‘The Remaining Mountain’ is the name given to a section from ‘Dwelling in the Fuchan Mountains,’ an ink landscape painted in 1350 by Huang Gongwang (1269–1354). Apparently, it was separated from the rest of the scroll during the seventeenth century, when the Qing Emperor Wu Hongyu cast it into the fire on his deathbed. The painting was rescued, but the two sections remained apart until this year, when the Zhejiang Provincial Museum lent ‘The Remaining Mountain’ to the National Palace Museum in Taipei, where the remainder of the scroll is kept.
The resulting exhibition is called ‘Landscape Reunited’, and a foreigner can only guess at the political significance of this act of cultural restitution. Similarly, one wonders about the different meanings that the ArtsCross project may hold for the participants from China and Taiwan. At the same time, one should be cautious not to allow such symbolism to detract from the work itself – either in the case of Huang’s handscroll, or the dances currently being created.
I myself was very struck by this phrase, ‘the remaining mountain’. In English, it can have two quite contrasting meanings: the last mountain standing; or the mountain yet to come. In addition, there’s a gentle tautology to the phrase itself, since if there’s one thing we usually assume about mountains, it’s their durability. Of course, we know they may rise and fall over millennia, that the occasional hill has been razed to meet the needs of developers, or indeed raised to meet the needs of performance artists, as in Zhang Huan’s ‘To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain’ (1995). But by and large, ‘remaining’ is what mountains do. It’s their bread and butter.
Now, I’m no Derridean, but it strikes me that in roaming around the remaining mountain, we have entered the territory of what Derrida called the logic of the supplement: an add-on that is thereby foundational, because it defines the original as such. And as I wandered through the rehearsal studios yesterday, I wondered to myself where the remaining mountain was in each of the rooms, what it was to each of the dances.
The most literal answer is to be found in Studio 6, whose wonderful views of the mountainous landscape surrounding the TNUA are reflected in some of the wall mirrors. This, in turn, draws attention to the visual field of the studios. Normally neutral, we are used to a visual environment that is at once charged (the studio is a site of intense scrutiny, both of self and others), but constrained. Here, the sky, city, landscape, lights invite themselves in – either presenting themselves with panoramic panache to whoever glances out of the window, or, creeping obliquely across the mirrors as one’s own position shifts and the sun proceeds across the sky.
Publicity material for ‘Landscape Reunited’ describes ‘Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains’ as a ‘landscape of the mind’, which is rendered “in a ‘sketching-ideas’ type of freehand brushwork…The application of the brush is quite calligraphic, at times gentle and serene, while at others free and untrammeled.” We need not resort to clichés about the relationship between dance and calligraphy (thoroughly investigated in any case in ‘Cursive’ by Cloud Gate, whose HQ we visited this morning) to note that this combination is also on display in the rehearsal rooms of TNUA. Different choreographers have different styles, but in all cases, the rehearsals take a ‘sketching-ideas’ approach: the dancers performing against a dramatic backdrop of hills and towns, with the city in the distance: Dancing in the Taipei Mountains.
Down in Studio 3, a quirky design feature affords a different kind of ‘Remaining Mountain’ view. Watching Lai Tsui-Shuang work with her dancers to pack ever more gunpowder into her firecracking duet, I overheard the plaintive erhu of Zhang Jianmin’s piece, and realized that a Perspex panel allowed me to see through into his rehearsal, which was being done in full costume. The Perspex is only about a metre wide, so one has a partial view, but turning one’s head through 180?, one is able to block together a fragment of the Chinese dance with the fuller ‘scroll’ of the Taiwanese.
This particular combination has its own qualities – the Mongolian grasslands set alongside a bleary tale of modern break-up. But it also threw into relief how we researchers have been experiencing the process. I bought a concertinaed reproduction of ‘Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains’ at the Museum, and have been periodically leafing through. In the Museum itself, one must take in the painting on the move – right to left is the correct direction, but old habits die hard, and I intuitively went left to right. To think of the works as scrolling by, while we ourselves move from room to room, is to recognize the ways they join up for us, and perhaps for us to see continuities where audience members and indeed the choreographers themselves may see differences.
To see the works as creating a compelling landscape in this way also draws attention to the ways Huang’s trees, rivers and mountains are here replaced by bodies (which figure only minimally in the scroll). I watched so much dancing yesterday (Cloud Gate trip + run-though of all ten pieces), no doubt the ‘landscape’ of my own mind is crowded with torsos and limbs to an unusual degree. But the ‘remaining mountain’ component also draws our attention to the points of intersection between these dancers.
There are countless ways in which the dancers in this project make and break contact with each other. But the other night I was struck by one in particular. Bula had been working quite painstakingly on a solo. Immediately after that, a duet between two men exploded into the space, and it was thrilling. An eye-popping combination of need and rejection, combat and tenderness, masculine posturing and mutual reliance. It’s intricate and the dancers cover the entire space of the stage, dominating it. But the piece crystallizes for me in a relatively simple move: they lean forward, into each other, and one, slightly higher, pushes the other backwards – he slides in his socks, like a sumo wrestler being bulldozed out of the ring. As I watched it, the phrase ‘man mountain’ sprang to mind. Normally, this describes a large man. Here, it took two, and it was on the move. I tried to snap a picture during the run-through. It reminds me that as in dance, so elsewhere, we are all remaining mountains to each other; both supplementary and foundational. Whether we seek or find restitution there is another matter entirely.