A spectrum of urban flair: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s Send in a Cloud

National Theater, Taipei
April 15 & 17, 2022

Yatin Lin

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s (雲門舞集) new work Send in a Cloud (霞), by artistic director Cheng Tsung-lung (鄭宗龍), is an explosion of strong and lively colours; a visually stunning production that leaves a lasting impression for audiences to take home and savour. Its Chinese title Xia (霞) suggests a panorama of changing colours across the horizon, made visible on stage not only through the animated projections, beautiful costumes, and lighting design, but also kinaesthetically experienced by the almost full-house audiences in Taipei. It is like a celebration of life, timely presented amidst the solitude and depression experienced by many people during this long pandemic.

The work is Cheng’s second production after taking over the helm of the company from founder Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) in 2020, and was choreographed together with Cloud Gate’s 25 dancers over the pandemic period.

He sets the work to the saxophone adaptation of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites by Japanese composer and saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu (清水靖晃), considering that the musician’s change of breath in the transition between phrases resonates with the bodily rhythms of the dancers on stage. The music provides a cosmopolitan flair, complementing the urban hip-hop movement vocabulary the dancers recently blended into their training

Send in a Cloud by Cheng Tsung-lung for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
The first solo, danced by Chan Pui-pui
Photo Liu Cheng-hsiang, courtesy National Theatre and Concert Hall, Taipei

Projection designer Chou Tung-yen (周東彥) invited the dancers to illustrate their inner landscape on paper. What resulted was a vivid collection of colours and lines, then adapted by animation artist Wei Ho-ting (魏閤廷) on the backdrop. The highly individualistic costumes by Fan Huai-chih (范懷之) are carefully coordinated with the moving visuals behind the dancers, highlighting their virtuosic movements.

Cheng has long been inspired by the bustling vigour of the streets of Wanhua, the district of Taipei where he grew up. In his highly acclaimed full-length production Thirteen Tongues (十三聲) from 2016, for example, the dancers embody the sense of speed experienced by a young adult living in the city. His experimentation with hip-hop in Send in a Cloud adds a new sense of hybrid cosmopolitan fluidity.

Huang Yu-ling and Huang Po-kai in Send in a Cloud
Photo Lee Chia-yeh, courtesy Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

The work offers twelve scenes across the human emotional spectrum, mostly solos and duets. It is often vividly colourful. The opening sees a female (Lee Tzu-chun, 李姿君, or Chan Pui-pui, 陳珮珮, depending on cast) performing a fluid yet dynamic solo that catches the attention. Her sleeveless pink top and loose green pants echo the green backdrop and bright pink zig-zag that flies across it. Closer observation reveals a frown, a sense of doubt or anxiety, while she slashes her arms across the space, as if something is on her mind.

A duet incorporates interlocking arms movements and lifts, suggesting mutual support through friendship. This may be danced by two females (Huang Mei-ya, 黃媺雅, and Chang Yu-tzu, 張育慈) or a male and female (Huang Po-kai, 黃柏凱 and Huang Yu-ling, 黃羽伶), the latter sending more romantic tension.

Shao Hsing-wen dances this signature solo in Send in a Cloud
Photo Lee Chia-yeh, courtesy Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

The whole 65-minute production is not filled with such high energy and positive visual tones, however. Right after this duet, the stage turns dark as we see a silhouetted male figure (Huang Yen-cheng, 黃彥程, or Huang Yung-huai, 黃詠淮) in the far upstage corner, slowly manoeuvering across the space, as he steps on the bodies of his male peers on the white floor. The scene recalls the ‘God of the Clouds’ (雲中君) trio in Nine Songs (九歌) from 1993, where an acrobatic male dancer balances on the shoulders of two tall men and never touches the ground. Perhaps this is a nod to Lin and that earlier dance. The sense of group precarity in a dim lighting against the projection of white triangular lines signifying a mountain ridge, presents a contrast to the earlier majestic picture. It also very much captures our current state of struggle during these years of co-existing with Covid-19.

In the sixth section of the work, Shao Hsing-wen (邵倖紋) appears as a silhouette under a dim light against the bright zebra-like stripes projected on the screen behind her, echoing the black lines on her green outfit. Her precise performance interlocks the ‘cloud walk’ from Chinese opera movement with a similar change of weight seen in poppin’. Surprisingly, they somehow blend quite organically

A male duet by Chen Lien-wei and Huang Li-chieh presents a masculine vibe
Photo Liu Cheng-hsiang, courtesy National Theatre and Concert Hall, Taipei

More sections have alternate presentations depending on the cast. To the sounds of water hitting the shore, six female dancers gather into a V-formation, with a male dancer Huang Lu-kai (黃律開) at the centre, who rushes across the stage, as if running away from the crowd. The second cast features an all-male duet by Chen Lien-wei (陳聯瑋) and Huang Li-chieh (黃立捷) with a more masculine vibe.

As the stage is painted bright red with blue, a male dancer (Lin Pi-shuo 林品碩), in a dark, knitted hat, street dances energetically to the faster paced Courante from Bach’s second suite. In contrast, the second cast features the enigmatic Chen Mu-han (陳慕涵), dancing with her long hair down.

The enigmatic Chen Mu-han, dancing with her long hair down
Photo Liu Cheng-hsiang, courtesy National Theatre and Concert Hall, Taipei

During this transition, other performers dance psychotically. One ‘kidnaps’ the loudspeaker and sits by the edge of the stage watching on. Suddenly, the black loudspeaker swings down from the sky, swaying above the dancers like a pendulum. Although the section has uniform movement, their unique costumes, and the impressions from their previous solos and duets, highlight each dancer’s individuality bringing out the different colours in each, literally and metaphorically.

After this climatic ensemble scene, a male dancer (Huang Ching-heng黃敬恆) dances subtly in contrast to the spots of bright blue and yellow projected behind him. In the other cast, Huang Yung-huai in a bright red shirt performs a touching solo.

Send in a Cloud ends with an uplifting finale, much needed in these pandemic times. Beams of colourful light shine out toward the audience as the sole figure of Huang Mei-ya (黃媺雅) or the tall and vagabond-like Huang Po-kai (黃柏凱) dances fervently in a fog of white smoke, until the very end of the familiar prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 1, which also opens the piece. This closure brings a sense hope: a beautiful and soothing one.

A rare ensemble scene in Send in a Cloud with the loudspeaker swaying above
Photo Lee Chia-yeh, courtesy Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

Kudos to the other collaborating artists including lighting designer Shen Po-hung (沈柏宏); American Grammy-award winning sound engineer Marcelo Anez, who especially flew in from the United States for the production; and to newly appointed company dramaturg Chen Pin-hsiu (陳品秀), who engaged critically with Cheng on this creative journey.

With Cloud Gate reaching its 50th anniversary next year (2023), this new work by its current artistic director may serve as a tribute to its founder Lin Hwai-min, as well as the numerous dancers and Cloud Gate members behind the scene, all of whom together enable this cultural flagship company to continue accompanying us into the next generation.