NK 101 Tea @ Style
Ninety Minutes of Non-Stop Excitement and Fun
By Kurt Weidner
Photos by NK 101, Twelli
After a day of sightseeing in and around Taipei, you might think that it’s still too early to go back to the hotel. Where to go? A night market? A teahouse? A theater or cinema? How about a venue that presents you with some elements of all of these places? Let’s go to NK 101, for NK 101 Tea @ Style!
NK is short for Nankang, a still oft-encountered spelling for eastern Taipei’s Nangang District, where it is located. On a recent Wednesday evening I went to give it a try. NK101 is about 15 minutes by foot from MRT Kunyang Station. The walk gave me time to imagine what I was about to see. I had read online that it was a show with temple-fair performances, night-market fun, and aboriginal song and dance. So I was expecting a somewhat tame show aimed at giving tourists a superficial idea of what Taiwanese culture is like. I was wrong.
Entering the spacious hall, I was directed to a seat at a table just off the center. All tables seat four, and all visitors are treated to a pot of hot tea and preserved plums, a nice touch, adding to the special intimacy of the NK101 experience. Looking at the huge red stage curtain, I thought that I was about to see the action from quite some distance. Wrong I was, again.
The hall soon filled up with people. Tourists from mainland China, young travelers from Japan, some Westerners as well. Everyone was in a light mood, and some even started to play cards, while chatting and sampling the Taiwanese tea. Then the lights went out and the show, entitled Formosa Fantasy: The Amazing Night of Taiwan, began.
Part One. To my surprise, the action began not on stage, but right beside me in the middle of the auditorium, which has a cross-shaped empty area in the middle. A fierce-looking performer launched into a ritual-style dance. In one hand he held dozens of burning joss sticks, filling the hall with smoke. Vino Han, the show’s programming director, later explained to me the concept of his production: “We want to create an atmosphere close to what people experience when visiting a real temple. Having performers dancing in the center of the hall allows all spectators to have a close look at the performance, regardless of where they sit.” Sitting right beside the central corridor, I was in fact so close to the action that I could feel the breeze created by the fast-moving dancer whenever he passed.
“We want to create an atmosphere close to what people experience when visiting a real temple”
Soon more dancers appeared, all dressed in spectacular costumes and with painted faces, representing the Eight Generals that traditionally walk at the front of temple-fair processions, their task to rid a town or city district of evil influences. The dancing was breathtaking, with stunning acrobatic moves, and even included some street dance-style moves on the ground. These dancers then moved onto the stage and others, suspended from wires, started to fly about through the air.
The 90-minute show is divided into four segments. After this first spectacular part, highlighting traditional temple-fair performances, a clown came on stage and pumped up the spectators even more by asking everyone to make noise, following his lead. “Interacting with and involving the crowd is an important part of the show,” said Vino Han.
Part Two. On stage came a bunch of performers in colorful attire, setting up what looked like a typical Taiwanese night-market scene. “We want to give the audience an idea of typical daily life in Taiwan, and night markets are an important part of the Taiwan experience,” explained Han. This lighthearted segment of the show was all about fun and joy. A none-too-serious martial-arts demonstration, a glass-ball act, percussion music performed on a night-market stand, and very eye-catching female dancers dressed as “betel-nut beauties” (the young ladies you see selling betel nut at stands along country roads around Taiwan) made the spectators laugh.
Things then got a little testy. Two groups of night-market vendors started a heated argument. The spirit soon lightened, however, when a funny contest commenced in which the rival groups tried to one-up each other by jumping through increasingly smaller metal rings. This part of the show climaxed with a hot dance by the betel-nut beauty performers, who first danced on stage and then came down to move among the spectators. One “lucky” guy was asked to sit on a chair in the center, with the hot dancers moving around him. The girls then took him by the hand and ran to the stage, where the dance continued, the dancers, now with flashlights in hand, moving to a rhythmic techno beat. The crowd cheered loudly when the “victim” finally shook off his inhibitions and started to dance as energetically as the girls around him.
Part Three. Then came Jacko, straight down from heaven. No, not the real Michael Jackson – an impersonator. Lowered from ceiling to stage, he began to dance just like Michael. Soon joined by other dancers, the lights went out, and a spectacle started the likes of which I had never seen before. With the help of LED lights attached to the clothes of the performers, all kinds of splendid visual effects were achieved. I have found this light and dance show truly unforgettable.
Part Four. Time seemed to be flying by. The final part of the show started, again right in the middle of the hall. A girl and a boy, both members of one of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes, started a breathtaking acrobatic act, each grasping two long pieces of silk cloth suspended from the high ceiling. Then a large number of dancers appeared on stage, dancing together to the cadence of indigenous tunes. The dancers eventually came down amongst the spectators, and asked a number to join them.
Everyone had a blast, and there was hardly a moment during the show where the spectators had time to tend to their tea and dried plums. Vino Han and his crew have produced a remarkably professional show that gives visitors a unique take on Taiwan culture. His aim is to show the youthfulness and energy of Taiwan, its rich traditional culture, and the creativeness of his young performers. The best thing about the show was that it just flew by, without a single dull moment, and that there was a great deal of pleasant interaction with the audience. Telling from the faces of the people leaving the hall, everyone had a great evening.
NK 101 Tea @ Style (南港101文創會館)
Add: 72, Chongyang Rd., Nangang District, Taipei City
Tel: (02) 2788-7070
Times: Mon. ~ Tues. 19:30 ~ 22:00
Getting There: Take the MRT Bannan Line to Kunyang Station. From there, take bus B22 (Blue 22) or 817 to the China Television bus stop. Alternatively, walk east from the station along Sec. 6, Zhongxiao E. Rd., turn left onto Xiangyang Rd., and then right onto Chongyang Rd. NK101is behind the China Television building.