Taiwan Season: Floating Flowers

Floating Flowers by B. Dance is an extraordinary piece in its sheer beauty, its piercing emotion, energy and originality. Choreographed by 31-year old Po-Cheng Tsai, it will stay with you for ever.

This is a dance for our dark times

Four male and four female dancers (eight being a lucky number in Asian culture) float across the stage in long, white, billowing tutus symbolizing the candle-lit lanterns set adrift on a river as part of a Buddhist ceremony Po-Cheng’s late father performed with him as a child. As the lanterns drift down the river of life they take all your worries and fears so that you learn to let go. For Po-Cheng, unable to express grief in words, recreating this ritual in dance honours the memory of his father and is both celebratory and sad.

The clack of wooden sticks struck together offstage signifies, as is Asian custom, the start of the show. The dancers raise and entwine their hands, fingers flickering like candle flames or form lines and patterns across the stage as if members of the corps de ballet in Swan Lake. But that is as close a reference to that ballet as we get. Rather, Po-Cheng combines the extended, graceful lines of classical ballet with the precise, short movements of Asian martial arts, a uniquely successful fusion of east-west tradition. Its originality lies in its extremes. Long lines of classical ballet are extended even further, some moves such as the low back-bends performed by a female dancer seem almost impossibly difficult and this is married to aggressive, jabbing movements, the precision needed in martial arts, and the exaggerated grimaces of Chinese opera. As the dancers perform ensemble, solo or duet, they whirl and jump and their fingers curl in anguish, they bring to the dance their own sorrows, conflicts or hopes, unspecific enough for the audience to identify and bring their own experiences to it.

There is no sense of structure to this dance, but the experience is so intense and immersive, it does not matter. Po-Cheng is more interested in breaking the rules, for as he told me, if there are rules, there is no humour. There is plenty of that with the dancers raising their skirts to reveal their underclothes, or the females clambering onto the shoulders of the males so that they become a swaying giant or one female plays tricks on another, tapping her shoulder then jeering as she turns surprised.

This is a dance for our dark times, to remind us that the candle symbolises hope, even if we do not know what the future holds. As Po-Cheng told me: ‘Is it you who creates your life, or does life create you?’ The last image of the show is the group frozen in a pose half in and half out of their tutus, spot-lit on a darkened stage. An image of unresolved meaning, posed on the brink of who knows what future, it is a wonderfully subtle and resonant ending to a powerful show.

Reviews by Stephanie Green

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The Blurb

Inspired by one of Taiwan’s most beautiful Buddhist ceremonies, Floating Flowers is a fabulously dynamic expression of body and spirit. A gorgeous tribe of eight are pushed and pulled through the swirling rhythms of a dance that reveals the tumult beneath peaceful surfaces. Po-Cheng Tsai’s work is an artful fusion of martial arts, classical ballet, folk dance and contemporary movement. Set to a propulsively cinematic score, Floating Flowers lets its cast ride waves of wild and sometimes playful motion. Dance that reaches as high as the sky as it plumbs the depths of the ocean.

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