I struggle to find words to explain what I saw at the 2018 PuSh Festival headliner. One thing is for certain: this performance is slow. Very very very very slow. The dancers and the musicians possess an impossible amount of focus, patience and love for what they are doing. It is what allows them to tell such intricate, detailed and nuanced stories. The women are painted white, the men a brownish-red. I’ve forgotten how beautiful open flame looks onstage. The costumes are incomparable. The show is two and a quarter hours long, no intermission. These dancers have incredible stamina. They are in amazing shape.
People are dressed up, the Mayor is here, when I enter the auditorium there are white sheets hanging from the ceiling, and covering the floor. There are lit candles everywhere. That makes me nervous; open flame has been banished from live theatre in Canada. There is an offering at downstage centre, a candle, stalks of wheatgrass, stones.
The set is minimal, 98% of it disappears in the first five minutes of the show, but what remains: three blue-green sheets of fabic hanging upstage act as a entrance and an exit throughout, and it’s stunning texture is only shown off twice throughout.
I found the lighting design initially to be under detailed and slightly careless, but after twenty minutes or so, it became incredibly effective, giving the stage what appeared to be miles of depth. I had the rare opportunity to speak with the lighting designer post-show. He invited my critique, and proceeded to explain to me exactly why he made every choice that he did, stating: “if you can’t explain it, what’s the point?”.
A Duet: Two dancers, a man and a woman approach eachother slowly, their bodies disappear into one another, and they are surrounded by four dancers who make their way slowly to the ground, they hold long stalks of wheat that when shaken, drop seeds that look like snow.
The Fast Part: All of the men, dressed in Taiwanese Indigenous costumes emerge, stomping and yelling and running, waving around their stalks of wheat, making a huge mess of the stage. All but four exit, and they strike a pose- for a second we think it might be done… until a man runs onstage holding about 250 sticks of burning incense and suddenly we’re in the streets of Hualien and we realise that it is far from over.
The Curtain Call: The curtains rises and falls about five times, and in that time the company bows to their musicans, to their tech, to the audience, and then finally, to choreographer Lin Lee-Chen, who comes onstage to graciously thank the audience and her dancers. The most genuine curtain call I have witnessed. I stand.
I wish I could watch the show again, but alone. I want to be the only person in the audience. To lose myself in the journey of this show, to not be distracted by the very, very full house at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
It’s entirely impossible to do this show justice with words. When I spoke with Lin Lee-Chen after the show in my limited Mandarin, I said “I don’t even have words to describe how I feel in English, so all I can say is thank you”.
The show is described in it’s publicity as “poetry in motion”, and “an adventure in beauty”. I disagree. This show was messy, it was raw and vulnerable, it was uncomfortable and risky, it was life and the ocean and the country of Taiwan and everything all at once and nothing at the same time. It was a lot of things, but “beautiful” is simply not enough.
You owe it to yourself to see the work of Legend Lin Dance Theatre before you die. Do it. Seriously. Do it.
Read all about them here.