By Camryn Eakes | Special to the NB Indy
On a bright, stark white stage, dancers emerge from the wings, briskly walking in line formations, in rhythm and in silence.
Dressed in neutral tones, they curve around and through each other. Militaristic lines become rapid, swirling circles representing a community in unity. Soon, black Taiwanese symbols start fading in and out of the backdrop. A bold voice reciting Taiwanese poetry fills the silence and the masterpiece commences.
Last Friday, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan presented its work Formosa at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Conceptualized and choreographed by company founder and artistic director Lin Hwai-min, the piece illustrates the beauties and riffs of contemporary society through poetry describing the natural and urban environments of Taiwan.
While the hour-long work is performed to music in Taiwanese dialect, the program includes English translation for audience members to follow along.
As a company, Cloud Gate incorporates meditation, Qi Gong, internal martial arts, modern dance and ballet into their technique. Inverted leg lines and sickled feet are established in the beginning and seen throughout Formosa. Solos, duos, trios, and even a group battle scene paint different group dynamics within the society of dancers: uniformity, individuality, admiration, violence, tension, serenity, dream-state and death.
Projection is vital to this work. Symbols either play as legible poetry for audience members to interpret along with the dance, or the symbols come together to affect the dancers and their movement. In one moment, small characters morph together creating a corner of a large rotating box. In another moment, the symbols are so small that, at first, they look like stars but later move forward toward the audience growing into legible form.
In a climactic moment, there are no symbols but instead, one white line amidst a stage of black. After five minutes of anticipation, the soloist crosses and falls through the line and the stage explodes into fleeing symbols. The climax of the piece begins.
The backdrop fades into waves crashing and the dancers move their arms in a wavelike, layered fashion resembling an ocean itself. With music building and lights shifting colors, the dancers break off into an action-packed call and response section with stomping, jumping, and intricate arms and leg movements.
Soon, the audience sees the same diagonal and circular walking patterns as in the beginning. The stage, rustling with fast-paced motion, becomes one dancer standing still. After two minutes of stillness and anticipation, the dancer turns to the front and the stage and screen instantly cut to stark white again. The audience gasps and the curtain closes on the one dancer looking out toward the audience.
While the piece is more conceptual and intellectual, it is undeniably visually stimulating. Cloud Gate’s bravery to physically embody and explore Taiwan’s history and culture is a contemporary dance relic of time.
Up next for dance audiences is the renowned Alvin Ailey Dance Theater April 19-22. For tickets and more info, visit SCFTA.org.