Energy and colour from Cloud Gate 2

Sadler’s Wells, London
November 21, 2016

David Mead

With their very particular Asian aesthetic, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) are popular visitors from Taiwan, but while Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2) is still decidedly Taiwanese, it’s far from a junior company that’s a mirror of a parent. Think of it more as upstart cousin; one with a younger outlook. It’s also a company that works mainly at home, holding residencies and performing widely, often in towns that see little live professional dance. When it comes to making work, the focus has always been on young, often still emerging choreographers, and the programme at Sadler’s Wells for their European debut certainly has a modern vibe. The fact that Cloud Gate 2 calls its annual main stage Taiwan tour Spring Riot says it all.

Best of the three is the closing Beckoning (來) by artistic director Cheng Tseng-lung (鄭宗龍), which draws on movements and colours of the Taiwanese street-dancing ritual of ba jia jiang (八家將, eight generals who are gods or bodyguards to the gods of the underworld) seen in Taoist temple parades. It’s a dance that’s colourful in just about every possible way.

The dance segues between sensual and poetic, and playful and spirited. Here more than anywhere in the evening you can see the influence of the dancers’ tai-chi training. An long opening solo by Chan Hing-chung (陳慶翀) sets the tone. Starting facing the back, his ever-circling torso and arms are transfixing. The mostly duets that follow each take on a different tone. All are compelling, although my favourite was a rather impish affair by Tsou Ying-lin (鄒瑩霖) and Chan. The rather enigmatic Lin I-hsuan (林宜萱), who sometimes just watched, also took the eye. It all ends nicely upbeat with all ten dancers rocking from side to side.

Popular Taiwanese dancewear designer Lin Bin-hao’s (林秉豪) simple but colourful costumes set the dance off well, especially the calf-length dresses for the women; as does the contemporary score by fellow countryman Chung Cheng-da (鍾成達) and Quiet Quartet (靜謐時光), arranged by Blaire Ko (柯智豪), that includes bells and street sounds. Anyone who has witnessed a temple parade will make the links immediately.

Wicked Fish (01). Cloud Gate 2 in Wicked FishPhoto Liu Chen-hsiang
Cloud Gate 2 in Wicked Fish
Photo Liu Chen-hsiang

Opening the evening, Wicked Fish (流魚) by Huang Yi (黃翊) is fast and fluid; an intense dance that never lets up. A thin band of light in front of a line of black-clad dancers catches their flashing arms, hands, or heads. If that doesn’t remind people of fish in the water, the way the dancers swirl then suddenly dart off in all directions certainly will.

This is a world on edge, where the slightest thing can send everyone scattering. Amidst the shadows is some complex choreography, built largely around pairings that constantly come and go, and change. The often difficult partnering (same-gender as well as the usual male-female) full of twisting lifts is made to look effortless. The music, Shaar by Iannis Xenakis, is jammed with dissonance and unusual, difficult to listen to scales, but fits the action perfectly.

There’s a lot more darkness in Cheng’s The Wall (牆), especially at the beginning. The title comes from the fact the dancers often appear isolated as if there is some invisible barrier between them. As Michael Gordon’s steely, slightly ominous sounding Weather One develops into series of rhythmic patterns and shifting motifs, so the dramatic nature of the dance unfolds, an initial walking sequence quickly moving into a series of high-octane, high-speed duets and trios often featuring sharp articulation of joints. Given the speed, the dancers’ clarity and timing is extremely impressive.

A great way to warm up a cold November evening. More please!