by Heather Lang) served by the funnyman chef, Wei-Chia Su. The blind girl cannot see the dish obviously but she follows her nose into the delicious oversize bowl only to dive so far in that only her feet are sticking out. I was not expecting this, as I had no inkling of the hole in the bowl into the box below, which made it hilarious. But on top of diving so far into the bowl the chef then offers her cracked pepper. I chuckled.
The rest of Spaghetti Ballet was filled with a lot of slapstick humor, which is not my favorite and was always the reason that I didn’t particularly like Looney Tunes as a child (i.e. doors slamming in people’s faces over and over, and death by electrocution). Especially funny was dancer Wei-Chia Su, who managed to master the element of timing for maximum effect of humor. Overall The Spaghetti Ballet felt like it was still a work in progress as many segments felt very disconnected from one another although it had some great moments.
The closing piece, after 20 minutes of setup, an elaborate stage-enclosed netting and an estimated 50 air blowers along the sides of the stage, was well worth the anticipation to make its premiere. A solo for Wu-Kang Chen, Dust, began within the netting-enclosed space and the stage completely littered with newspapers. The solo began slowly to the sounds of a distant siren, music by John Adams, and Wu-Kang cautiously gathered newspapers from all directions of the stage to place in a pile in the center, while half the blowers cast a gentle breeze to stir the paper. He wore a constant look of bewilderment and fixation with staring above as if aliens were about to land or a hurricane about to touch down. After he gathered from all directions and placed in the center, he picked up the center pile and let it trickle out of his hands as the spotlight above him faded out. Many people thought this was the anti-climatic ending, but were quickly surprised by the pounding the of drums and the full force of the blowers blasting paper in a whirlwind of all directions.
Wu-Kang's movement throughout this time was very slow and cautious but seemingly different and more purposeful from earlier in the piece. With the pressure of the wind encircling, he gripped the paper and it naturally clung to him creating the illusions that he was a man completely composed of newspapers, not unlike the photo above. Dust is an amazingly simple conceptual piece and very similar to the Fall time phenomenon of being caught up in a mini cyclone of fallen leaves swirling and encircling.