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Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

'White'

by David Mead

November 9, 2011 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

The opening section of Lin Hwai-min’s “White” was made back in 1998 for the Taipei Crossover Dance Company, a troupe founded by four former Cloud Gate dancers in their early 40s. As the programme notes, they were not too keen on running and jumping, and “White I”, as it is known, is indeed full of the slow, sustained tai-qi influenced dance London audiences have come to expect from him. Vertical scrolls of white fabric rise and fall. Three women move among, and sometimes behind them, appearing as shadows, all the time their fluid bodies contrasting with the straight edges of the fabric. The sense of mystery is enhanced as a bare-chested male dancer enters the scene playing a Chinese flute that too acts as a counterpoint, this time with Stephen Scott’s rumbling electronic score.

The remaining two sections, “white II” and “White III” were created in 2006 when Lin decided to extend the original and stage the whole with his own company. “White I” is all about white on white; white costumes, white scrolls and bright lights. “White II” is much more about black and white. The curtain opens to reveal a forest of lighting booms almost right down on the stage floor, creating a very different atmosphere. After they are lifted, the black cloth covering the floor is similarly raised to form a dark cloud that hangs over proceedings, blocking out any light from above. In the shadows the dancers mostly appear as ghostly silhouettes, what light there was glinting on their exquisite bodies. A most beautiful moment came when they divided into two groups of four, the two quartets imitating each other with such perfect timing it was quite remarkable. More memorable images were to come as the dancers transformed the stage once more, lifting the tape holding the floor together, pulling it taut to create impressive black and white abstract pictures as the strips of the dance floor itself were pulled off or slowly and very deliberately rolled up.

Cloud Gate has never only been about beautiful but slow, extended Tai-chi inspired dance. Even so, “White III” probably came as something as a surprise to most of the audience. Spurred on by Atsuhiko Gondai’s driving, tension-filled score full of explosive sounds that rolled through the theatre like waves crashing on a beach, the dancers exploded into a ferment of dynamic, unpredictable dance. It is easy to see why this section is performed occasionally as a stand-alone work. On a bare stage, with even the wings taken away, Lin’s choreography is now about the body pure and simple. The martial arts and qi gong influence is still there, but it’s all much harder edged. It never gets to the point where it could be called European, but the cross-fertilisation of Western and Eastern movement and aesthetics is much more apparent. The surprises keep coming, though, as in amongst the impressive leaps and turns appear some graceful lifts that would not be out of place in classical ballet. Talking of which, such is Cloud Gate’s draw that present and future Royal Ballet directors Monica Mason and Kevin O’Hare, and a number of Covent Garden dancers were in the audience. The dance gets ever more frantic, until so suddenly you don’t notice it until it has happened, everyone has gone. Peace reigns, leaving a host of varied and wonderful memories.

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