Review- Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan The 45th Anniversary Gala Programme Retrospectives of Lin Hwai-min's Works- Hong Kong Arts Festival


By Nuria Palau



I have seen great dancers stop time onstage. The complete control they have over every inch of their body, from the tip of their toes to the longest hair of their heads connects in a metaphysical way with the other dancers that seem to possess the same superpower. Then, the music stops, or gets lower, or grows and the flickering lights onstage freezes- and then, a miracle happens; the audience can see the bending of time right before their eyes, and in an instant, it is gone and the show must go on. 


    Last Sunday at The Hong Kong Cultural Center sometime between 2:00 and 4:30 a miracle happened, as The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan performed the Retrospectives of Lin Hwai-min’s Works. Last Sunday, the company didn’t stop time onstage; they stopped time. I didn’t see it with my eyes, but instead, I felt it in my body. These dancers who have trained in meditation, qi gong, Tai Chi Dao Yin, kung fu and calligraphy moved like the elements: flowing like water, flying like air, exploding fuelled with fire and standing in stillness like earth. They communicated with control over their bodies in such ways that I could feel my own heartbeat slowing down, and my breath stopping and every other part of my body freeze in time. 


    With the company’s 45th anniversary and his founder, Lin Hwan-min stepping down as creative director this year, the company came to Hong Kong right on time to make a retrospective of his works. The narrative of the show is conducted by the subtlety of its language, and the minimalism of its elements such as set, costumes, lights, and even music, that create a lot with very little. The piece manages to, exceptionally, create out of the ordinary; it captures the beauty in calligraphy, water, in what is human, or our relationships; and it sublimates the pain translating the unspeakable through art.     


The whole show felt like a wine tasting in which every wine is incredible but very different. Each piece satisfies you but leaves you wanting for more until the next piece comes and then you want more of that. 


Some pieces were like red wine; “Character Young” from Cursive and the excerpts from Moon Water were like Merlot; they tasted like a well-aged, well-rounded wine that is as classic as it is a crowd-puller. Others were more full-bodied, firm and gripping like a Cabernet Sauvignon, such as “White Dress” from Portraits of the Families that deals with the 1947-1987 White Terror in Taiwan;  “Thousand Characters” from Cursive, that although lighter in its message presented itself in an oversaturated space with little clarity of where the dancers bodies started and where it ended; and “Black Angel” from Wind Shadow, a piece that, although lacked subtlety in its metaphors (just review the title), made up for it by its effective and beautiful body language. 


    Other pieces presented themselves as a white wine. “Autumn Path” from Bamboo Dream, for example, was like a Chardonnay that’s fresh and light and goes perfectly with romance, same as the evocative piece made out of excerpts from Rice. The pieces from Pine Smoke, including “Finale”, which happened to close the show, were fresh and beautiful and a little bit melancholic, like drinking a Sauvignon blanc while watching the sunset at the beach.


    Yes, The 45th Anniversary Programme: Retrospectives of Lin Hwai-min’s Work of Cloud Gate contains a beautiful unity that holds the show within itself. It seems each piece makes the ones around it shine, as each dancer makes the dancers around them shine and it all fits as perfectly and as pleasurable as jigsaw pieces.


Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, and this is not the exception. It saddens me to report, as much as it horrified me when I saw it, that there is a piece that pokes out in the play, definitely a crowd pleaser, and it appears to be there as one of Hwai-min’s exercises of style, however, it ends up looking like a cheap beer in a one-hundred-year-old cellar. The piece is a series of excerpts from How Can I Live Without You? the director’s exploration of modern Taiwanese pop music. Three numbers of this series marked the return from the intermission into the second act, and although the actors were enjoying themselves and dancing within a perfect form, the whole thing came off as an amateur dance recital. The company recovered its tone right away during “Pollen” and “Sunlight”, the excerpts from Rice, but the damage had been done.


Art is all about dominating the technique and the form before you can bend it to your own ways of representation. That is where Hwai-min’s work lays. This retrospective is a beautiful way to stop time, observe and remember the work he has put in as a choreographer, director and trainer.


This production has now closed. 


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