Taiwan Season review round up: Solo Date; NuShu; Lost In Grey; The Sacrifice Of Roaring; Sounds Of Taiwan; The Adventure Of Puppets

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A challenging drama about artificial intelligence and a dance treatment of ancient rituals are Taiwan Season highlights for Kelly Apter

Solo Date: ****

Venue: Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)

NuShu: ***

Venue: Dance Base (Venue 22)

Lost In Grey: ****

Venue: Dance Base (Venue 22)

The Sacrifice Of Roaring: ***

Venue: ZOO (Venue 124)

Sounds Of Taiwan: ****

Venue: ZOO Southside (Venue 82)

The Adventure Of Puppets: ***

Venue: Summerhall (Venue 26)

The pain of losing a loved one, and the desire to have them back, is a universal longing with no resolution. But what if there was a way to have that person back, albeit in a different form – would you choose to? That’s the situation Ho-Nien finds himself in in Solo Date, a fascinating and moving look at Artificial Intelligence.

When Alain, his partner of eight years, dies in a plane crash, Ho-Nien requests a download of all the dead man’s thoughts and feelings into a digital version he can call upon at will. But along with facts and memories, come secrets about Alain he never knew – bursting open their relationship beyond the grave.

On one level, Solo Date is a love story, tender and bittersweet. On another it’s a challenging look at the technology industry’s quest to imbue machines with human emotions. Writer, director and performer Pao-Chang Tsai makes interesting use of language (English, Mandarin and French are all present here), and calls upon his own skill as an actor, and clever technical trickery, to question our increasing compulsion to live our lives online rather than in the flesh.

On the dance front, this year’s Taiwan Season has brought us three very different works, capturing aspects of the country’s culture and mindset, both past and present.

Choreographer Hui-Chen Tan of Water Reflection Dance Ensemble was inspired by a secret language, written and spoken, which the women of Hunan Province in China used to communicate without men’s knowledge. NuShu (or ‘women’s writing’) finds five dancers re-visiting the happiness and deep sadness inherent in their words, through delicate movement and occasional flashes of drama.

Lost In Grey, by Resident Island Dance Theatre, leaves a much stronger impression, and choreographer Chang Chung-an is definitely one to watch. Taiwan made the headlines earlier this year, following a shockingly violent act involving a young girl, later attributed to the mental illness of her assailant.

Chang takes his nation’s (and every other nation’s) struggle to support the mental health needs of its people as his starting point, bringing in a gripping rock soundtrack to drive it along. Although the moments of twitching and scratching feel a little caricatured, when the dancers come together in unison, the piece truly soars.

Like Chang, Chen-Wei Hsu is one of the new, up and coming choreographers on the Taiwan scene. So it’s surprising to find him tackle ancient rituals in his atmospheric work, The Sacrifice Of Roaring. Until, that is, you learn that he grew up in his parents’ funeral parlour, surrounded by death and mourning on a daily basis. The show opens with a large amount of text spoken into a microphone at the back of the stage, while the dancers move hypnotically on a red carpet out front.

It is a slightly frustrating opening, because you can’t help but feel that, if we could only understand them, those words would give us a gateway to the choreography. Despite this, there are still some captivating moments and a real intensity to the work.

Musicians Hugues Vincent, Ryohei Kanemitsu and Chang Chin Lo – known collectively as the Wooonta Trio – are a real find. The show’s title, Sounds Of Taiwan, is based more on the fact that’s where the three men met, rather than the work they play. Vincent hails from France, Kanemitsu from Japan and Chin Lo from Taiwan, each bringing a flavour of their homeland to the table.

That said, their repertoire extends even further, with flavours of Eastern Europe also in the mix. Personable and friendly, the three men introduce each work before proving themselves true masters of their chosen instruments of sitar (Kanemitsu, who trained in India), cello (Vincent, a real driving force) and the Chinese erhu (Chin Lo, who produces more depth of emotion than seems possible from a two-stringed fiddle). A truly sumptuous hour of sound.

The Adventure Of Puppets, this year’s offering for families in the Taiwan Season, is a simple but relatively charming affair. Standing behind a work bench, Tsung-Hsien Lu and Siang-Guo Jia can’t stop bickering. One wants to work, the other wants to play. Eventually they pool their resources and start turning random objects into something far more fun.

So much of childhood play is about pretending, and this show taps squarely into that. A few lengths of metal and some wooden bobbins build up to become a flying ship, a mop head morphs into a friendly dog, leading to exactly the kind of play the young audience can identify with.

Solo Date until 29 August; today 1:45pm. Sounds of Taiwan until 27 August; today 8:45pm. Lost in Grey until 28 August; today 5:15pm. NuShu until 28 August; today 3pm. The Sacrifice of Roaring until 29 August; today 6:30pm. The Adventure of Puppets until 28 August; today 11.45am.

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