Cloud Gate 2, Triple Bill

Posted: December 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Gate 2, Triple Bill

Cloud Gate 2, Triple Bill, Sadler’s Wells, November 21

Cloud Gate 2 in Wicked Fish (photo: Liu Chen-hsiang)

Cloud Gate 2 in Wicked Fish (photo: Liu Chen-hsiang)

Part of Sadler’s Wells’ Out of Asia 2 platform showcasing dance in Asia, the appearance of Taiwan’s Cloud Gate 2 poses an enigma. Not to be confused with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, an internationally renowned company in its own right and synonymous with its founder, Lin Hwai-min, Cloud Gate 2, founded by Lin in 1999, might well be seen as the junior company. Yet despite its parentage and the similarity in training for the dancers — a mix of ballet, contemporary, Tai chi and martial arts — Cloud Gate 2 evidently has a different destiny. For now the separation of the two companies is predicated on the younger one developing promising Taiwanese choreographers under the guidance of artistic director, Cheng Tsung-lung, and on laying the grassroots foundations of dance in Taiwan as broadly as possible in local communities, towns and cities. Appearing in London for the first time may not appear to fulfil that national function but Cloud Gate 2, by virtue of the quality of its dancers and its choreography, has the stature of an international company, as is evident from its performance at Sadler’s Wells on Monday.

The company’s international aspect is reflected in all three works on the program, but while Huang Yi’s Wicked Fish and Cheng’s The Wall touch on themes of human contact and isolation that are universal, Cheng’s more recent Beckoning is imbued with a more parochial element of native religious beliefs and ceremonies that turn our view inwards towards Taiwanese traditions.

Yi’s Wicked Fish begins with a buzzing, frenetic wave of dancers flitting in and out of darkness; Lee Chien-chang’s choreographic lighting dapples the dancers’ faces, arms and feet like sunlight on the surface of a shaded stream. It is not hard to see fish swimming just under the surface, yet there is also a continuous exchange of energy at play between pairs of dancers as well as between the group and the individual, an abstract microcosm of society in movement. It is as if the stage is the visible part of a much broader, continuous flow across it while Iannis Xenakis’ complex score, Shaar, sets up the changing and often turbulent currents. Both the lighting and the black and white setting of Wicked Fish shows off the dancers beautifully in their strength, their flow of movement, and the clarity of their lines.

In The Wall, Cheng sublimates his childhood memories of hawking his family’s brand of slippers on the streets into a spatial arrangement of walking figures that convey the notion of the individual facing social and psychological walls and barriers. It’s deeply personal, delving into Cheng’s sense of isolation at the time of its creation in 2009, and created with a masterful hand, maintaining a dynamic tension of tidal movements throughout. The groupings follow closely the orchestration of Michael Gordon’s Weather One so that Lee’s intense lighting seems to illuminate both the dancers and the music.

The third work of the evening, Cheng’s Beckoning, stands out for its bright costumes by Lin Bin-hao and in its wash of light by Shen Po-hung. But it also differentiates itself from the previous works by its subject matter. Cheng spent a lot of his childhood with his mother attending religious ceremonies; as he wrote in a written interview, “On the birthdays of the deities, religious parades like carnivals would be held, usually with an amazing line-up of people. Gigantic puppets, representing various gods in the heavens or in the underworld, would swing and walk along streets. In the old days when the plague struck, people believed it was caused by ghosts and bad spirits. When that happened, the street-dancing rituals of Ba Jia Jiang, the “Eight Infernal Generals,” would be responsible for casting out the evils.” There are no puppets here, however, but lots of swing; Cheng has subsumed the festivities into bright colours and an exquisite gestural language. The meditative opening solo by Chan Hing-chung represents, perhaps, the matured Cheng as subject; it has no overt choreographic religious connotations but as Beckoning progresses it becomes more objective, approaching Ba Jia Jiang through the external eye of tradition. This is heightened by composers Chung Cheng-da and Quiet Quartet’s use of traditional instrumentation (arranged by Blaire Ko) that incorporates bells and street sounds. Cheng insists, however, that the dance itself is not about religion. “I recall a story in Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth where a western sociologist asked a Shinto priest: “I don’t get your ideology. I don’t get your theology.” The Shinto priest gave deep thought and answered politely: “We do not have ideology. We do not have theology. We dance.”

And they do.


Sasha Waltz and Guests: Waltz in a box

Posted: October 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

sketch of 1929 Barcelona Pavilion, Mies van der Rohe

Sasha Waltz & Guests, Continu, Sadler’s Wells, September 28

In 1928, the German architect Mies van der Rohe was commissioned to design the German Pavilion for the Barcelona International Exposition. The building became known as the Barcelona Pavilion. In writing about his design, van der Rohe expressed his belief in the ‘necessity of incorporating works of sculpture (or painting) creatively into the interior setting from the outset. In the great epochs of cultural history this was done by architects as a matter of course and, no doubt, without conscious reflection.’ Photographs and sketches of the Barcelona Pavilion show an open plan structure with unadorned vertical and horizontal planes that give a sense of infinite freedom of movement. Standing in a pool of water is a female form, a statue by Georg Kolbe that van der Rohe incorporated in his plan. What is interesting − and pertinent to Sasha Waltz’s work − is that the architectural space is defined by the sculptural form, and at the same time the sculptural form is enhanced by the architectural space.

Waltz is clearly engaged in this play of sculptural quality in an architectural setting, using her dancers as sculptural elements and theatres or non-theatre spaces as her architecture. Parts of Continu,the work she presented at Sadler’s Wells last week, were first created for the opening of Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum in Rome, and others for the opening of David Chipperfield’s reconstruction of the Neues Museum in Berlin, a stunning space in part recreated and in part restored from the original nineteenth century structure of Friedrich August Stüler. I can only imagine what Waltz’s work might have looked like in the Neues Museum, with its variety of architectural elements, the different materials and, above all, the light. Museums and galleries are all about light, and it is often natural, as in Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary Museum in Margate and the Barcelona Pavilion itself. As the director Robert Wilson said recently, “Without light there is no space.”

Transferring Continu from such architectural spaces to the traditional proscenium stage at Sadler’s Wells must have taken some rearrangement and reinvention. The bare black walls and white floor (conceived by Thomas Schenk, Pia Maier Schriever and Sasha Waltz) make the stage as large as it can be without being bare, but there is very little space for the dancers to get on and off stage. Apart from the two doors built into the side walls at the back, there are two awkward gaps at the front end of the wings on either side of the stage that tend to constrict the flow of movement. At the end of the first act, the two men run off the front of the stage into the auditorium. It is the only quick escape possible.

Continu is in two acts with three movements; each movement is built around music by 20th century avant-garde composers: the first is to Rebonds ‘B’ by Iannis Xenakis played with choreographic wizardry by Robyn Schulkowsky; then Xenakis’ Concret PH leads to three works by Edgard Varèse (Arcana, Hyperprism, Ionisation) that form the core of the second movement, and the third movement comprises Zipangu by Claude Vivier along with a musical anomaly, the adagio from Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, played almost too quietly to be heard, like a breeze wafting in through the window from a neighbouring room. The music sets the scale of each movement, and at the same time, Waltz’s settings allow the music an appropriate context for us to appreciate these rarely heard works.

Music and dance in Continu are spatial elements in dynamic juxtaposition. The vast resources of the Varèse music (requiring in live performance 120 musicians and a panoply of percussion) swirl around the space, sometimes massed together, and sometimes splitting into streams of sound, just as the dancers often merge into a group from which smaller groups derive, couples form, or from which a necklace of dancers extends around the perimeter walls. The percussive music of Xenakis (who was an architect as well as composer) is more like a structural element, around which Waltz creates her own spatial rhythms. Architectural space would normally be an equal element in the choreography, but here at Sadler’s Wells that element is missing, giving a sense that Continu has been squeezed into a box that is a couple of sizes too small. When the movement sequences are performed in silence, the dance and the space remain in equilibrium, but when the forces of the Varèse (in particular) are unleashed, the combined scale and energy of music and dance overflows the limits of the stage.

The twenty-three dancers are all mature performers, an international mix that has individuality and yet forms a harmonious group. They do what all good dancers do: they move beautifully and Waltz moulds them beautifully into flowing forms, enhanced by Martin Hauk’s superb lighting that washes the interior space in a bright, diffused light. Some dancers stand out like accents in the course of the evening: Delphine Gaborit in the first movement, and Niannian Zhou in the second, measuring herself at one point with a fine, imaginary thread. Edivaldo Ernesto has remarkable muscular control that Waltz exploits in his exuberant, jester-like solo in the second movement that is pure delight. Virgis Puodziunas is a tower of strength and intensity, while Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola has the kind of presence that can anchor an entire performance. In the execution sequence at the end of the first half, he is the only one who could outlive the executioner.

It is as sculptural elements that the dancers really shine, and the way they interact is key. Waltz doesn’t seem to be interested in virtuoso performance, but in the harmony of all the elements. In this she is perhaps more in line with Bronislava Nijinska than with Pina Bausch, to whom Waltz is often compared. In the opening movement, the women in their loose, black dresses and bare limbs, carve out sensuous shapes with their torsos and rippling arms; the four men at the beginning of the second half − Shang-Chi Sun has a remarkably articulated, turned-in solo at the beginning − are like nude sculptures in a gallery: figures by Henry Moore with fingers and toes. In some of their forms they might even pass for structural elements…until they clap their feet. Apart from these four, the dancers are fully clothed by Bernd Skodzig, whose stylish costumes are drawn from a narrow palette of colours. The only problem for me is the unfortunate association of his shade of brown with the livery of United Parcel Service.

The third movement has a different quality from the first two: a smaller scale with more narrative elements. The use of a chorus of dancers brings to mind a setting of a Greek tragedy with the lone, almost naked figure of Orlando Rodriguez as Orestes. Three women supported on the shoulders of their partners walk horizontally along the side walls; Xuan Shi in black shuffles in a figure-of-eight pattern around the perimeter, while two women paint their path on the floor with black and red paint on the souls of their feet. Shi then adds to the design with a charcoal stick, drawing around whatever feet are in his way. Ernesto seems to be giving more instructions, drawing in space, after which the chorus retreats, leaving six dancers at the back who pick up the upstage edge of the floor above their heads so we see only their hands. The floor and its design now forms a backdrop to a final, soft duet with Todd McQuade and Zaratiana Randrianantenaina to the Mozart quartet, after which the scale of movement reduces even further to the rapid passage of six pairs of hands along the top edge of the floor to one corner, leaving the other corner wilting. Ernesto lifts this corner above his head and runs with it diagonally across the stage, creating a billowing wave of white behind him that, as he kneels, envelops him in its undertow. The life has disappeared; all that is left is the empty box.