A solo figure walks on a stark white stage with a simple video projection of Chinese calligraphy scrolling off center. He is soon accompanied by a large ensemble, filing in, walking with intention but in a seemingly random direction without a sound score as if they are depicting the random thoughts in our head. We feel the chaos of fish market in Taipei, a Mumbai train station or Times Square at rush hour.
The large group moves low to the ground with spiral movements, light lifts and jumps to vocal Chinese chants breaking the silence. This dissipates into a stunning male- female duet. It is hard to take our eyes off of the female dancer, dressed in all white long gown. She moves fluidly and effortlessly, as if she is being propelled by an energy outside of this world, although as this writer and other dancers had learned in Cloud Gate workshops prior to this performance, the signature of Cloud Gate choreography is that all movement starts from mustering chi from one’s center.
Just as we settle in, absorbing the cinematic effect of the duet, a solo female dancer frantically moves across the floor with shaky, spasmodic movements. She is very soon accompanied by a male dancer with completely contrasting slow, meditative and intentional movements. Failing to be calmed by his energy, she succumbs into a lifeless form. He carries her upstage, initially propping her on to his body, later laying her on the floor by herself to witness the world go by. Other dancers join in depicting what appeared to be daily chores, emotions and copulatory movements as if saying “life goes on”.
The stage goes black with nothing but a 25 feet sliver of white light and a solo male dancer battling against it. The projection becomes a sizzling 3D wall of calligraphy, soon expanding over the entire stage, creating a wall of black and white Chinese characters. The solo warrior is soon joined by the entire company. They divide into tribes, warring— sadly art imitating life. The tribes are seated on the ground forming a circle in primal postures, giving room for battle duets. Their fierce, yet controlled, rooted movements are derived from Chinese martial arts form “Wushu”, (wu means military or martial, shu meaning art or discipline). They are not afraid to punch, kick, jump, lunge or throw the others making it very real front. There is a full on battle scene. The calligraphy bombs dropping to the percussive sound score gave way to the dancers dropping dramatically to the floor, ending in a total annihilation.
The calligraphy dissipates into a stream of white light, taking away the final dancer standing.
We are left in total darkness…. an end of an era.
Far off stars or a distant galaxy appears as if a glimpse of hope. The projected stars gradually morph into Chinese calligraphy. The dancers rise one by one, awakening through their spine, transferring life energy to their extremities. Upstage the projected wall turns from bone white to rolling ocean waves. Dancers move in unison with water like fluid movements, celebrating life itself . The characters are swept away by the waves of the sea, leaving a white empty stage with the same solo dancer, just as the production begins. It is the perfect book end.
Overwhelmed and now in a trance, the audience is trying to process an hour and a half of moving meditation without an intermission and without the props some might have expected from Cloud Gate—ie. no rice from Taiwan, no water nor sand.
The Chinese characters and the recorded words we had seen danced are poems describing the landscape of Formosa, the beautiful island now known as Taiwan. From the program book we learn that Choreographer Lin Hwai-min had used the spiritual concept from the Buddhist Diamond Sutra --
All things contrived are like dream, illusion, bubble, shadow, and as dewdrop or lightning. They should be regarded as such.
This had been a forced meditation, as if the choreographer and dancers had read our minds.
These writers highly recommend Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan to movement artists of all levels and disciplines, yoga and meditation disciples and visual artists.
Visit the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre website for more information about their future performances.
For more information on upcoming dance performances, visit The Dance Center of Columbia College website
Learn more about dance by seeing dance through dancers eyes in the Picture This Post series, “Choreographers’ Eyes - Dancers Explain Dance”. Watch this video preview of the story here—
Kinnari Vora is a versatile dancer and choreographer in Bharatnatyam (South Indian Classical dance), Indian folk, Kalaripayattu (Indian martial arts) and Indian classical contemporary. She was trained under Guru Sarmishtha Sarkar (India) and was mentored by Guru Pranita Jain (Chicago). She is the co-creator of Ishti (dance collective with Preeti Veerlapati) and is the principal dancer and choreographer for Surabhi Ensemble. She has performed in India, Italy, Poland, Greece, Israel and the USA. Kinnari also has a practice as a doctor of physical therapy.
Bob Garrett has been a professional musician in Chicago for over 20 years. Bob is currently performing in the Broadway in Chicago production of HAMILTON. Other credits include: writing and performing the percussion book for Sting's THE LAST SHIP; performing in the national tour of THE LION KING for 4 years; performing with various dance troupes including The Seldoms, Alvin Ailey, and Randy Duncan,. He is also the co-creator of Posterchild art (multi-disciplined art company, with Nadine Lollino) and co-creator of ESCP (electronic music duo, with Chihsuan Yang).