Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

"Moon Water"

Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

May 28, 2002
By Maria Roche

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, a Taiwanese dance company presented Moon Water this week at Sadler’s Wells. Named after the oldest known Chinese ritual dance, and formed in 1973 by Lin Hwai-Min as the first contemporary dance ensemble in Chinese speaking world, the company has a rich tradition of mixing Eastern dance and Western influences. Moon Water is a fine example of this, as the company uses t'ai chi derived movements to Bach’s six suites for solo cello.

East-West fusion has long been a popular concept in Britain (indeed there is a Japanese-Mediterranean restaurant in the vicinity of Sadler’s Wells), but it has been one that has been actualised with mixed success. A particularly odd experience of lemon-grass and chilli rice pudding had put me off fusion some time ago, but Cloud Gate are an example to all would-be cultural interminglers as to how to do it with style, panache, ingenuity and imagination.

Indeed, I would argue that Cloud Gate’s dancing surpasses mere fusion. Moon Water takes t'ai chi and Bach’s cello suites, and not only brings them into close union, but truly creates something unique from the two components. The result is something that left the audience visibily moved, and that marks Cloud Gate out as a real force in contemporary dance.

The programme states the choreographer’s intend to create a work that is a poetic rendering of the Taoist philosophy as the title is reminiscent of both Buddhist proverbs and the state t'ai chi practitioners seeks to attain. Certainly many of its Eastern philosophical precepts are examined in the work. The oneness of self and environment is explored through a set of burnished mirrors that reflect and refract the dancers until even the surroundings dance; and the ending scenes when the stage is flooded with water that embodies the fluidity of the dancers. The chorus of dancers epitomises the idea of being many in body and one in mind as they move with complete harmony and unity through complex sequences of movement. And yet there is a maintenance of individuality in expression and form of dance, so that we are intensely aware that we are watching accomplished individuals.

Indeed, all of the solo performances were exceptional. Chou Chang-Ning, who danced to Suite No. 1 deserves recognition. Chou was the very embodiment of the cello in this section: the dancing lyrical, taut, sonorous.

The performers were captivating in both movement and stillness. One of the extraordinary attributes of the t'ai chi technique is the ability to sustain positions for a very long period of time and to move extremely slowly. Also impressive were swift movements from held postures, done with the rapidity and fluidity of a snake. It takes immense control and suppleness to acquire and sustain such positions, and great co-ordination to move en masse through a series of positions. The ability of the dancers could not be doubted.

The only objection I have with the piece surrounds the use of water on stage at the end. We had been treated to the sight of immense elegance for 60-odd minutes, but were left with an image of dancers sloshing around in a puddle of water like a cross between naughty school children and beached whales. To my mind, the use of water affected the illusion of tranquillity and the sound of water been thrown around broke the connection between the Bach pieces and the dance. Cloud Gate had managed to mesmerise the audience in both silence and to the strains of Bach, but the onlookers got decidedly fidgety in the wake of water being thrown about the stage.

Nevertheless Cloud Gate Dance Theatre had presented us with a piece replete with beauty and meaning, danced with style, elegance and grace. The piece was truly extraordinary, and the company was rightly given a standing ovation. It is a long time since I have seen the usually restrained London audience stand and clap, but it was well deserved. I look forward to Cloud Gate’s return to these shores.


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Edited by Marie.

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