This gem-like male-female Taiwanese duet puts some unexpected spins on the familiar twinned theme of love and loss. The opening is arresting. A man (choreographer WANG Yeu-Kwn) carries on and sets down centrestage what looks like a giant white paper rose. As it slowly expands we realise that inside is another human being (LEE Yin-Ying). The pair lean into each other, revolving to the sad, sentimental strains of a vintage (American) song. That huge ‘flower’ subsequently becomes robe, artist’s canvas and island until eventually degenerating into ‘just’ a screwed-up ball of paper.
Performed with unpretentiously exquisite care, Wang’s succinct work is both physically and emotionally touching. I wondered if Lee’s role might be too much that of the languid female, but as the dance unfolds she exerts as much agency within it as Wang. But then in terms of style and temperament Beings isn’t meant to impart exertion. It contains, instead, a quiet and rewarding force of feeling.
Something about Wang Yeu-kwn´s Beings feels like falling from the top of a building in slow motion, blissfully knowing that you will land softly – an impossible experience in real life, but one facilitated by this gift-wrapped piece of art. Wang enters wearing an oversized chef’s hat of paper from which Lee Yin-Ying magically unfolds. They slow-dance to The Tennessee Waltz with the charming naiveté of blossoming teenage hearts.
The solid paper serves as a curled-up canvas upon which Lee draws her happy-place of dogs and flowers. It is also tent, island, cape and, deceptively, a neat handbag that carries an emotional charge. During the dance their bodies are mysteriously stained with dark smudges, implying disturbances in the relationship. No matter how silently they tread, the paper crackles and rustles but yields to them, adding another necessary layer of clumsiness. The duality theme of yin-yang, black-white, man-woman, childhood-adolescence is, if perhaps overly binary-fixated, beautifully handled in a humble and (im)perfect work.
A huge white paper ball, carried on a man’s back, is dumped on the floor centre stage. Out comes a woman in bra and trousers. The two engage in a slow walk, their dragging feet flattening the paper as a soft ruffling sound settles in. Yes, these performers are a man and a woman, and in exactly that order. Their equal leaning against each other while in entangled rotation hardly affects the visible gendering at work in Beings: he lifts her with frowning vigour; her duty is to wrap herself around him. Some nuancing occurs when he builds himself a paper cloak, big smile on his face while she, now wearing this t-shirt, draws his body figure, complete with dog and flowers.
Yet her demurely lowered eyelids seldom rise and, when they finally do, it feels like an epiphany: her gaze, composed and confident, opens up to the audience in a moment of self-acknowledgement. There are pockets of laughter in the audience when she seems to pack him up as if ready for the bin – maybe a hint of a feminist wink?
Slowly, but with ease, a man (WANG Yeu-Kwn, also the choreographer) carries a large, white paper flower onto a dimly-lit stage and sets it down. As it unfolds into a small, crumpled island, a woman (LEE Yin-Ying) emerges from it. The weight of one person’s body, borne like a grounding force to the floor by another. The sense of tranquil care evident in its opening moments marks the entire performance. This is a duet of genuine intimacy. The island of paper becomes a blanket, and then a canvas stained by ink – just like the dancer’s bodies.
Beings is an act of writing with and through motion, leaving a material trail of various dualities and interdependencies open to interpretation. At certain moments I find myself distanced by its quiet but alert pathos. And yet I also wondered, after it was over, why is it that we often seem to have become so cynical about striving for beauty in contemporary art?