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Huang Yi & Hu Chien

'Double Yellow Lines', 'Whisper'

by David Mead

September 27, 2012 -- Experimental Theater, National Theater, Taipei

Huang Yi is noted as a choreographer who likes to combine dance with technology. Past pieces have included computer played violins and a spinning boom complete with cameras that send live images to screens surrounding the audience. “Double Yellow Lines” is about as different as it gets. In a complete about turn, Huang has stripped things down to the bare basics. There’s no set and minimal lighting; just two dancers and live music from French-Vietnamese composer and pianist An Ton That, also known as Anken.

In the programme, Huang described the piece as being intimate and personal. It’s certainly very introspective. No doubt the various sections were reflections on different times in his life, but although I’m sure it was packed with meaning for him, it was not always clear to the audience.

Both Huang and Hu are outstanding dancers. Both are beautifully smooth and delicate. Falls to the ground are often completed without a whisper of sound. The dance was mostly lit by a single spotlight that has the effect of drawing you into their world. It also added to the haunting feeling to the action. In his solo sections, Huang frequently used a hand to initiate movement in another part of the body. In a duet with Hu, his head was often pushed down as if against his will. There was a sense of fighting against something or someone, although it was a battle he never won.

Another section saw Hu sitting at a desk, Huang dancing to the amplified sound of a pencil on paper, a pen clinked against a glass, a snapping pencil, and the sound of a metronome. It made for an effective accompaniment, although it would have been much better if Hu had not looked at Huang throughout. Maybe the idea was to make sound in response to movement, but surely it would have been more effective the other way round.

“Double Yellow Lines” ends with a long section that sees Huang replace Anken at the piano, later to be joined by him and Hu in a threesome. Apparently the idea came out of an improvisation in a rehearsal when Anken asked the dancers to play any single note on the piano and he would turn it into a musical phrase. Not that any of that was obvious on the night, because what happened was that, far from sounding like an improvised collection of phrases, the music made sounded as if it had been composed. The lack of dance here also led to or two of the audience understandably getting a little restless.

“Whisper” is Huang’s prize-winning 2007 duet to Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”. It’s a beautiful piece of music, if one that has been rather ‘danced to death’ over the years. Still, in many ways this is a more satisfying piece, not least because it has a few more changes in dynamic and energy. It certainly stuck in the memory much more strongly after the show.

“Whisper” is beautiful and moving. The two dancers really were as one. There seemed to be a real connection between them, and not only in the startling synchronicity of movement. Where it fell down when put alongside “Double Yellow Lines” is that much of the movement seemed little more than a reprise. And why oh way, after the joy of hearing live music in the first part of the evening, couldn’t the piano version of the score have been used here. It would have added so much more.

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