Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Rice

I saw Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s (雲門舞集) new theatre dance performance: RICE (稻禾).  First, the good things: this was my first time seeing Cloud Gate live. Impressively powerful dancers, superbly trained, energizing each other on stage. Who is the woman with long arms who has several key solos? She’s mesmerizing: star quality, incredibly power and expressivity.

Two highlights: the super-charged erotic duet, mostly on or close to the ground, that had Mannerist bodies (Michelangelo-esque, really) in constantly shifting, sometimes almost insect-like twisting embrace, wow. But why was it set at the back of the stage, off in the distance so that it was hard for us to see? The other highlight: about 8 women dancing as slowly as possible (call this the Tsai Ming-liang section of the work), mostly hunched over, to a Richard Strauss operatic aria. Here, individualized, creatively designed movement finally emerged from Lin Hwai-min’s rather stereotyped “modernist” broad gestural style: in this section each body, each gesture, insisted that one look at it carefully; each was precisely judged, and at least implicitly meaningful. Would that the rest of the work had been as strong. I also failed to find the embedded political/social critique that Cloud Gate is known for.

So, is this new dance typical of the group’s style? Overal I was surprised at how conservative Cloud Gate’s modern dance style is, based on a Bausch-esque dance vocabulary and conception that feels a bit dated. As for the music: the Hakka folksongs were haunting; a recording of Callas doing Casta Diva less so (too cliched and insufficiently integrated into the rest of the piece, from this Westerner’s perspective). The overlong self-tribute video at the beginning is better shown in the lobby, before the performance.

Can someone tell me exactly what the Richard Strauss opera excerpt from the end is? I’m pretty sure it’s not Four Last Songs. I can’t place it.

– Shelly Kraicer, at the National Theatre, Taipei, November 29 2013