It is water, wind, and light that connect you, me, and the artists, who are so far away from each other: Interview with 2022 Taiwan Dance Platform interior designer LEEWEI DESIGN and curator CHOU Shu-yi
by KUO sinsin, 康世剛
Everyone knows that the outbreak of Covid forced live performances to be canceled for a while, affecting all artists, but as restrictions have gradually been lifted and people are more able to travel abroad now, the task of Weiwuying's Taiwan Dance Platform became not just to consider how dance has reached people powerfully around the world during lockdown but also the possibilities for connection among us. Event curator CHOU Shu-yi believes that organizing the pieces of dance art made during Covid is just the first step; what this year's platform really aims to do is connect them.
CHOU says, "Connection applies to the artists, their work, and the stage itself. Three performance spaces at Weiwuying may be separate "islands" but are still connected. Banyan Plaza is a huge island that can hold a lot of people, the East Crown Terrace is a mid-sized island where people are closer to each other and can see the entire space all at once, and the Exhibition Hall is an island of movement, where the body can move about in a virtual space. When I view the stage as an island, I think about what information the audience receives while there, whether it be about culture, artistic perspective, physical bearing, or meaning of the dance. The pieces will further present the lasting momentum of bodily movement and depict the future of dance through videos, international forums, live shows, and workshops. This is what the event theme, Island Connection: Body Online, is all about."
The stage is merely an extension of this theme. LEE Wei-mu of LEEWEI DESIGN, which was charged with designing the space for the Taiwan Dance Platform, took his direction from the event theme designated by CHOU in creating stage designs with the elements of water, wind, and light. Water represents the ocean, which people have for millennia traveled upon to reach other continents and islands, the wind represents the movement of the dancers on stage, and the light represents fiber optics, the channel through which people have stayed connected to their faraway family and friends during Covid.
As the two main stages (Banyan Plaza and the East Crown Terrace) are sites of live performances by multiple groups, LEEWEI DESIGN has kept their designs concise and simple. Concept-oriented, there is no program-specific content so the groups will not be restricted. LEE calls such design "neutral" and has made adjustments based on how the venues will be used.
CHOU says, "Not long ago, people had to scan a QR code before entering public spaces, so you might say their bodies were online every day. Our idea from the outset was to incorporate imagery of a QR code." LEEWEI DESIGN and CHOU agreed to use ripple-like imagery on the stage as a visual metaphor for data transmission and to lessen the clarity and directness of the imagery to avoid influencing the performers' understanding of the space. At Banyan Plaza, they thought about how people can freely walk around there, so they decided on a round stage with a back wall in the shape of a hill, which will blend in nicely with the existing environment. But there is more to this back wall than meets the eye. LEE says that the original plan did not include a backstage, but they realized that if performers just got on and off from the front of the stage, it would interfere visually and confuse the audience's understanding of the show, hence the design of the back wall to "give each show a clear start and end and thus keep it from being muddled."
In contrast, LEEWEI DESIGN had much more leeway for creative boldness at the East Crown Terrace, which is not usually open to the public. The "island connection" sense there is transmitted through its form and the fact that it is to be the site of performances with foreign dancers. With regard to the "body online" aspect, LEE designed a curtain that looks like a barcode, which not only divides the backstage from the front but also sets the stage off well. Through the negative space of the barcode lines, the audience can see a bit of what is going on backstage but only gets the true, complete show when the dancers are on stage, just as a signal remains unclear until it is finished transmitting. It also refers to how we can finally, once again, gather together in person since the upheaval caused by Covid.
The QR code makes its appearance in the Exhibition Hall, where the dance videos will be played. The originally pure white floor will be turned into a grid of white squares with black ones scattered randomly about, producing a digital feeling to match the "body online" theme. This arrangement was thought up by LEEWEI DESIGN's exhibition space designer HUANG Hsiang-chun, who explains that "it has been very difficult for the performing arts to go on during the pandemic. Dancers started working from their homes, so for this exhibit, we want to bring the audience 'backstage' to feel like they're in the artists' personal workspaces." The space is divided into a Video Zone and Music Zone, which are fused in different ways and via different passageways.
In the Music Zone, there are five independent spaces where visitors can listen to songs made by different artists by using earphones and iPads. Some of the songs have been inspired by the dance videos created for the Taiwan Dance Platform. The spaces are insulated with acoustic wool, giving listeners the feeling of being in a recording studio. Meanwhile, for the Video Zone, LEEWEI DESIGN has applied the existing arc of the room and put up eight arced video screens, which are, interestingly, very much like the large backdrops used for stage performances in that they are supported by wooden frames in the back. HUANG says that in comparison with the eye-catching stage, backstage areas are usually dim and seem private. Through the design, HUANG looks to allow visitors to feel like they are stealing a glimpse at something they usually do not get to see. She explains, "We want to give a sense of being wrapped, which not only echoes the original spatial design but also, we hope, will reduce the sense of obstruction for visitors while enjoying the exhibits."
CHOU says, "When I began organizing the event based on the Island Connection: Body Online concept, I decided to get a stage designer from southern Taiwan for the job because only they would know how to turn the concept into the proper stage space within the specific climate and environment of the south. And only they have that deep sentimental connection to the land here, which will awaken the experiences of the viewers and guide them through the theme. I view this as another level of connection between the island stages and the bodies of the viewers."
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