Crossing Cultures to Create a Dance of Joy

Horse Dance Theatre

2018 / April

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Horse Dance Theatre /tr. by Geof Aberhart

Horse Dance Theatre was founded in 2004 by Chen Wu-kang, Su Wei-chia, and a group of their friends. In the troupe’s Chinese name, Biao Wu Juchang (“Biao Dance Theater”), the character biao ()—meaning “like many galloping horses”—is composed of the character ma (馬‮٠(‬)—“horse”—three times over, and represents strong motivation and explosive energy. Armed with abundant creativity, this group of young dancers set out to inject new vitality into Taiwanese dance art. In the decade­-plus since the troupe was established, they have gone on to collaborate with artists from places including the US, France, Hong Kong, and Israel on a number of wonderful works.

Along the way, the boys have matured into men, exploring new creative possibilities and developing a deeper desire to express traditional culture in physical ways. In May this year, Horse Dance Theatre will perform Be Half, a collaboration with Thai choreographer Pi­chet Klun­chun that promises to be an artistic feast.

“What is the ‘body’ of Taiwan?” That is the fundamental question being asked by Horse Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Chen Wu-kang. Democratic and free, Taiwan embraces many cultures, but at the same time it lacks a clear understanding of its own traditional culture. Each ethnic group has its own characteristic culture, but no single one can be said to represent Taiwan by itself. This may seem like a puzzle without a solution, but it is nonetheless one worth more contemplation.

Translating Thai and Taiwanese traditions

In 2016, Thai contemporary dance choreographer Pi­chet Klun­chun visited Horse Dance Theatre after an introduction from a friend. Klun­chun, who started studying a traditional Thai dance form called “khon” at an early age, exudes an air of calm and tranquility that immediately captured Chen Wu-kang’s attention.

As they chatted, the two discovered many similarities with one another: Chen began studying ballet at age 12, went on to join a dance troupe in New York at 23, and later returned to Taiwan to found Horse Dance Theatre with friends; Klun­chun started studying khon with a renowned master at age 16, later traveling to the US, and then establishing Thailand’s first modern dance troupe.

Having studied the Western ballet style, Chen jokes that at one point he got so immersed he almost thought he was a stereotypical blond white guy, and “tradition” had become a vague notion at best to him. Klun­chun, however, has set down deep roots in traditional culture, and helped Chen realize what tradition meant to him. What culture could really represent him? Or rather, what culture and traditions should he embrace?

With such questions in mind, Chen invited Klun­chun to work with him on a project entitled “Body Tradition.” Together they explored the forms dance has taken in different historical contexts and how those contexts have influenced physical expression. Combing through history, Chen found that by accepting his own historical background, Taiwanese culture became like a pastry wrapped in a flatbread—in one bite, you can get crispy and soft, sweet and savory, all co-existing without conflicting. Maybe, in the end, there is actually no need to draw hard lines between them. It is this change in perspective that Chen Wu-kang and Pi­chet Klun­chun have worked together to present in Be Half.

An epic tour of the Ramayana

Working with Klun­chun also sparked an interest in Southeast-Asian dance in Chen. What, exactly, is khon? How was it passed down to modern times? Thus began Chen’s three-year “Epic Tour of the Ra­ma­yana” project. With Klun­chun leading the way, in 2017 Chen traveled through Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand and Myan­mar, visiting masters of traditional dance and tracing their traditions back to the source.

Beyond being amazed by the years of dedication these masters had invested into traditional dance, Chen was also shocked to find that many traditional Southeast­-Asian styles are disappearing. At the end of this year, he plans to revisit each of these masters and study with them. Seeing how he incorporates elements of various Southeast-Asian dance traditions into his own works is surely something to look forward to.

Transnational cultural cultivation

Horse Dance Theatre debuted in 2005 with their inaugural performance of M_Dans, a piece incorporating the work of two foreign choreographers. Chen contacted his dance instructor in New York looking for a piece, and choreographer Eliot Feld set about tailoring a composition originally written for Mikhail Baryshnikov to fit Chen, who brought it back to Taiwan to be performed. The other component was a piece written especially for Horse Dance Theatre by choreographer Igal Perry when he visited Taiwan for two weeks.

After the troupe’s first performance, word quickly spread and tickets soon sold out, making their first venture a success.

They followed this up in 2007 with Velo­city, a collective creation of the troupe, with each member picking music they loved. For this, the members were both choreographers and performers. Through things like playing darts or riding bicycles, each member presented their idea of what “velocity” could mean. At one point, a group reenacted the boisterousness of a baseball game; at another, the stage was occupied by a single, silent dancer. Imaginative and thematically fascinating, Velo­city won recognition for the troupe, including a Performing Arts Award at the 2007 Tai­shin Arts Awards.

Never interested in repeating themselves and always eager to try new things, Horse Dance Theatre then sought out the assistance of French sound artist Yannick Dauby to contribute to the audio artistry of their performances.

General director of Horse Dance Theatre Su Wei-chia says that Dauby activated his awareness of the aural sense, making it easier for him to not get swept away by the emotions of the music during the creative process. “The movements themselves should have their own emotion, their own texture,” Su explains, and working with Dauby has helped him focus more on physical interpretation.

Back to basics

The rather rotund Su found his figure a frustration when he tried ballet, but since the formation of Horse Dance Theatre he has found alternative possibilities in dance. For example, in the 2013 “FreeSteps” series, he forwent any concern about whether viewers would under­stand, considering himself his primary audience and working to move himself through his work before presenting it to a wider audience.

For those who rarely take in dance performances, they can seem almost impenetrable. Taiwanese audiences, Su says, generally go into theatrical performances looking to understand rather than to feel. In actuality, though, they simply lack the courage to believe what they see. Audiences, he says, should be ­encouraged to express what they feel about performances, even if that feeling is “I didn’t like it,” and in such cases, they should try to think about why they didn’t like it, rather than just falling back on “I didn’t get it.”

Dance is inherently abstract, says Su. Look at Be Half, for example. Both Chen Wu-kang and Pi­chet Klun­­chun have strong foundations in the fundamentals of dance and rich experience as performers. Even if you think the piece is too abstract and you can’t understand it, you can still marvel at the exquisite performances of the two dancers.

Chen also explains that different people will each come away from the same performance with differing interpretations. Each performer can bring in their own perspective, and each choreographer has their own way of thinking, so the interpretive possibilities are virtually endless.

Building a stage for creativity

The founding members of Horse Dance Theatre—Chen Wu-kang, Su Wei-chia, Chou Shu-yi, Yang Yu­min, and ­Chien Hua-bao—were all in their twenties at the time and full of youthful exuberance, but behind it all there was tremendous stress and pressure that took strength of will to push through.

In their first year, they had to borrow a variety of spaces to rehearse. Once they even had an estate agent come to check out the space they were practicing in, rented by a friend, before the contract was even up. A group of young men all dressed in leggings made for an awkward scene, so they quickly improvised, pretending to be movers and breaking the tension. During that year, Chen recalls, they couldn’t even pay the troupe, and so a few of them pooled their money for end-of-year red envel­opes to make up that year’s pay.

Those early difficulties did nothing to dampen their passion for dance, though. To secure a dedicated rehearsal space, they borrowed money from friends and relatives, rented a place, bought materials, and essentially built a rehearsal area from the ground up. Once they finally had a space of their own, they truly began to realize how important it is for a creator to have somewhere they can go whenever inspiration strikes and turn their ideas into reality.

Once a month, Horse Dance Theatre hosts an experimental performance session called “Primal Chaos.” With dancers invited by Horse and musicians invited by improvisational group Ka Dao Yin, each meeting for the first time on the day and without having rehearsed beforehand, a show unfolds and sparks fly as the dan­cers let their bodies react instinctively to the music.

Since the first show in 2016, the music has included everything from clarinet trios to electronic effects. Sometimes the dancers use their bodies to tap and clap out the beat, setting the rhythm for the musicians; it is always a show full of unexpected surprises.

For over a decade, Horse Dance Theatre has worked with talent from around the world—the US, Thailand, Israel, and more—to produce pieces like Be Half and 2 Men. Crossing countries, crossing cultures, and combining art forms, Horse Dance Theatre take their passion for dance and let it shine, and they invite all of us to join with them to create a dance of joy.                      

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繁體 日本語



文‧陳群芳 圖‧驫舞劇場















2005年驫舞劇場的創團首演作品《M_Dans》裡,就有兩首來自外國編舞家的作品。創團當時陳武康維持一半時間在紐約、一半時間在台灣的工作型態。他向紐約的舞團老師邀請作品,器重陳武康的編舞家Eliot Feld便將原本為舞蹈家巴瑞辛尼可夫編寫的作品,為陳武康量身改編,並讓他帶回台灣演出;而另一位編舞家Igal Perry則來台兩周,特地為驫舞劇場創作一支舞。



《速度》集結了大家最愛的音樂後,接下來的音樂該怎麼辦呢?不願重複也不斷尋求更多嘗試的驫舞劇場找來法國聲音藝術家澎葉生(Yannick Dauby)促成了與聽覺藝術的合作。
















文・陳群芳 写真・驫舞劇場提供 翻訳・山口 雪菜


当初は20代だった若者たちも、今ではさまざまな経験を積んで成熟している。彼らは外へと創作の可能性を探ると同時に、身体表現と伝統文化に対しても、より深い探求を渇望している。そうした中、今年5月に彼らはタイの現代舞踊家であるピチェ・クランチェンと共同で『半身相(Be Half)』を上演した。互いの文化について問いを投げかけ合い、身体表現でそれに答えるという、伝統を探求する芸術の饗宴となった。






























X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!