Macroscope View of a Micro-Universe: Facing Cities
— a postscript on the performance rehearsal
By TANG Hsuan
"The surface of a raindrop reflects the scenery outside of itself while a world exists on the inside."
by Kenzaburō Ōe, in the 4th grade of primary school
A 3-meter mercury ball slowly rolls along, and its metallic surface refracts lights and beams surrounding the stage. The full-blown ball stands firm with its softness, massive yet harmless. The ball rustles with every inch of the floor it rolled over. Two dancers, one female, another male, repeatedly drawing near and parting away, gravitate towards each other but never come in contact. They revolve around the giant sphere, meandering, sprinting, hiding, and seeking. Their bodies in conjunction speak an unspoke language. The lifeless ball that takes up more than half of the stage seems to come to life while the dancers interact with each other while establishing their relationship.
"Since ancient times, the moon has been associated with one thinking of another, a notion connecting the loving and loved ones apart." Even though director CHOU Tung-Yen's work is often perceived as "high-tech," the deepest concern he bears in mind is consistently about how we as human beings connect and what is in play to keep us connected. As technology prevails over our daily life, with the software knowing better our own needs, technologies that are increasingly personal and humanized might be able to provide a new model of how co-existence among humans can work. However, it is found that to create connections beyond these existing systems are becoming much more difficult than ever. Those are the core issues from where Facing Cities started. As a symbol of identification, "face" is instrumental for information exchange and identification, and it is also the beginning of "getting to know."
The predecessor of Facing Cities is Interchangeable Cities, a collaborative project, presented in the 2017 exhibition "ARENA" of Taipei Fine Art Museum, crystallized by Very Theatre and WERC Collective after a series of mutual visits and workshops in two consecutive years. The on-site installation of the project comprised live 3D printing and projection, along with printed models of Taipei city. The audience was invited to answer questions selected from the Proust Questionnaire, after which they could choose to shred a specific component of the city. The shredded parts were then re-printed at the exhibition in Groningen, the Netherlands. Two large transparent cubes were installed on site, in which seven people living in Taipei were invited to share their memories, which was simultaneously streamed at the venue in the Netherlands.
To continue with the discussion initiated through Interchangeable Cities, Very Theatre and WERC Collective embarked on the journey in 2018 to dive deeper into the project, with Choreographer YU Yang-Fang involved, to turn the installation piece shown in the museum into a theatre performance. In 2019, The Dutch team has visited Taiwan from April to May for co-production development, and from August to September, the Taiwanese team will pay their visit to the Netherlands for next stage of rehearsal and development. The world premiere of Facing Cities will take place in the Netherlands in August 2019.
As Facing Cities continues the discussion on constructing and perishing, the piece has now delved deeper into how we humans exist. The artists want to find common ground in the digitalized world by making a portal that connects people, a common ground to understand the rapid change we live in to preserve what's essential to be human. Nowadays, such features of the Internet as "upload," "synchronize" and "share" have seemingly become a material reality, and the spread of information has reached an unprecedented rate and efficiency. If everything can be recorded and backed up, what else is there for us to cherish? With the moon scientifically denominated as merely a satellite orbiting the Earth, the existence of Chang' e and the moon rabbit has therefore been denied, but why does the symbolism of the moon remain? How did the symbolic representation of the moon ever come into existence? Moreover, does the experience of sharing the beauty of the moon along while thousand-miles apart strike the same level of emotional response as the loneliness evoked by none watching your live streaming?
During the rehearsals of Facing Cities, the team would sit down on a regular basis for discussions. In one of the sessions, Mohamed Yusuf Boss, the Dutch dancer, once mentioned an African philosophy "Ubuntu" (I am because you are). Throughout history, the ever-lasting question on subject/object such as "Who am I/Who are we" and "Who are they" has played in several different aspects, of which the hidden logic of comparison and categorization has propagated the notion of "difference." Gigantic ball standing, huge human figure projected, small fluorescent devices scattered around, the juxtaposition of scales on the stage might twist the audience's perception. As anxious, lost or alienated as they might feel, the piece presents a sense of openness. It's not until the dancers' movements layer up within the constraints of time and space in the theatre, will we realized the fact that every being in the universe has its destined place, whether it prospers or perishes.