Review: Taiwanese troupe showy, versatile
ALBANY “Fantastic Taiwan 101” sounded like a primer on Taiwanese culture. But as seen at The Egg on Friday night, this program presented by Da-Guan Dance Theater, was much more.
It was a surprising, silly and showy display of traditional dance doused with classical and contemporary styles and sounds. Actually, it looked like a commercial Broadway tribute to Taiwanese art, something that Rodgers and Hammerstein might stage, only on a smaller scale.
Still, these dozen dancers, all trained at the National Taiwan University of Arts, are outsized and versatile, tackling aboriginal bamboo pole dances as well as ballet, martial arts, modern and hip-hop.
The evening began, as expected, with a traditional ribbon and fan dance. Eight women in silks of pale pinks and blues waved peacock feather fans with delicacy. Taking tiny steps on their heels, they formed a tight circle and shuddered like a flower in the breeze.
They disappeared one by one, returning with long sashes trailing off their sleeves. They unfurled the gossamer scarves, which circled around their heads and bodies like glowing halos. It was lovely.
The men came on strong in the next number, “The Great Tides Are Sweeping the Coast.” The quartet charged and crouched as if going to battle. But the piece also foretold what was to come as the men jeted and pirouetted with speedy aggression, demonstrating their firm footing in ballet.
Their contemporary sensibilities shone in “The Flow,” a homage to tai chi. To a sweeping, symphonic score, the dancers hypnotized as they moved through the passages of the ancient, meditative form. At the same time, they passed through the positions with a vibrancy that pumped tai chi into a life-affirming ensemble act.
As the program moved along, the dance and music became more westernized. In the bamboo dance, the dancers were dressed in traditional costumes and were driven by the ancient rhythms. But overpowering the dance was a flowery song. Here is where Da-Guan crossed the line of culture preservation and education into entertainment. While it was engrossing, especially the skipping the men did over the long sticks, one has to wonder if the older audience members from the Taiwanese community were disappointed in what the youth were doing to their precious traditions.
In the second half of the program, the dancers further collided and converged with the West. For example, they staged Tchaikovsky’s Chinese divertissement from “The Nutcracker.” The soloist, who wielded a peony that exploded into a ribbon, did a beautiful job showing that choreographers do not need to parody the Chinese, as they usually do, for this variation. The music stood up beautifully without the degrading schtick.
The ensemble was having fun too with such pieces as “The Different Tunes,” in which a group of traditional Taiwanese women, who were creating the illusion of flowers with their hands, met a b-boy. With his headphones on, he broke to the beat, luring one of the girls to adopt his street style. What ensued was a humorous battle between East and West. No one won. Rather each co-existed happily, as it should be.