Cloud Gate Dance Theatre at Sadler’s Wells, London
May 5, 2016
Most dance is ephemeral. Wisps of it may remain in the memory for years but most of it vanishes once the lights come up. Not so Lin Hwai-min’s (林懷民) work for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集). That burns deep into one’s inner workings and, in the case of Songs of the Wanderers (流浪者之歌), seems to change one’s brain waves into alpha frequencies; if not theta. The combination of movement that is heavily influenced by tai chi, an extraordinary, still, monk, the constant stream of falling rice and the hypnotic polyphony of Georgian voices combines to produce the lazy man’s introduction to meditating without effort.
Words meld into clichés when trying to describe a work such as this which really needs to be experienced, but nevertheless, it is truly hypnotic. The late Chang Tsan-tao’s (張贊桃) golden lighting design, complemented by three tonnes of equally golden rice draw the eye in, now with columns, now with a wash of colour.
The dancers mark their flowing progress towards self-knowledge wielding long staves, adorned with small bells tuned to a minor third. Suddenly, they writhe in the dunes of rice, fling it upwards in showers or seemingly swim in it, scattering it in waves ahead of their bodies. They stand under a torrent of rice, falling in curtains while they squint and blink against its onslaught.
One man is left alone on stage almost communing with the rice, his near-naked body reflecting the golden light in the same way as the rice, which alternately captivates then frustrates him.
Then the pilgrims return, wending their way purposefully towards their goal. Still in the corner, still, in the corner, the monk stands, his palms together, perfectly composed whilst the rice streams down in a column to pool at his feet.
Suddenly there is fire. Five frightening, flaming pans of dangerous tongues of heat and light that threaten to singe hair and clothes. But the dancers remain serene throughout. They whirl like dervishes then inter-weave, the pans of fire like a blazing ritual from long, long ago, flaring orange/yellow against the darkness, hissing slightly in accompaniment to the rice that susurrates beneath bare feet.
Then the rice is raked with long, wooden teeth that scrape along slowly and purposefully – and the monk stands still – the purpose and focus of their journey.
Suddenly but calmly, it is almost over. The cast take their calls. Even the monk breaks his stance and accepts our paean. All but one, who rakes the stage at first back and forth and then in circles until he is the only one. The polyphonic singing recommences and he paces his careful coils like a patient plough horse until he has created perfect concentric circles.
Then he is done.
Songs of the Wanderers continues at Sadler’s Wells to May 7. For details and tickets visit www.sadlerswells.com or call 020 7863 8000.
Next week, it can be seen at the Birmingham Hippodrome on May 10 and 11 as part of the International Dance Festival Birmingham. Visit www.idfb.co.uk or call the Hippodrome box office on 0844 338 5000.