RICE - Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
10 March 2017, ASB Theatre, Auckland
Auckland Arts Festival
Reviewed Sarah Knox
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan presents Rice, an evocative journey through the life cycle of the grain. As part of the 2017 Auckland Arts Festival, in association with Auckland Live, we are treated to Cloud Gate Founder/Director, and Rice choreographer, Lin Hwai-min’s visual feast of movement, sound and image.
We are drawn together by the sound of wind, witnessing women entering the space, heels pulsing down into the earth as if evicting life from underground. Following the churning of the earth, a sensual duet takes place. I am unable to ascertain whose limbs are whose, as they writhe around one another.
Many sections of the work are built around the use of long bamboo poles, which are used to create a sense of quaking, breathing, conjuring, and to affect the land. The poles provide opportunity for the men, in particular, to propel themselves higher and further than they might unassisted. The poles are also a source of reflection: we might be prompted to consider how to stay strong under pressure, to flex under external influences.
AV projection by Ethan Wang contextualizes the work excellently, providing stimulating images of rice paddies, grass, lakes, rivers and fire. We observe time pass through the sections of the work, narrated by the cycle of rice broken down into chapters of soil, wind, pollen, sunlight, grain, fire and water. As we expect with works from Asia there are clear themes that emerge, big questions about life and death, beauty in loss, the seasons, destruction and regeneration. The work is accompanied by a soundscape including drumming, traditional Haaka folk songs, and a slightly perplexing combination of western opera songs.
The women, in mostly autumnal coloured, flowing dresses, and the men in trousers, dance a movement vocabulary that captures an ongoing Asian fascination with ‘East meets West’. Both grounded and ethereal, the unique movement pathways through the body and clear stylistic elements of Chinese Classical dance are layered upon both the serenity and explosive power of martial arts. Classical ballet technique is fused with contemporary dance expectations. It is a magic concoction as they dance lower than low, suddenly airborne, virtuosic and light. Their bodies are ever powerful and yet also accentuate the desperately human as we hear breath and listen to feet against the floor.
The final sections of the work are most powerful for me. We witness the men setting fire to the space with their energy and flight. They then thwack the ground with their poles, beating out the flames until wisps of smoke float heavenward. The women enter, mourning what has passed but prompting rebirth through a slow meditation. We are left with the image of one bamboo pole swaying in the air, a sign of hope, in an otherwise tumultuous world.