At the end of 2004, a group of young Taiwanese dancers founded their own dance group, "Ma-Chang" (馬場), to continue their passion for dance and to cooperate in-depth. “Ma-Chang” means “horse ranch” and they named it thus for two reasons. First, two of the group members were born in the year of horse according to the Chinese zodiac. Second, the image of horses running wild and free inspired the dancers.
They asked the calligrapher Zhang Mei-Ju to make a representative seal for their dance group, but Master Zhang disliked their original name. After they explained their intentions, Zhang suggested that they could change the name to “Biao” (驫 has three Chinese characters for horse - 馬 - stacked in a pyramid shape), which is an old Chinese word meaning a group of horses, and represents their vitality. The group of boys accepted it delightedly and “Biao dance theatre*” officially came into being.
After that, they started to plan their first performance - ”M_DANS”. They held a press conference and tried to explain the idea of this dance, yet the media cared more about the make up of the group. Finally, a journalist said “You are all males! I guess that’s what makes you different”. These boys suddenly realized what he said is true: there was no girl in this group!
“The only all-male dancing group in Taiwan” now is the hallmark of ‘Horse’. Artistic director Chen Wu-Kang says “We didn’t plan to be like this, it’s just a coincidence. We didn’t reject girls, we just found out that there are plenty of advantages dancing among boys only.”
“For example,” Chen said, “Men are more energetic, and more powerful in their physical expressions”. Male dancers have more endurance and are more muscular so they are more comfortable with each other when they dance together. When a man and woman dance together, it always seems like there is a love story. When there are only men, the dance seems more neutral. Then the choreographer can better concentrate on common themes of humanity, like the feeling of loss, desire or maturing.
That’s why the performances of ‘Horse’ in these years do not use a narrative, but instead explore the possibilities of the human body, the interaction between humans, and the interaction between humans and space. Thus, in the piece entitled ‘Proverb’, choreographed by the American Eliot Feld, (from the creation ’M_Dans 2010’, March 2010), the dancer Chen Wu-Kang only wore flesh-coloured underwear, with small round lights in his palms. He danced in the dark, and ethereal female voices arose from all around him. He opened and closed his palms, projecting the light on to his face or towards the audience, and also drew a giant shadow behind him to highlight the contrast between real and illusory bodies (That is, between his body and the shadows). This dance demonstrated that when the costume, scenery and lighting are simple, the audience can concentrate more wholeheartedly on the dancer’s moving body.
Of course, many dance groups also emphasize their bodies and translate themes through their bodies. Yet ‘Horse’ has its own unique playing style in its dancing, and this distinguishes the troupe from others. There is something particular about big boys: they tend to like messing around, they like to compete with each other and to step into the territories of others’ bodies. There might be conflicts, but they will be solved with humor.
One of their other specificities is the way they create their dance pieces. For the ‘M Dans’ show for example, each member choreographed several short dances individually, and then combined them into a final one. They learned to work with each other and appreciate personal characteristics through this process. Later, they would have a main theme, and then members each translated the theme in their own way, thus the audience could see how the different expressions enriched the dance. It made the dancers cooperate even better, and the group worked very smoothly.
(*In Chinese “Biao dance” is pronounced “biao wu”, which refers to a word meaning “dancing wildly and competitively”)
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