For my second recent cultural outing, I purchased tickets to go and watch Three Times Rebel a performance choreographed by Marina Mascarell and produced as a collaboration between Korzo Theater, Nederlands Dans Theater, Mercat de les Flors House of Dance and Dance Forum Taipei. This time I bought the tickets online myself and attempted (but failed) to get the nearest ibon machine to give them to me. In the end I had to drag Teresa to the 7-eleven to walk me through the steps.
In Hong Kong it was easy to buy tickets, the main ticket office was on my commute and open late so I could pick them up in person any time. Here it seems that I need to get to grips with the online system and that means embracing the ibon. I photographed the process in order to make sure I could do it by myself next time.*
This time the venue was Wellspring Theatre in Gongguan district, a 500-seat government performance space on the 10th floor of a government building, the two lower floors are given over to markets and the others are all offices for different administrative divisions. It certainly had a slightly utilitarian feel to it, the corridor between the left and right side of the auditorium felt more like a hospital ward than an art space.
The general artist’s statement for the piece explains: “Mascarell and her dancers delved into the extensive history of women’s emancipation and was [sic] confronted with frustrating structures of exclusion, (symbolic) violence and gender inequality. Prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping are still very much a part of life in 2017”. The show literature on our seats had a little more detail than this, it used numbers to show why this sort of exploration is still relevant today, (upwards of a million women sold for sex each year in Asia, 46% of women in the Netherlands have suffered sexual attacks, one rape every 8 hours in Spain, only 3% of European CEOs are female), and extensive reading and film lists show that Mascarell is not messing around, she’s done her homework.
The one hour performance opened with the sort of visual metaphor which seems almost too easy, a frame – or box – was used as a prop, the joints of the frame enabled it to morph into a variety of rhomboid shapes which the seven dancers (five women and two men), then literally bent over backwards to fit in to – to conform to in much the same way that we’re expected to in society at large. (The frames are a recurring theme throughout the whole performance, mostly adding a sense of coherence, but sometimes it felt they were getting in the way.) It was almost as if the audience was being allowed a warm up period, a while to get used to reading the dance. One dancer broke away and fled the box to dance solo and this first phase of the dance culminated in her being suspended, pinned against the back wall by the (now separated) frame rods, she was chased there by the others, lifted and then when they stepped back she just hung there, the rods under her arms holding her up. At the time of watching, it felt clearly like she was being persecuted for daring to be different, and as I think back to the scene later, the visual pinnacle seems redolent of a witch trial culminating in a woman being burned at the stake – perhaps I’m being fanciful there but it seems possible in this context.
The next phase of the dance was what made me really sit up and start watching – it was prefaced by a speech in Chinese which I didn’t really follow and which was only vaguely translated by Teresa in order not to annoy those around us. The woman who had broken away towards the end of the last portion was brought down, her body limp and obliging and carried on the backs, arms, legs, feet of the other dancers like a life-sized doll, periods of transitional movement being broken by pauses, moments where her body was posed, then finishing touches made by the hands of another, head tilted, smile lifted, hair brushed aside. The posing became increasingly pornographic and uncomfortable to watch, hands grabbed her hips to raise her butt, head pushed down, mouth opened – in one pose another dancer blew on her hair to recreate the effect of a wind-machine to get that ‘artfully messy/just fucked’ look that you see in some kinds of porn photography. As I watched, I felt that it was probably the most eloquent description of how porn imagery and ideals have come to inhabit our (public and private) lives – the impositions of others trickling down until they become strong enough to sweep up many young people whose early understandings of sexuality came packaged this way. The main dancer’s passive, limp body was quietly shocking to observe, likewise it’s callous treatment, only bodies, legs, feet, shoulders were used to carry her, not hands, suggesting and indirectness, a lack of intention save for those at the top making sure her hair and smile looked good – it was sinister.
Each phase culminated with one dancer splitting away, then merged into the next phase with that dancer giving a speech the statements were presented as the opinions or experiences of individuals and without verbal rebuttal or judgement so that the dance served as counterpoint or example. One of the speeches was about how the performer’s older sister had gone to the temple to ask the Gods a question, she threw the moon blocks three times, but each time the Gods’ answer came back negative, they didn’t want to talk to her. The performer said that after her sister tried, she went herself and asked the Gods, unlike her sister, the Gods gave her three positive answers – in the end she reasoned that it must be because the Gods knew the sister was on her period and Gods don’t talk to women during that time. The performer relayed this story with a cheery tone, smiling, all the while being held aloft, rotating on the feet and hands of the other performers – it seemed uncomfortable but she maintained her composure. (This is the section which is seen in the first section of the trailer.) I don’t know how, and I don’t know how women in 2017 maintain their composure when they hear how sexist their Gods are. It’s not too surprising that such outlandish beliefs were around before science, but what’s more alarming is that misconceptions, shame and more nefarious ostracisation are still perpetuated today.
Another speech, (this time I think it was the one which ended by one of the women declaring that if you hold a man’s cock you have power in your hands), another change of direction, conjoined bodies forming a line that reminded me of the human centipede (which was almost definitely not the reference the choreographer was trying to make). They twisted and wound around the stage together joined face-to-groin in a way that seemed excruciatingly intimate, even for dancers – was this emancipation? The sexual liberation of the pill, birth control? Or was it the opposite – intense scrutiny and over interference in others’ sexuality? It was hard to say but the sexual connotations were impossible to ignore. Given that (I’m pretty sure), this was the piece which was preceded by a couple, conjoined in a romantic embrace, I will go with the liberation option.
The second half of the performance interspersed three movements with one main character with other connecting pieces. The character, Janet introduced herself as a 21 year old, not a professional model who thought that sharing naked pictures would make her more popular. I am sure that everyone in the audience had heard such a story, they’re often covered in the news here and back home it’s hard to avoid stories of young people staring explicit pictures – the media is rarely sympathetic to victims whose pictures get shared against their will. As the second movement starts, one of the male dancers takes on the persona of Janet, his naked image has spread out of his control and he’s taunted, judged by the other dancers at one point they surround him like a mob, pushing him to the centre of the stage. It was an astute move of the choreographer to cast one of the men as Janet, the surge of sympathy was almost palpable, it is rare to see a man so vulnerable, the centre of so much derision. As the attack on him reached its climax, the other dancers backed away and then ‘Janet’ also darted from centre stage to reveal the real Janet, (the one who had originally introduced herself), naked except for her pants and heartbreakingly vulnerable in front of hundreds of people. This revaluation reduced me to tears, the shock of it, the ugliness of it, the fact that it would never have been so effective without the use of a man for the middle step. It was a truly wonderfully crafted moment. The rest of the dancers came back to encircle her, markers in hands, arms outstretched barely moving while Janet danced uncomfortably, held prisoner by their restricting arms. The pens marked her, I read it as being an imposition of our judgement: you take your clothes of and we have a right to apply our moral codes to you, in our eyes you with forever be less, the marks of the pen (arbitrarily made that way just because of the length of each performers arm – the same way that we arbitrarily judge people based on the time and place specific values of society) reading like the enforced mark of shame that women have had to bear for various transgressions over the ages. It was emotional.
Eventually she was released and danced solo, defying their judgements and the performance finished with a more playful and upbeat phase with all the dancers.
It’s the first time I’ve seen a performance where I’m relatively well read (and opinionated) on the topic under consideration which made it different to other performances I’ve seen, it was definitely cerebrally challenging in a new way. I wonder how audience members would read it if they’re not so invested in the subject matter. And I think that perhaps the most interesting thing about the experience is that my understanding of the name changed after the viewing. The English and Chinese names are a little different, the English is Three times rebel whilst Chinese is literally the character for rebel three times, 反反反, when I said either of these in my head before seeing the performance, I was using the stress pattern used for the noun, but after watching it, I was certain that I should be reading it as a verb. Each dancer rebelled in some way, each challenged what had gone before, the whole thing was a call to action, to keep the forward momentum and rebel against what holds us back.
what: Three Times Rebel / 反反反 from Nederlands Dans Theater, Mercat de les Flors House of Dance and Dance Forum Taipei
choreographer – Marina Mascarell
dancers – Chih-Chieh Chang, Wei-Yun Chen, Yu-Hsuan Chiu, Pei-Chun Shih, Jen-Hung Huang
composer/musician – Yamila Ríos – (I didn’t even mention her!) She provided live music from the edge of the stage in a way which was wonderfully matched, much of the time I forgot she was there which I think is a testament to the quality of her live work. She used a combination of her voice, a cello and software to create entire sonic landscapes which shifted pace, intensity and mood in time with the dance
where: Wellspring Theatre, 10F, Section 4, Roosevelt Road, 水源里, Taipei City
*Note to self, this is how to use ibon to get tickets.
1. 票券中心 – ticket centre
2. 售票系統 – ticketing system
3. 取票 – check-in
4. 兩㕔院售票 – artsticket.com
5. 同意 下一步 – agree, next step
6. Select payment method
7. Input card number
8. 確認 – confirm
9. Collect the receipt from the ibon machine and take to the till where the staff will print out a ticket.