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Cloud Gate Theatre of Tawain

'Moon Water'

by Holly Messitt

November 21, 2003 -- Howard Gilman Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music

Cloud Gate Theatre of Taiwan’s “Moon Water” showcases the eleven-member troupe’s study in the art of Tai Chi. Set to eight of Bach’s cello suites from Six Suites for Solo Cello performed in recording by Mischa Maisky, the meditative nature of the movement infected me. There were long periods during the troupe’s performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that I sat lost in the movement of the dancers. The prolonged ending especially captivated me as I listened to water running over the stage and watched the dancers move across the stage and exit. The last dancer rocked her body off the stage, leaving only her leg visible. Then, as she slowly pulled her leg in, she seemed to be pulling the light from the stage with her.

Such interaction between the dancers, set, and music was common throughout the evening. There were moments when I imagined that the dancers were channeling Bach, their bodies pulled back in a way that felt as though they were pulling back Bach’s own bow as he moved it across the instrument. At times I thought to myself that there is no other way to move to this music than the way that these dancers did.

The men wore only loosely-fitting white silk pants. The women wore the same bottoms, the only difference being the flesh-colored camisoles the women wore as opposed to the men’s performing bare-chested. From these revealing costumes, someone sitting in the audience might see a dancer contract at his or her center and follow that wave of energy as it moved out to propel the movement in the extremities.

As the dancers worked their way through the piece, they performed singly, in pairs, and in groups, sometimes with all eleven dancers on stage. One solo that stood out from the rest was danced by Sheu Fang-yi to “'Prelude,’ Suite Number 4.” For this solo, she stood in the center of the stage, lit only from a special above her. The virtuosity of this solo was not in her tricks but in the intensity of her energy. Helped by the focus of the lights, she drew the energy of the theater that evening into the center with her and held it there as she moved.

Part of the beauty of this piece comes from choreographer Lin Hwai-min’s working with the concept of moon water, which signifies both reflection and illusion. The reflection part of the concept was suggested by a sectioned mirror that hung over the top of the center part of the stage. The same sort of mirror covered the back wall but was obscured throughout most of the piece by a black drape. A portion of it was visible after the third cello suite, so that during the middle section of the piece the dancers were reflected in the ceiling and back mirror. The back mirror disappeared again behind the curtain during Sheu Fang-yi’s solo. When she finished, however, the whole back panel opened to reveal the entire wall of mirrors and water began to trickle across the black marley floor until it, too, became a reflecting surface.

Lin Hwai-min created the illusion part of the equation by playing off the reflections. There was an enormous swirl painted on the floor which was also reflected in the mirror. As the positioning of the dancers on the stage and the swirl on the floor were reflected by the mirror, there appeared to be a great circling of dancers spiraling upwards, like a Renaissance painting come to life.

The result is a piece of extraordinary beauty.

Edited by JC

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