Live review | Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan: Water Stains on the Wall
Like calligraphy, which inspired it, only without the words, paper or ink, Water Stains on the Wall, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, is an almost radically pure aesthetic experience. The curtain rises on 14 dancers standing facing us, asymmetrically arranged, who begin to shift and sway in one of the gentlest entries I’ve ever seen to a piece of choreography. The curtain falls after a lone woman, looking steadfastly ahead, exits downstage left into bright light.’s 2010 work for his Taipei company,
What happens between, in seven sections (although you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint the transitions), happens on a white stage raked at an eight-degree angle with one upstage corner trimmed off. It’s important that even those sitting close can see the entire floor: It reflects inky projections by Ethan Wang that recall the Pensieve of Harry Potter lore, “stains” of darkness that appear, coalesce, divide, drift and disappear throughout the hourlong production. In perfect concert with Lulu W.L. Lee’s lighting design—which washes the performers’ skin and diaphanous white pants with cool, then warm shades—this floorscape functions as a kind of 15th cast member, as closely communicative with the dancers as they are with each other.
Which is very close, indeed. There are two kinds of unison: the trompe l’oeil, are-there-mirrors-onstage-or-are-the-dancers-really-that-in-sync-with-each-other? type, and the more complex, more human kind employed by Cloud Gate. As in the last work by Lin to visit the, in January 2010, Moon Water, Stains is in one sense simply sublime proof of awareness.
Whereas that 1998 piece looked westward for its score, to Mischa Maisky’s readings of Bach’s suites for solo cello, Stains enlists Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, who, as Laura Molzahn put it in this week’s Reader, “tortures the sounds of traditional Chinese instruments into bizarre contemporary shapes.” The seven movements, from various compositions, imbue the stage action with moods ranging from placidity to dread. Lin often juxtaposes silence or soft sounds with activity, and more hectic musical phrases with calm, simplicity and stillness.
Along with the dancers, whose command of their bodies—especially on a tilted floor—is unbelievable, these elements combine to create a nearly seamless, wholly immersive world. Those looking for a story, characters or a “point” may leave disappointed. (The man seated to my left took an expensive nap.) Lin does lean heavily on his company members’ easy lyricism, and could stand to expand his dance vocabulary, especially with regard to floorwork and a narrow spectrum of silhouettes. But his attention to detail and his fluency with his materials—bodies, light, space and time—are nearly unparalleled today. He’s Mies van der Rohe with a paintbrush.
In partnership with the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the Dance Center of Columbia College presented Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan on October 28 and 29.