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Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre performers exhibit exquisite control

October 18, 2007

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There are not enough synonyms for "flexible" to describe the performance by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan at the Lied Center. Nor does "beautiful" come even close to what the crowd experienced Tuesday night. "Jaw-dropping" and "breathtaking" come to mind. As the troupe of 20 or more dancers worked its way through "Wild Cursive: The Final Chapter of 'Cursive: A Trilogy,'" the audience sat in stunned and rapt attention.

According to the program, "'Wild Cursive' is the result of a long journey into the ancient practice of movement and spirituality." Choreographer Lin Hwai-min has been inspired by work with traditional Chinese body disciplines, including meditation and tai chi, which have spawned two previous performances. "Cursive" also was inspired by Chinese calligraphy: The dancers imitate the "lyrical flow" of the ink and the "strong punctuations, with rich variations of energy."

The current version of "Cursive" is inspired by the spirit of "wild calligraphy," which "frees characters from any set form and exposes the spiritual state of the writer in its expressive abstraction."

Indeed, the work of these dancers is astonishingly expressive. The choreography balances the controlled, sinuous movement of ink onto paper with explosive, even violent forms drawn from the martial arts. In groups, pairs and individually, the dancers respond to the sounds of crickets and cicadas, running water, temple bells, rain, wind, drums and even silence as they twist, glide and leap across the stage.

The set is bare but for a series of rice paper banners that hang down onto the set and ascend or descend from the stage at intervals throughout the 70-minute performance. As the dancers imitate the elegant flowing lines of the ink, hidden pipes above the rice paper allow actual black ink to fall onto the banners, meandering almost imperceptibly down the rice paper creating abstract patterns of black and white. The dancers move in and around the paper in concentrated pods of energy springing forward on the breath, releasing their energy to one another and then fading back into the space around them.

No matter how externally chaotic their movements may seem, one senses the core of each dancer's being, the deep breath of the "Dan Tian" as their shifting bodies contract and release energy in the muscular control reminiscent of the technique of Martha Graham.

Sometimes the Cloud Gate dancers are as energetic as a flight of birds rising and falling in a field of corn; then they glide with scarcely perceptible motion in figures so balanced, so controlled that the air quivers around them with unreleased power. Like exclamation points, their occasional vocalizations, foot stamps or claps break through the electric ambiance to punctuate a series of movements.

Exciting, challenging, even meditative, "Wild Cursive" is visual treat, a banquet featuring the human body's exquisitely expressive possibilities.

- Sarah Young is a lecturer in Kansas University's English department. She can be reached at youngsl@ku.edu.

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