Arts Chinese Theatre Dance with Me Interview Preview Theatre

Huayi 2023: An Interview with best friends Chen Wu-kang and Su Wei-chia, co-creators of ‘Two men, ten years later’ (两男常罩)

In spite of countless life events, in spite of differing artistic directions and career trajectories, in spite of battling a global pandemic and even life-threatening illness, Taiwanese dancers Chen Wu-kang and Su Wei-chia have remained best friends for 30 years now.

Ever since co-founding the company HORSE in 2004, the two have also collaborated on numerous projects, including the experimental work 2 men (2012), which saw both Wu-kang and Wei-chia embarking on a project in collaboration with celebrated director Edward Lam. In that work, Wu-kang and Wei-chia exploring the complications and nuances of their then 15 year friendship.

Ten years on from the original 2 men, both men are back, once again collaborating with Edward Lam on a sequel to the show – Two men, ten years later, which now examines their artistry and friendship at this new stage of their life, older and wiser. Arriving in Singapore to present the work as part of the Esplanade’s 2023 Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts, we spoke to both Wu-kang and Wei-chia to find out more about the secret behind their friendship, and how time has changed their perspectives on life and each other.

On the origins of their friendship, Wu-kang and Wei-chia first met at as dance students in National Taiwan University of Arts, and it was impossible to predict that they would become such close friends, beyond maintaining a supportive senior-junior relationship. “We wanted to do this as a sequel to 2 men to explore how our friendship had evolved since then,” says Wei-chia. “In university, there weren’t many males, so whenever they needed a male dancer, we would probably end up getting involved, and so worked on a lot of shows together during that time.”

“It really was a very familial feeling between artists back then, as part of the school culture, and our lives have gone through very interesting directions over the years,” adds Wu-kang, who has worked with dancers from Jérôme Bel to Pichet Klunchun to Eliot Feld. He was also a soloist for Ballet Tech and Peridance. “Even though our paths have gone in such different ways, there was this one time where we actually competed to become the Artist-in-Residence of the National Theater and Concert Hall (Taiwan), and we both made it to the final round together before he ended up winning the coveted spot. There is competition and there is care.”

One suave yet boorish, the other stout yet refined, the two men could not be more different, and even differ in their artistry and perspectives, but still find it an easy enough process to get back to collaborating with each other. “We’ve changed a lot over the last decade, and explored very different facets of our artistry, so coming back together again, even though at the beginning we needed to sort out our very different tastes and approaches, but it was quite fast that we managed to find that point of connection again,” says Wu-kang.

“Somehow, it felt easier to make decisions in the past, because over these last 10 years, you see Wu-kang, who already had plenty of ideas, develop even more complex and detailed ideas thanks to his exposure!” adds Wei-Chia.

Part of what makes Two men, ten years later so interesting is the devising process, where Hong Kong director Edward Lam came onboard to help co-create the work with them. “It was a similar process when we did 2 men together, but while we’re more confident now because of our familiarity with the style, back then it was much more difficult to get the first piece out, because he had this way of asking us question after question, like why weren’t we married at that point, and shower us with lectures,” says Wei-chia. “He’s a great director because he offers a lot of interesting perspectives and keen observations with his suggestions.”

“When he came back to us for this, he was very very enthusiastic about it,” says Wu-kang. “It’s quite funny actually – he came to attend this improvisational show with a very short run, and we ended up talking after the show, which he enjoyed. We suddenly started talking and reminiscing about 2 men, and he suddenly decided that we needed to do a follow-up. And because we’ve worked with him here and there, we know his vision, and the three of us trust each other’s process very much.”

Uniquely, the work also adopts a text-heavy approach, atypical for any dance work, which tends to focus more on physicality and choreography. “At first we were very hesitant about going so text-heavy, but Edward’s process eased us into it with more exploration, and while text sometimes can be very direct, which we need at times, I think there are enough nuances and twists and turns with our script that makes it almost like a dance in itself, where you have to come up with your own interpretation of them alongside the dance.”

Two men, ten years later is also interesting because we’re two individuals onstage who are showing off our own styles of choreography, unlike a more typical dance show where there is only one choreographer dictating what all the dancers should be doing,” adds Wei-chia. “There are still sequences we do together of course, and you’ll even see some choreography from past works, or ideas we had but never got to do.”

Dance is perhaps one of the most ephemeral art forms there is, in part due to how it is a live experience, and how dancers have a shorter stage lifespan than other artists, on account of the immense physical strain it places on the body. “There’s a lot of moves we used to be able to do, but are physically unable to now,” says Wei-chia. “However, over the course of rehearsals and in our own experiences, we’ve also discovered a lot of new things that we can do too. We’ve gained new performance techniques, we won’t force ourselves to do things we can’t do anymore, and because this is a new piece, we have complete freedom of choice of what we end up doing onstage.”

“A dancer only has so much time onstage, and just the other day, I was watching a video online that reminded me that everything is similarly temporal – there will only be so many times you meet people in your life, and so every encounter should be cherished,” he adds. “I went through a life-threatening illness, and these days I mostly have to stick to plain rice and vegetables, and miss eating whatever I want. In the same way, in life, you don’t know how much change or what kind of change you will experience over the years. Age is inevitable, and you only learn to cherish what you’ve lost once you get older.”

On that note, Wei-chia and Wu-kang consider the times they’ve come to Singapore over the years, taking it for granted with the ease of travel, before feeling the loss during the pandemic, especially after forming closer bonds and relationships with artists and friends here. “This show is a reminder that the two of us are still friends as of now, and still physically here with each other,” says Wu-kang. “There will come a time where we will no longer be together, so we have to make the most of every moment we have. The same goes for our families – and in fact, they’re here with us now, when we got here on Chinese New Year’s Eve. They’ve seen our performances over the years, and even though they do get tired sometimes, they still lend us their support and try to understand and connect with what we do.”

Finally, Wei-chia and Wu-kang unveil the secret to their longstanding friendship, one that doesn’t necessarily have to be rainbows and butterflies all the time, comes with its sets of ups and downs, but also the reassurance that they will always be there for each other. “Edward Lam said it best I think – there is a wall between us that we will never fully cross, but sometimes peek over and check on each other,” says Wu-kang. “There is a lot of care, and a lot of respect for each others’ differences, whether personal or artistic, and our lives intertwine so much – he’s the godfather of my daughter! But I hope we continue to maintain this friendship for as long as we possibly can.”

“I don’t think there’s any secret to maintaining a friendship. Maybe it’s because we spend so much time physically with one another, and we end up developing this trust, and sense of safety and security with each other,” says Wei-chia. “And even when we get upset with each other, or go our own way, we continue to be there, still connected, just a little bit more distanced before we eventually come together. There are times we end up crying onstage because we treat every performance like it’s our last, and because it is so hard to do a show together these days. These days, we really are more open with each other, and from there, there’s been a greater sense of respect and appreciation for each other, and for that, I’m so glad we have this time together.”

Photo Credit: Chang Chih Chen

Two men, ten years later plays from 27th to 28th January 2023 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. Tickets available here

Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts 2023 runs from 27th January to 5th February 2023 at the Esplanade. Full programme and lineup available here

1 comment on “Huayi 2023: An Interview with best friends Chen Wu-kang and Su Wei-chia, co-creators of ‘Two men, ten years later’ (两男常罩)

  1. Pingback: Huayi 2023: An Interview with Liang Chi-Ming, director of Godot Theatre Company’s ‘ART’ – Bakchormeeboy

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