It has always been my M.O. to see as much live performance as possible while I am in Taiwan. Would you believe that I had the privilege of being treated to my first performance on my fourth night here? Let me tell you, the bar has been set high.
“Formosa Fantasy: The amazing night of Taiwan” is a night of dance spectacle at a new theatre space called NK101 Tea@Style. I got to go because my friend Jeremy’s business partners were taking him + brought me along, too! I do not have much English information about the place, but NK101 is a new theatre complex in one of Taipei’s southeastern districts, called Nangang District (南港區; pinyin: Nángǎng Qū). The Nangang District is also the home of Nankang Software Park + Academia Sinica, which I hope to visit at some point (or many!) in my stay for its comprehensive library.
As a theatre space, NK101 is incredible. Uber modern + huge. I did not take any pics of my own this time around, but my mom wants to go when she visits (maybe in March?) so hold your horses for a tea@style(reprise) post. That being said, all photos below (other than of plums!) are taken from NK101’s fb page.
Once we entered NK101’s massive doors, we were skirted thru the lobby into the theatre space, which is essentially a huge cabaret room. I’m talking a stadium-sized cabaret space with tables + tables + tables arranged for groups of four. The tables are clustered in the four corners of the space so that there is a cross-shaped empty area with its apex as center of the room, one arm of which leads to the stage. Once seated, each person gets a tea set-up with a pot of tea + three different types of pickled + dried plums. As far as I can tell the kinds we were served were (1) the Chinese version of plums pickled with salt + water called suanmeizi (酸梅子; sour plum fruits, literally), (2) the Japanese version, umeboshi (梅干), + (3) dried huamei (話梅) which are pickled in sugar, salt + herbs.
The tea + plums are never-ending, with attendants coming around with baskets of plums + pots of hot tea so that you always have enough. (Which, something about said plums Jeremy + I agreed, made watching the show feel like a drug induced hallucination.)
The first dance, “Wu Shen Jiang: The Dance of Head police in the World of the Dead,” starts with four musicians who play a large drum, large cymbal, digderidoo-like horn + something else that I am forgetting, maybe a vocalist. The instruments reach a thundering climax + a single man enters clutching a hand full of lit incense sticks. He proceeds to dance a solo in the middle of the space which clears the way + space for the gods (I think).
Out come the demons! The performers had completely painted faces, elaborate costumes + each had a different sort of weapon or tool (pitchfork, fan, + c.). They danced traditional-seeming stylized dance with tusks coming out of their mouths. The main demon could even breathe fire through his! (Talk about accident/fire/space insurance costs…phew!) Despite the fact that they were not wearing literal masks, their face paint had the same effect. I could not help admiring all the wonderful mask work that they were doing, embodying these devilish creatures of the underworld.
The demons leave + the gods enter with flourish, also with painted faces and elaborate costumes! Next comes a demons v. gods dance. I honestly could not contain my glee. I sat watching with the cheesiest grin on my face, eager for more. There was just such pomp to it all. Everything about the dance–the movement, the costumes, the make-up, the props, the facial expressions beneath the make-up–seemed so specific to Taiwanese culture. Of course, I have yet to find out if there was anything actually traditional about this dance, or if it is the choreographer’s modern interpretation of the battles of the gods. But I sat there, watching, knowing how lucky I was that this was my first theatrical experience in Taipei.
Ultimately the man from the beginning comes out +, with a dance sequence involving him suspended from a wire, flying through the space (!), clears the way for a goddess who has a moment with a glowing orb. I assume that the orb + goddess represent Taiwan. I asked Jeremy’s friends if she was supposed to be Mazu or Matzu (媽祖; pinyin: Māzǔ), the goddess of the sea, which, to my knowledge, is the most widely worshiped deity in Taiwan. They told me that the dance wasn’t that literal. Silly me! 🙂
Then we meet the MC, whose job it is to explain the sections and get the crowd participating in the show. (He even sat down in the empty seat next to me + flirted for a moment as the spotlight followed him thru the space!)
The second dance, “The Nankang Night Market,” basically explains Taiwan’s night market history in a fun, bright, positive way. Taiwan’s tradition of night markets all started with temple worship. Historically, every town had a temple devoted to a specific deity that the town worshiped. Most often the deity had something to do with the occupations of its townspeople, or was the deity worshiped in the region of China from which its occupants migrated. So, Mazu is a popular one because she is the goddess of the sea + will protect those involved with sea trade, fishing, + c. (Taiwan is an island, after all.)
Temples quickly became their community’s center. The place that people would gather + hold court, talking about their lives, families, work + politics. In fact, if I am remembering correctly, temples were the birth places of many of Taiwan’s revolts during Dutch colonization (1624-1662), Koxinga (1662-1682) + Qing Dynasty (1682-1885) rule, as they were where people would meet + plan. Temples soon became Temple Markets which evolved into Night Markets. That’s when the mafia came in.
This is where the dance picks up. The dance style of this piece was contemporary + the costumes were all bright + modern, some with working strips of lights (but the luminescence sequence would come later!). The stage filled with pink-wigged ladies in suggestive costumes, a man in a yin/yang clad kimono, a few people dressed as food stand workers, others as punky kids + strippers.
The dance was a comical version of two mobs fighting for market control: two different groups in competition doing tricks of the hand + acrobatics to one-up each other. Essentially, all of the performers were clowning, + doing it WELL! I was actually struck by how much clowning seems to be woven into Asian performance, in general, as evidenced through TV-host personae in popular Asian programs + the behavior of the show’s MC. I am definitely going to look further into this during my time here.
The third dance, “Let’s Dance,” was a nod to how popular street dance is becoming as a trend in Taiwan + was mostly a luminescence tribute to Michael Jackson. I have to say, coming from NYC where street dance as we know it began (The Boogie-down Bronx!!), I have very high expectations when it comes to breaking, popping, locking, moon-walking, + c. For most of the performers this was not their strong-suit + I found it to be the cheesiest, most random part of the whole evening. Also, I’m sorry, but most people, native English speakers included, ought not attempt to sing “Smooth Criminal.” That being said, once the lights were off + the costumes were illuminated (for those who don’t know, this is what luminescence refers to), it was amazing. Technically flawless. Really just a lot of fun to watch.
The last dance, “Aboriginal Fantasy,” was a celebration of Aborigines in Taiwan, who have been oppressed throughout Taiwan’s history. The story of this dance was a wedding celebration. The husband + wife had a pas de deux of sorts on silks!
Then the entire cast came out in Aboriginal dress for the celebration! Jeremy + I and many more of the younger audience members were pulled up to dance with the performers. It was awesome!!
Seriously, it wasn’t the plums. Screw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular! I felt like that missing-teeth-little-girl in the commercial. I HAD SO MUCH FUN!
Here’s to many more wonderful theatre experiences in Taiwan!
+ two can play at this game… This one’s for the King of Pop.