Ballet Tech's Mandance Project
Joyce Theater, NYC
March 25–April 5, 2009
Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Photo by Chang Chih Chen. Guest company HORSE, from Taiwan, in their collaborative work,
Eliot Feld’s opening-night gala—which included a demo by a squadron of Ballet Tech students—might be the longest single-troupe show I’ve ever seen. It would be easy to lay blame at the pointed feet of those earnest youngsters; their disciplined, parent-pleasing segment did consume time. But the true culprit here is Feld. His Proverb (2004) and three premieres made huge visual splashes, then, having nothing more to add, kept right on splashing.
It’s frustrating to grasp the impulse behind a dance and then wait, in vain, for the choreographer to take us somewhere further along the line. The solo Radiance set willowy Ha-Chi Yu and her tresses twirling, swerving, and rippling on the looping pulse of dulcimer music by Laraaji. Aside from a few diversions when the gorgeous dancer pitched over, aiming one leg skyward, or twitched her purple-clad hip, precious little veered from Feld’s basic formula.
Wu-Kang Chen’s handsome, nearly nude physique anchored the solos Proverb and Dust. In the first, he wore lights on his palms, creating unusual shadows and other effects on the darkened stage. In the new piece, an identically-underdressed Wu-Kang seemed trapped inside a gigantic paper shredder—a thrilling image, at first, but one Feld worked to death. Was the OFF switch broken?
Elaborate set changes between dances and two 20-minute intermissions also contributed to Program A’s lengthiness, to say nothing of Feld’s opening remarks which, at least, offered some humor. The Spaghetti Ballet—a fantasia on those westerns that feature soundtracks by Ennio Morricone—blew its chance at humor by throwing too many confusing ingredients and hijinks into the spaghetti bowl. A stilt-walking gunslinger showing off Victoria’s Secret undies beneath her coat; crouch-walking Mexicans who seem to be all sombrero; a prisoner jerking about on an electric chair…no, don’t ask!
The more interesting Program B presented guests from Taiwan—HORSE, an all-male, contemporary dance collaborative, including Wu-Kang—in the U.S. premiere of Bones. Initial ensemble work made a promising start, as the huddled dancers’ bodies gave the white-walled, distorted, gallery-like space a strong sense of depth and a multitude of ever-evolving, intricate surfaces.
In its antiseptic setting, the hour-long work sometimes resembled dry studio experiments—one quirky movement followed by another—rather than deeply felt and animated expression. In those moments, I felt that, if I looked away, I could slip back without having missed anything of consequence. But embedded in Bones were also wondrous, idiosyncratic solos crafted by Wu-Kang and colleagues Shu-Yi Chou, Wei-Chia Su, Yu-Ming Yang, and superbly nimble Tsung-Lung Cheng. These artists should become frequent visitors to New York.