A journey into the mysterious world of dreams: Cloud Gate 2 in Dream Catcher

Cloud Gate Theater, Tamsui, Taiwan
October 22, 2017

David Mead

It is certainly different. Very different. Dream Catcher (捕夢), Cheng Tsung-lung’s (鄭宗龍) latest work for Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2), explores the often strange, difficult to explain world of dreams. It’s fragmentary nature reflects perfectly the other world we visit in sleep; each scene often not obviously linked to what comes before or after, each from a different time or place.

It starts with the stage not fully set, the dancers in casual gear entering via the auditorium carrying rolls of black stage drapes, which they tie and hang. That, and the few seconds when the dancers make oddly unconvincing brrr-ing noises by pursing their lips, are the only parts of show I’m not convinced about, but opening that way does give Cheng the chance to suddenly transport us to a strange new land.

To what sounds like a jet engine starting up, we are off, whisked into a strange world loaded with symbolic imagery where meaning is elusive. Without being at all scary, it is deliciously dark.

Liao Chin-ting (centre) and Cloud Gate 2 dancers in Dream CatcherPhoto Lee Chia-yeh
Liao Chin-ting (centre) and Cloud Gate 2 dancers in Dream Catcher
Photo Lee Chia-yeh

Right from the beginning, Cheng and the dancers paint some stunning pictures. Yang Ling-kai (楊淩凱) appears in a large conical, pointed, farmer’s hat; that hat looking for all the world like it’s floating on top of a headless body. The scrapes, grumbles and creaks of the score fit her dance perfectly. Slowly, other ghostly, white-shrouded figures appear. When still, they look like figures in a dusty museum that have had sheets thrown over them.

Dream Catcher: ten dancers, ten dreams. Dreams that overlap with figures from one occasionally popping up in another.

One by one the other dancers remove their cloaks, revealing a mysterious assortment of figures from the faceless to the near-normal. The costumes by stylist, fashion editor, and luxury womenswear designer Fan Huai-chih (范懷之, who recently also worked with Cheng on his Full Moon for Sydney Dance Company) are certainly imaginative. There’s a woman in a quite literally head to toe finely embroidered gown who looks like she’s just emerged from some cobwebby recess, another with feather trousers but regular black top, a man in half a gorilla suit and another in a shredded silver robe.

Tsou Ying-lin (above) with Lee Tzu-chun in Cheng Tsung-lung's Dream Catcher for Cloud Gate 2Photo Lee Chia-yeh​
Tsou Ying-lin (above) with Lee Tzu-chun in Cheng Tsung-lung’s Dream Catcher for Cloud Gate 2
Photo Lee Chia-yeh​

Each dream, each dance is different. It’s totally engrossing. Some are slow and considered, some more exuberant with twists, turns and leaps, hair flying, like that by Lee Tzu-chun (李姿君). Later, Lee dances with Tsou Ying-lin (鄒瑩霖), their bodies (often their heads) always in contact like conjoined twins. When, and with a great thud, a long scroll of paper drops, a new artwork is created by a dancer’s feet to match that above. Footprints join the two. Later, the paper is torn in two, used to wrap one of the dancers.

There’s more strange noises, more everyday noises, including a high-speed train, but sensitive or eerie, melodious or harsh, the combination of Wu Tsan-cheng’s (吳燦政) sound effects and Chinese-American musician and experimental composer Li Daiguo’s (李帶果) music is a great foil to the dance. Alongside the unusual are traditional Chinese instruments, cello and violin, plus vocals from Li himself, including beatbox.

Suddenly one day, I felt that life is like a dream. I had the desire to hold onto something. Could there be a way to hold onto time and stop it? Just like a dream-catcher, I wanted to capture it.” Cheng Tsung-lung

The movement may have colour and texture, but it’s all set within the lovely monochrome lighting of Shen Po-hung (沈柏宏).

It ends with that paper laid out to form a pathway, that now remote-controlled conical hat herding the figures back into the deepest corners from which they came, like a sheepdog putting its flock back in its pen.

Even the curtain call is unusual. Rather than the usual group bow, the cast reappear scattered around the stage. We’re back to sculptures in an empty museum. When the backcloth is raised, these figures from the dreams we have witnessed find themselves in collision with the real world bursting in through the theatre’s huge window. Probably still trying to work out what it all meant, now the audience have the chance to walk into the dreams they have just caught sight of as they are encouraged to walk on the stage and get a close up on the dancers and costumes.

Cheng told me afterwards that he had worked very differently in making Dream Catcher, using a lot of input from the dancers. He added that it was also “Where I am right now.” I hear Dream Catcher may have taken longer to take shape than usual, but the result was worth waiting for.