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Cloud Gate 2 at the Joyce Theatre

by Tom Ferraro

February 12, 2012-- Joyce Theatre, New York, NY

At the start of February 2012 Manhattan took notice of two Taiwanese imports. The first arrived with a shock as the New York media observed they had an NBA superstar emerging right under their noses. Jeremy Lin is a Harvard graduate who is now the NY Knicks point guard and has converted the franchise into a winner with his ability to dissect a team’s defense and to lead. The city has been overtaken by what they call “Linsanity.” But another Taiwanese import arrived the same week and goes by the name of Cloud Gate 2. The Cloud Gate 2 dance company was established by Lin Hwai-min in 1999. The company is known to combine theatricality with a contemporary dance vocabulary. It’s something like European dance theater, but without all the despair. Their choreographers are not adverse to either beauty, music , or humor.

There were five pieces performed in the sold out February 12, 2pm performance at the Joyce Theatre . The first was “Wicked Fish” by Huang Yi to music by Iannis Xenakis. This was the weakest of all the works shown – dimly lit with grey outfits. It had me fearing that this was going to be a long day.
But, then came “Tantalus” by Wu Kuo-chu, set to delightful music by Meredith Monk. The entire piece mimics what it’s like to work in an office doing drab work day in and day out and running from place to place. The dancers face the audience at the beginning similar to a Bauschian confrontation. They begin to lift and drop their shoulders and sigh loudly. They then begin to run in place and the piece takes off. Happiness is ours when we can dance our white collar blues away.

The next piece was “Passages” by Bulareyaung Pagarlava with music selected from “Lambarena: Bach to Africa.” Bula is of Aboriginal descent with natural talent and was given a Performing Arts Fellowship to study in the US by the Asian Cultural Council. “Passages” is in many ways a miracle. This was Bula’s first commissioned work, and he was only 23 at the time of the commission. When I asked him how he created it, he told me he was in a full-blown panic as to what to do. He began having the same nightmare night after night during rehearsals. He finally decided to create a piece about his nightmare. We are fortunate that he did. I define a masterpiece as something that mkes me feel chills while at the same time I notice tears running down my cheeks. This happens only very rarely. “Cloven Kingdom” by Paul Taylor and “Serenade” by Balanchine have this effect on me. So does “Passages.” The set and the piece are very simple. Two workers are scrubbing the stage floor as the beautiful Yang Ling-Kai walks onto the stage dressed in white. The workers stop their scrubbing and behold this vision of grace standing above them. Soon two costume designers enter the stage and dress and undress Yang as she wanders about in a dazed and lost manner. A man covered with white body paint enters carrying a large black umbrella and a suitcase. He proceeds to walk about the stage in slow motion throughout the remainder of the dance. When I asked Bula who this was meant to be, he said it was the God of death that has come to take this woman away. As a psychoanalyst who is paid to interpret dreams every day of my life, I see this as not at all a vision of death, but actually one of salvation and protection. The girl was Bula’s muse, his confused creativity which was at that time under great duress. Bula was probably flooded with doubt and anxiety as this was his first commissioned work. The man all in white with the umbrella who came to Bula in his dreams was his great protector who kept him safe throughout the arduous creative process. Bula has given the dance world not one but two mysterious iconic images in this slow moving man with his umbrella and that beautiful wandering muse all dressed in white. This is a truly successful dance piece, and that it is his first is astounding to me.

After intermission came “Ta-Ta For Now” by Huang Yi set to Violin Concerto in D minor by Aram Khachaturian. The piece begins with three female and two male dancers dressed in business attire and sitting in five chairs facing the audience. They proceed to move first their hands and then arms and then bodies in synchrony to the music and to each other like a crowd making a wave at a baseball game. Pure magic and pure fun.

This was followed by “The Wall” by Cheng Tsung-lung to music by Michael Gordon. The wonderful geometry of this piece for 12 dancers reminded me of “Union Jack” by Balanchine with all its linearity and order. I was not surprised to learn that Cheng Tsung-lung was in the military when he was younger. The geometry he uses in his choreography may stem from his training there.

Cloud Gate 2 will undoubtedly grow in stature as the world finds out more about them. This was their first visit to New York, but if you did not see them this time around, have no fear for they will be back. It made me think that the center of power in dance may have moved from Europe to Asia without anyone noticing. We see Cloud Gate, Cloud Gate 2, Shen Wei Dance Art, even the young Hou Ying Contemporary Dance Group who was trained by Shen Wei, and it begins to add up. The strength of Cloud Gate 2 lies in its youth. They are well-trained , but still filled with hope and joy. They present dances that play with the music rather than compete with it. They are not entirely post-modern, yet they eschew narrative. In short, this is a company that is making dances that you will enjoy, fall in love with, and want to see again. And that’s exactly what you should hope for in any dance group. Many thanks to Lin Hwai-min for nurturing such a wonderful company.

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