Cloud Gate Theater, Tamsui, Taiwan
March 17, 2017
For this year’s Spring Riot (春鬥), Cloud Gate 2 (雲門 2) artistic director Cheng Tsung-lung (鄭宗龍) turned to three young choreographers: Huang Huai-te (黃懷德) and Chen Yun-ju (陳韻如), both of whom made successful works for the company in 2015; and Tsai Po-chen (蔡博丞), who has already had significant success overseas, most notably with Floating Flower (浮花) for Gauthier Dance in Stuttgart.
It proved a mixed evening. At the time, I thought Tsai’s Whisper of the Eyes (瞳孔裡的灰牆) the most satisfying of the three works on offer. It certainly has the most depth. But if success is measured by positive images still in the mind days later, then Huang’s Bright (亮) takes the honours.
He keeps it simple. Set on a cast of six, Bright does not tell a story and does not try to convey deep meaning. Joy of joys, it’s a dance about dancing, the force and power of dance, about music and about light.
A single dancer is gradually joined by the others until the who ensemble is on stage. They shuttle around the space, their movement a high-tempo mix, limbs sometimes held strong and precise, but sometime loosely. When the latter it’s reminiscent of watching half-a-dozen Petrushkas, but even here there’s great energy that’s matched by the powerful percussion of Garini & Black Bull by Les Tambours du Bronx. At times, it feels like the dancers have somehow been let off the leash, the surging movement suggesting strongly that they are enjoying themselves. It’s a sense that reaches out to the audience too.
There’s plenty of brightness in the designs too, the dance all happening on a white floor and nicely complimented by a backdrop that shifts through off-white, pale green and bright yellow; and simple grey, white and pale khaki trousers and tops.
Then someone turned the lights out, metaphorically and literally. The programme notes for Chen’s A Blue State of Mind (潛) reference an Emmanuel Kant quote about the depths of the people’s souls, and note that people’s memories are intertwined with the bones and tissue of their bodies, from trauma to laughter, not that there’s any sign of the latter in the dance. It’s a great starting point but, unfortunately, the promise is unfulfilled.
It opens with Chang Chin (張勤) and Huang Yung-huai (黃詠淮) apparently grappling, although such is the gloomy lighting that precisely what is going on is hard to discern. What is telling is the way others walk past, ignoring them. A comment on modern society, maybe.
As matters progress, it nearly always seems to be women’s depressing recollections that are to the fore. Memories are mostly fragmentary by nature but the dance feels like that too. A section without music labours, the choreography not strong enough to carry the silence. One using text toils initially too, not least because Chen Li-ya’s voice struggles to reach even eight rows back (given she addresses the audience directly presumably we are supposed to hear). And when the end does come, what looks like a reconciliation comes out of nowhere. It all rather left one feeling it could, and should, have been so much more.
Tsai’s Whisper of the Eyes (瞳孔裡的灰牆) was inspired by two well-publicised random knife attacks on the Taipei MRT, witnessing a near-miss between a car and baby carriage, and last year’s American presidential campaign and the election of Donald Trump. That sounds a confusion, and it is, although his point is that all have changed the way people see the world, and in two cases at least, erected more barriers. In the programme, he also tosses in a Jean Cocteau observation that the reason that the times seem chaotic is because of the viewer’s own chaos.
Fortunately, far from being confused, the dance is largely well-crafted, right from the opening that sees Tsou Ying-lin (鄒瑩霖) apparently asking ‘Why?’ There is a sense of estrangement and helplessness from her in particular. Although the dancers are a group, and they try to unite, a sense of loneliness pervades. One particular phrase articulated by just one or two dancers that recurs now and again, usually while others watch from the upstage shadows, seems to sum it all up.
It is good stuff, but after 25-minutes about mood and feeling, all done very subtly, comes a rather in-your-face ending that ends with Tsou lying, apparently dead under the closing curtain. As much as what we see is clear, the message is not. Does this indicate some sort of escape or release? Before that, the use of a three-quarters lowered gauze also feels clumsy and at out if keeping with what precedes it, the wide bottom tape simply getting in way of watching. And while all that goes before is magnified greatly by gorgeous selections from Ezio Bosso compositions, a change to Keaton Henson’s Healah Dancing here feels somewhat odd too. A few ideas too many, perhaps.
Cloud Gate 2’s Spring Riot 2017 continues at the Cloud Gate Theatre, Tamsui to March 26. Visit www.cloudgate.org.tw for more details.
In October 2017, Cheng Tsung-lung will present a new whole-evening work, Dream Catcher (捕夢).