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Reaching Out: A cross-border production by two artists

Art editor Img
Photo by LRM
Chen Wukang talks about “Reaching Out,” a dance performance that portrays his
professional career as a dancer.

By Leo Maliksi
Jérôme Bel, a well-known French choreographer of modern dance, and Chen Wukang (陳武康), artistic director of the Horse Dance Theater Company (驫舞劇場) have co-produced a new choreography titled “Chen Wukang: Reaching Out” (攏是為著.陳武康). The piece was commissioned by the Taipei Performing Arts Center. Bel developed the solo dance concept for Chen to perform.
“Chen Wukang: Reaching Out” uses the medium of dance to portray Chen’s life as a dancer, from the first steps to becoming a professional. At the same time, it shows how Bel masterfully uses dance to depict the succession of events in a person’s life.
“Reaching Out” was performed from July 31 to August 1 at the Zhongzheng Hall of Zhongshan Hall and marked the second time Bel and Chen worked together. The first was when they co-produced “You must Jump” for the 2019 Taipei Arts Festival.

Art editor Img
Photo by LRM
Well-known French choreographer Jérôme Bel in virtual attendance at the opening press conference. Left to right: Austin Wang (王孟超), director of the Taipei Performing Arts Center, Chen Wukang, and Deng Fuquan (鄧富權), curator of the Taipei Arts Festival.

Bel says that since February 2019, his dance group no longer takes long-distance flights for international performances because they strongly support environmental protection and the reduction of carbon emissions. This is also why he withdrew as Lead Choreographer for “You must Jump,” asking Chen Wukang to take over as dance director and Yeh Minghua (葉名樺) as lead choreographer.
In “Chen Wukang: Reaching Out,” Bell went a step further and allowed Chen to be both dance director and lead choreographer. Bel helped Chen realize this new type of cooperative choreography.

Austin Wang (王孟超), director of the Taipei Performing Arts Center, says that TPAC will be a venue for cooperative dance creations in the future. “I hope that TPAC can truly be a domestic platform to launch co-productions such as ‘Reaching Out,’ an example of how international cooperation could give birth to locally themed dance creation.”
Bel was a dedicated and excellent dancer who pursued his art for many years before eventually suffering a physical breakdown. He then spent two years reading about and contemplating the meaning of life.
This two-year retreat enabled Bel to dwell on the meaning of dance creation and to create new forms of theatrical performance. In the nineties, Bel brought to life a variety of dance creations, not simply choreographic reformatting and editing. His works express the ideal of inclusion, enabling audiences to see in dance their everyday lives and the meaning of life itself. It is as if he helped everyone to imaginatively embrace dance and find their own experiences represented in the performance.
Bel says that the coronavirus swept across the world as he was in the middle of creating a solo dance choreography, which made it necessary for Taiwanese artists to lead the performances. On discussing this with curator Deng Fuquan, they decided that this should be done at the Taipei Arts Festival. Remembering the positive experience he had had working with Chen Wukang, Bel invited him to be lead performer.
“This new work needed someone like Chen who is an outstanding dancer and open to new experiences,” he said. Chen and Bel worked together remotely to create “Chen Wukang: Reaching Out.”
The dance is an autobiographical expression of Chen`s 30-year dancing career. For the accompanying music, Chen and Bel chose popular compositions from different periods and music used in other performances, such as Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” and Aaron Kwok’s “Dong Qi Lai.”
Chen Wukang created eight solo dances to evoke the evolution of his love for dance from childhood to his becoming a choreographer. In addition to creating his own pieces, he also performs the dances created by Bel.
“It’s a profusion of choreographic movements,” he said, “a union of disparate recipes—like eating a big round Chinese pastry and finding a smaller one inside. Bite into the bigger one and you taste two flavors.”
The dance movements portray different periods of time. “Bel’s choreography starts in 1998,” said Chen. “The dance movements express his concepts, then the dance takes on a more down-to-earth, everyday life portrayal. Towards the end of the performance, I blend Bel’s choreography with mine. It’s like walking on a tightrope, always trying to maintain balance—expressing Jérôme’s creation as well as my own.”