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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

U-Theatre: Dancing Percussionists, or Drumming Dancers?

Photo: Lin Shengfa
By David Hsieh

Are the members of U-Theatre of Taiwan dancers who play percussion? Or drummers with fancy footwork? Or martial artists who also have modern dance rhythms in their bodies? Or full-body-movement musicians? Maybe the answer is all of the above. No matter what you call them, they are amazing. Their shows, which combine all the above elements, plus a modern theatrical flavor, have wowed BAM audiences starting with Sound of the Ocean (Next Wave, 2003). But this kind of integration of dance, music, and martial arts requires rigorous training. The company is known throughout Asia for living in semi-seclusion from the metropolitan Taipei area, and taking on marathon walking treks (sometimes lasting for days) as part of their training. Yang Meng-ju, one of the newest company members who makes his debut appearance at BAM on Nov 19 in Beyond Time, talks about his experience.

When did you join the U-Theatre?

Yang Meng-ju: July 1st, 2011. I have since danced many repertoire works, including Sound of the Ocean, Meeting with Bodhisattva, Lover and Birthday.

Have you studied dance or percussion?

YM: I have a background in traditional Chinese martial arts and enjoy performing. I was drawn very strongly to the U artistic vision.

Photo: Lin Shengfa
Your training compound is in the mountains. What’s your schedule like?

YM: We get to the compound at nine in the morning. We start with cleaning the environs. Then we go to regular classes, including movement, music, meditation, and theater. Depending on our performance schedule, we either work on new pieces or rehearse old ones with the directors in the afternoon. Of course there are other elements, such as eating, napping, watching the sunset, or just wandering around and enjoying nature.
Yang Meng-ju

Do you think you have a very different life from other people?

YM: In fact, I feel very much like other people who have a nine-to-five job, except I work in an unusual work place and deal with work of an unusual nature. When I go to work, it’s very physical which requires me to be in touch with my own body. I probably don’t exercise my brain as much!

What distinguishes a U performance?

YM: I think the most important characteristic is in the individual performer, which shows in our performances. The company trains each performer not only for one show or one performance, but to be a true performer. This training is distilled in our work and living routines, which is to make every performer able to control him or herself on stage, to use his or her body precisely, and to maintain complete freedom within—to be able to sense everything on the stage and to create a “chi” (energy) with other performers. Then we can make the audience feel this energy.

Beyond Time comes to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House November 19—21, and great seats are still available.

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