There were a couple of times today, as I sat watching a hoard of young and mainly Asian hopefuls in one of the studios in the dance department buildings on the campus of TNUA (Taipei National University of Arts), when just I couldn’t help thinking about A Chorus Line.
If you know your iconic American musicals (or their film adpatations) you’ll recognise the title as that of an iconic 1970s hit about a Broadway dance audition. It’s the show that ends, after a helluva lot of soul-baring, with a host of hoofers in identical spangly gold costumes stepping out in style as the collective embodiment of ’one singular sensation.’
At TNUA there were ninety-odd singular sensations crowding the dance floor, and ranging in age from about 15 to thirtysomething. The task that had to be accomplished with them was one of selection on the part of ten choreographers — four from Taiwan, three from mainland China and another trio from the UK. This is the ArtsCross choreographic team who’ll each be spending the next three weeks making a short (ten minutes max) dance piece that’ll be publicly performed at the end of August.
But when you’ve only got three hours to put that number of bodies through their paces, and in a single space, you can only be so choosy. And yet choosy you have to be in terms of such attributes as body type, level of experience, perceived strength and stamina, the ability to pick up the movement quickly, a juicy physical expressivity and dynamic flow, presence and personality.
All the auditonees wore numbered sleeveless t-shirts, but of course no two participants were alike. It’s just that some stood out at different times more than the others. Seeign them in smaller groups of ten or so was an altogether fascinating exercise in what catches (or loses) the eye. Sometimes it was their size, as well as how well they moved, that counted. The tall female #3. for instance, seemed to indicate a consistent power in motion and yet wasn’t able to melt down to the floor in quite the oozy, spiralling manner that one section of the movement phrase she’d just learnt would’ve allowed her to do. Then there was male #89 who with his compact body and floppy mop of platinum-blond hair looked like a trend-setting Shetland pony. This boy’s head was as hard to overlook as wiry male #14′s butt-hugging green camouflage-patterned short-shorts. In a sea of bodies these, too, are the sort of things you notice.
Some dancers came to the fore not just for how they looked, but for what they did and when. I’m thinking of male #40 injecting unexpected, fairly subtle street moves into a musical improvisation, say, or the admirably focused way in which male #96 strode slowly and simply downstage through a stream of busily wriggling, self-centred dancers and made us aware of being aware of them himself. Or how about the ten dancers imported from the Beijing Dance Academy? Sure, they were auditioning in order to be seen and considered by the choreographers. But they were also pretty much guaranteed to get picked, if only because to send any back to China would be a waste of the money already spent to bring them to Taipei, as well as a loss of — or possibly slap in — the face. Anyway, they’re plainly a professionally well-attuned gang. How better to account for the wonderful moment when they were executing, in unison, a short series of voracious and animalistically martial phrases (conococted by the choreographer Avatara Ayuso) and (per her repeated request of those we’d already seen) suddenly began vocalising the breaths they took at each kick, lunge or twist?
So, after all that, it was back to the conference room and a drawing board where the talented ten listed their top choices. It was rather like watching election results being tabulated up-close albeit on a small-scale. Each choregrapher could pick up to six dancers, but the popularity of certain ones created complications. There were inevitably compromises, plus a good deal of swapping to be done, in order to accommodate everyone’s needs and the demands of a schedule that will see each choreographer in the studio for just three hours a day (exclusing weekends) for the next few, short weeks. But at least the first literal steps in bringing ArtsCross to actual creative fruition have been taken. Let the next phase of hard work — and fun — begin.