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Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

'Moon Water'

by David Mead

April 16, 2008 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

“Flowers in a mirror and the moon on the water are both illusory.”  So goes a Chinese proverb.  And indeed, so entrancing is Lin Hwai-min’s “Moon Water” that you start to wonder if it is really all a dream.

The curtain rises to reveal a man, alone, on a stage filled with a simple white pattern on the black floor, looking as if made by some giant calligraphy brush.  Tsai Ming-yuan gave us a beautifully controlled twisting solo before being joined by Huang Pei-hua.  They dance together, sometimes in unison, before unexpectedly, but always smoothly, breaking apart.  So perfect are the moments of unison you wonder how it is done.  They are so on each other’s wavelength that they rarely, if ever, feel the need to look at each other.  Slowly they are joined by others, including a group who at first seem to move like some plant in water as it gently but unceasingly ebbs back and forth, their movements seamlessly folding into one another.

Lin Hwai-min’s choreography conveys the theme of the work through the tai-chi dao-yin based movements.  This ancient form of tai-chi emphasizes circularity.  Just as water circles around a bowl or meanders rather than taking a direct line, so do the dancers bodies.  He mixes movement that is both organic and powerful with moments of amazing stillness.  It has angularity and lots of turned in elbows, knees and ankles, yet maintains an incredible and effortless flow.  So grounded are the dancers that even when balancing on one leg they seem like a heavy statue, completely motionless.

Just as you start to wonder where it’s going, the stage slowly and almost imperceptibly begins to fill with water.  Then the blackness of the background gives way to giant mirrored panels.  At first, the water simply acts as yet another mirror, reflecting dancers’ and their billowing white trousers.  The water could be seen as a gimmick, and heaven knows we see enough of those in choreography these days, but here it just adds to the beauty and theatricality of the scene.  Occasionally, a sweep of a leg that sends spray across the stage, but the dancers seem not to notice, their costumes now soaked, revealing the lithe bodies underneath.

And then, slowly it draws to a close.  The dancers almost seem to fade away, eventually leaving us with a stage, empty, except for the ripples on the water, the gentle sound of it running and our memories of what we have seen.  Was it all an illusion?  So bound up was the Sadler’s Wells audience that it seemed to take a few minutes for them to realise it was indeed all over.

Cloud Gate uses meditation as part of their training and if there is a more mediative, soothing piece of choreography, I’m not sure that I’ve seen it.  “Moon Water” has been called balletic, and in some ways with its duets, solos and group dances it is, but there are no spectacular leaps, no big lifts, and no visual communication with the audience.  The dancers do talk to us, but it’s all with the body and the breath.

The work is perfectly complimented by a recording of Mischa Maisky playing nine selections from Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello.  It’s deliberately played somewhat slower than usual, but that only serves to add to the subtleness of the choreography.  Far from dancing to the music, the dancers seem to embody it completely and become at one with it.  At times it is almost as if it’s coming from their bodies.

“Moon Water” is a journey into darkness and light, and a study of the real and the unreal.  It’s all about the body, breath and being at one with your surroundings.  There is no narrative, simply a gradual accumulation of detail.  It’s dance in its purest form and a riveting 70 minutes.  Don’t miss it.

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