Beyond Time - U-Theatre (Taiwan)
27-28 February 2018, St James Theatre, Wellington
New Zealand Festival

Reviewed by Ann Hunt

Beyond Time, U-Theatre / Photo courtesy of the NZ Festival

The programme notes for Beyond Time state that the pronunciation of the letter “U” is similar to the word meaning ‘excellence’ in the Chinese language.  In ancient China, the same word also meant ‘performers.’ This synchronicity is at the heart of U-Theatre’s awe-inspiring dancer/drummers.  It is hard to imagine seeing finer Tai Chi and hearing more stirring drumming than here. 

Founder/Artistic Director Liu Ruo-Yu  studied for eight years with Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski, and this greatly influenced her understanding that a theatre work is the expression of “an individual’s attitude toward life.”

This is certainly evident throughout Beyond Time, which utilises dance, meditation, martial arts, Tai Chi and drumming. The dancer/drummers’ stringent focus is demonstrated in everything they do and is obviously not something that they pick up for the performance and put down again once it is over.

The fourteen men and women onstage are exceptionally highly skilled, totally dedicated to their work as a way of life and their focus is absolute.

There is perfection in everything they do, to the point where one longs for an imperfection. In the perfection of their music and movements, at times they seem divorced from any emotional connection with the audience. This lack of expression and almost military precision is often quite disturbing.

But Beyond Time is astonishing to watch. The dancers’ line is impeccable, whether spinning, drumming, striding or balancing. Their stamina appears super-human and their meditative grace lovely.

Drumming Master and Music Director Huang Chi-Chun, has been a drumming and martial arts practitioner for more than thirty years, and is known for his mastery in synthesising these two disciplines.  He joined U-Theatre in 1993 and has since developed a three-pronged regimen of meditation, martial arts and drumming for the Company, to which dance was later added.  It is a formidable accomplishment.

Various Chinese instruments are played live onstage with great skill, including Taiko drums and large brass gongs, a Burmese xylophone and what appears to be a Fangxiang. This ancient suspended instrument is a Chinese metallophone, which has been used for over 1000 years.

The show is permeated with very beautiful video projections of falling rain, rippling water and abstract designs which convey the depth of space.

At the moving closure the dancers appear to dissolve into the darkness, or perhaps they become one with the cosmos.

The enthusiastic audience gave them a standing ovation.

See Theatreview review (Tim Stevenson)

Beyond Time by U-Theatre

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