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Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

'Wind Shadow'

by David Mead

November 26, 2006 -- National Theater, Taipei, Taiwan

In Spring 2005, Lin Hwai-Min met New York-based contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang backstage at a Cloud Gate performance. Cloud Gate commitments meant he was unable to take up Cai’s invitation to join the creative team for the opening and closing 2008 Beijing Olympics. Instead, Lin suggested they work together on a new production for his company. The outcome is the at times stark, but often visually stunning and thought provoking “Wind Shadow.”

The title could not be more appropriate. The two constants in the work are indeed the wind and shadows. Shadows of course mean black and white, and “Wind Shadow” is definitely that, the dancers always dressed in black and, for the most part, danced on white marley against a white backdrop, with stark lighting.

The piece begins with a quite arresting opening image of a single black-clad dancer, lit from the back so his shadow falls across the stage, and a single white kite flying in the breeze. That shadow becomes ‘alive’ as a second dancer lies in it, filling the shape precisely. Other dancers and their live shadows join them. The movement is quite simple, with subtle variations, and the dancers and their companions seem to billow gently in the ever-present breeze.

At first the shadows behave as we would expect, but then their movement sometimes becomes a variation on their human companion. It’s not long before you start to wonder who is leading or responding to who. Dancers and shadows seem to exchange places. We see the humans dragging their shadows forward. Are they trying to escape their ever-present companion? Are the shadows starting to fight to take control? The answer seems to be ‘yes’, as they do indeed rise from the floor and start to dance with each other.

At first the dancers are accompanied by white kites and flags, flying or billowing in the breeze provided by huge fans in the wings. But slowly white turns to black as the work seems to take on a darker and more serious hue. Black flags gradually replace the white and the lighting decreases. What is happening to the world? Suddenly and without warning, what seems like two never-ending rivers of black silk fall from above like some ominous waterfall.

The dance now becomes much more disturbing. Cai and Lin use the darker light to mix the dance with images and video of bleak, desolate snowy landscapes and dramatic explosions and fires, both projected onto huge flags paraded around the stage. To make sure they are always focused correctly the videos come from hand held projectors carried on stage by other dancers. From a bright beginning where all seems well with the world, suddenly we find ourselves in one full of fire, smoke, blackness, burnt bodies and loud noise.

Then, just as suddenly there is peace and falling snow. But this is no ordinary snow. It is jet black. Dancers reappear but now they seem to move with heavier hearts, desolate black figures moving slowly through the desolate landscape. Lin could quite easily have ended it here, but with Cai chose something rather more dramatic and quite unexpected. The landscape disappears only to be replaced by a green and black swirling vortex, an endless black hole produced using lighting and projection that seems to suck in both the dancers and the audience. It could be argued the final denouement is out of keeping with the rest of the piece, but I guarantee that it sent everyone home with an image to remember.

All this is accompanied by Liang Chun-Mei and Jim Shum’s almost hypnotic soundscape. At different times we hear heartbeats, a baby breathing inside the womb, a dentists drill, and of course those explosions and what sounded like gunfire.

What it all means is left to the viewer. The programme gives no clues and Lin Hwai-min says there is no story. Of course it doesn’t have to mean anything, but I would doubt that anyone left the theatre without being affected in some way or reading something into what they have experienced. The shadows can be seen as a metaphor for the baggage of life that we all carry with us and that we cannot avoid, or perhaps they are the dark side of our own being. Neither of course are things we can escape. Today’s world is full of conflict and I couldn’t help feeling that the machine gun-like sound, the black snow and the final ‘sucking’ of the dancers, and it seemed the audience, into the black hole was a warning of where human kind might be headed should we continue along the current path.

Choreographers try to work with projections more and more, but it seems that video takes over all too often. Only once, and then very briefly, did it seem that was the case here. Otherwise they were very definitely equal partners. “Wind Shadow” is serious, heavy and perhaps the most thought provoking of Lin’s works to date. It is however also incredibly beautiful and full of incredible images, some of which I will never forget.

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