Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: Nine Songs by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan



Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Sunday August 5

Visually stunning, Nine Songs 《九歌》is an intriguing exploration and challenge on the notion of what is meditative and repetitive; and imploring and boring. 

Before I talk about Nine Songs, I do feel the need to state that Cloud Gate 《雲門舞集》is in a class of its own. In my review of its Whisper of Flowers, I  contextualized that "Cloud Gate played a huge part of my artistic and cultural life. My first Cloud Gate experience was way back in the mid-80's with their performance of Legacy《薪傳》. It was like nothing I have ever seen and the company danced as if nothing else mattered. It was distinctively modern, yet distinctively Chinese, two facets I never thought could possibly co-exist so beautifully." That feeling has never diminished. While some other Chinese dance companies has tried to emulate Cloud Gate, not a single one ever came close.

The title of the work came from a cycle of poems written some 2300 years ago by the Chinese poet Que Yuan. Choreographer Lin Hwai-min, digging deep into the cycle's ancient worldview and feel, created a modern ritual juxtaposing and interweaving differing cultures of different times. The aesthetics of Nine Songs were both raw and polished. The music was predominantly chants and ritual songs that was sometimes jarring and sometimes consoling. The movements were distinctively modern infused with folk gestures and shapes.

One of the highlights of the work and strategically programmed in the middle section was the Homage to the Goddess of the Xiang River. This segment was beautifully balanced in its development with a clear narrative. My personal favorite, however, was the Homage to the God of the Clouds. Representing summer, the God danced in the air by bearing down on two mortals who carried Him all throughout the 8 minutes dance. It was a beautifully crafted segment sustained by stunning technique and stamina, imagery and imagination.

The aesthetics of Nine Songs was enhanced by the gorgeous backdrop of lotus painting mirroring the lotus pond built into the orchestra pit. More than just an ornamentation, the lotus motif held the core of the work as a symbol of reincarnation. At the end, the dancers placed candles on the stage creating a stream of quivering lights reaching into the starry sky and bringing the ritual to a full cycle.

In final analysis, the work was both meditative and repetitive; and imploring and boring. Nine Songs , while visually gorgeous and opulent, stand on that thin and fragile line of being a tad rich, tad long and tad empty. 

_____
NINE SONGS
2*-4 August 2012 (Thur-Sat) 8:15pm
5 August 2012 (Sun) 3pm
Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

Choreography: Lin Hwai-min
Narrator: Chiang Hsun, Kuo Yuan-hsien
Set Design: Lee Ming-cho
Lighting Design: Lin Keh-hua
Costume Design: Lin Hwai-min, Lo Ruey-chi
Mask Design: Lin Yen-ling, Wang Yao-chun

Premiere: 10 August 1993 at the Taipei Theatre, Taiwan

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