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IMPRESSIONS OF: Cloud Gate Theatre of Taiwan

IMPRESSIONS OF: Cloud Gate Theatre of Taiwan
Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram

By Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram
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Published on September 23, 2015
Photo: Jack Vartoogian

"Rice" at BAM

Date: 9/18/2015

Concept and Choreographer: Lin Hwai-min

Company: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

Lighting design: Lulu W.L. Lee

Videographer: Howell Hao-jan Chang

The predominantly Asian audience at BAM shivered with anticipation. Eiko and Koma, arguably New York’s most famous Japanese dancers, stole a private chat with choreographer Lin Hwai-min in the center aisle. The curtain rose to reveal one man crossing slowly upstage, wiggling a long bamboo pole with the intensity of a priest swaying incense emerging from a thurible. He appeared in front of the first of many mesmerizing, often sped-up, images of rice fields. 

Cloud Gate has gained the respect of the Taiwanese people and government, winning a cultural center of enviable scale, and, according to a recent article in The New York Times, considerable influence. “Because of the political situation with mainland China,” Yatin Lin was quoted as saying, “it’s very difficult for our political leaders to be active abroad, so many people see him as not just an artist but as a kind of cultural ambassador for Taiwan.”

A male dancer supports his partner by the small of her back as she wraps her legs around his hips and  extend her upper body back
Wan-Po-nien and Lee-Tzu-chun, Photo credit: Jack Vartoogian

Rice, created in 2013, makes one curious to know more about harvesting rice, Taiwanese farmers today, and what part bamboo plays in this agricultural product. Divided into eight sections: soil, wind, pollen I, pollen II, sunlight, grain, fire, and water, the seventy minute dance for twenty four barefoot, young dancers has the reverential tone of an ageless epic. The Cloud Gate company dance with remarkable grace, conveying the solidarity of communal living, as well as individual emotions.

The Hakka folk songs and drumming from the score, foot stamping and bamboo pole clashing, bring us to another land. Several images linger, among them: women slowly rolling colorful cloth across the floor in a ritual that remains unexplained. In the Pollen section, a square floor light defines an erotic zone, slightly off center to a rear wall projection, for Huang Pei-hua and Tsai Ming-yuan. Oddly, in this intimate moment, Lin chose to use an aria of Maria Callas. While Callas’ voice amazes, Lin's choice makes us hungry to meet the divas of Taiwan. Perhaps this is the ploy of an ambassador who acknowledges the best of other cultures, while stoking our curiosity about his country.

A male dancer extends backwards underneath his partner's legs while holding on to her hips
Huang Pei-hua and Tsai Ming-yuan, Photo: Jack Vartoogian

Most of the choreography would appear familiar to modern dance aficionados, few gestures seem unusual, excepting an occasional sickled foot. Dancers skim the space in flat footed runs; the women seem to “shoulder” the burdens of life in solos with their backs rounded and their heads held up on twisted necks. The men have the acrobatic fun of fighting with long poles, executed with martial arts grace.

Ecstatic applause greeted the close of the program. Touching and pure, Rice may enjoy the life of a national anthem.


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