For me, two pieces exemplified contrasting approaches to what festival director Chien Wen-Pin called ‘the clash and the merging of the East and the West’ – both, unsurprisingly, duets. I-Fang Lin’s En Chinoiseries was a montage of scenes set against video backdrops of (stereo)typical Chinese imagery – night markets, TV karaoke shows, patterned silk dresses, the Taiwanese national anthem – through which wandered a contrasting couple: Lin herself, Taiwan-born but long resident in France, and French musician François Marry. For some of the young Taiwanese I spoke to, the cheesy clichés and touristic images were too much to stomach, but I, being a Londoner, was much less directly affected: it wasn’t about me. For me, the piece was by no means a simple ‘clash and merging’ between East and West, or even between the performers’ other obvious differences (gender, age, one a musician, the other a dancer). Instead, I saw two people navigating the cultural spaces and physical means between them, sometimes in alignment, sometimes in conflict, often isolated and often exchanging or sharing their roles as dancer and singer, leader and follower, performer and witness. True, the burden of cultural stereotypes fell on her shoulders rather than his, but this still felt like a nuanced encounter, rendered subtle by understated performances. To discover, later, that it was a response to Mathilde Monnier’s 1990 piece Chinoiseries (for dancer Monnier, with whom Lin worked for many years, and musician Louis Sclavis) simply added another layer of resonance.
Together Alone – another duet performed by a Taiwanese woman and a European man (Chen-Wei Lee and Hungarian Zoltán Vakulya) – served as a striking counterpart. Instead of accumulating layers, it worked by stripping them away, its bareness evident not only its empty stage and minimal set (just a few neural squiggles of light), but most obviously because its performers were naked throughout. The piece worked in three parts. The first saw the two in an evolving loop of continuous touch, every part of the body playing a part: wrist touched nape, stomach touched rib, crown of head fitted fold of elbow, tongue pushed towards tongue. It was an astonishingly intimate yet also asexual relationship. Or better: presexual, like Adam and Eve, before sin.
An odd lindyhop interlude – contact still kept through the hands – led to an even more intimate coupling as the pair knotted together on the floor like twins in an invisible womb, as closely linked as they were inexorably separate. And that, ultimately, was the point of this deeply affecting piece. Where En Chinoiseries navigated through layers of culture, identity, media and memory, Together Alone pushed past such temporalities towards a core conundrum of the human condition: our necessary co-existence, our inescapable solitude.