Reviews Dance Published 16 November 2011

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan: White

Sadler's Wells ⋄ 9th -12th November 2011

Faint daintiness and obtuse introspection.

Daniel B. Yates

White is in some way a product of collapse. Lin Hwai-min’s Cloud Gate shored the base of their global attention with political articulations of a Taiwanese national history, when prevailing conditions were such that it was all but inarticulable. After martial law lifted Hwai-min turned to more abstracted territory, and White began life in the late 90s as a bodily cartesian reflection; Hwai-min deduced the only certainty was his own body, and that to have this certainty at all felt like freedom.

Tonight his choreographic conclusions are less than euphoric. White drives in drizzle mist, elongated and with gentle verve like a windscreen on a lightly-cambered motorway; opaque and gently repetitive like the rhythmic swoosh of the wipers.  Chiaroscuro is the dominant aesthetic, with billowing monochrome backdrops and stark contours. These begin in White I as intriguing shadowwork: behind an unfurled banner tiny-flippering dancers rush back and forth like robotic penguins creating a shrinking and ballooning shadow, before moving onto sinuous arabesques. Made transparent, in crepe hologram behind the banner, a male dancer in the guise of a faun plays a wooden flute, huffily timbred and dronelike tones vie with his austerely upright body. While Hwai-min has dallied with Stravinsky, this is no L’Après-midi d’un Faune, rather a cool forest, pristine and virginal, the faun tip-toeing around the action like a presiding asexual spirit.

But this is light dressing for a salad which is all about approaching the naked leaf, and its deliberative curling with tongs. White is the vehicle for Hwai-min’s conception of the “free body”, a highly-controlled state of nature which brooks no interjection.  And while the larger patterns are underwhelming, it is the small moments which best convey the idea; the trunks tensed like twigs at the point of snapping, or the flared leg of a diaphanous white trouser tumbling down rotating thighs, this erotic charge set against the painstakingly slow pointe work which marks much of the introspective tenor of this evening.  Less effective are the grander gestures such as the dissassembling of the stage in White II, slowly torn up in taut unravelled tape by the dancers, their stolid Atlasian poses resemble mythic Euro poster-men of industry as they unravel the floor, giving way to some sort of wilful churning as the troupe engage freeforming in the space left behind. Lacking a sense of cultural specificity, as a visual metaphor for the politically tectonic it felt as crude as a headline.

Much of the work is contained in the dynamic between ultra-slow traditional movements bearing traces of the martial arts, and then a powerful tumbling prolapse into modern; and while this proved a durable motif it became repetitive, over-relied-upon and under-contextualised.  The continual creeping treading pointe bought to mind a polar bear on ice, captured by BBC crews as it treads ever so softly to avoid disturbing the seals beneath before piledriving through into the freezing water. Except there is nothing like this animal muscularity; faint daintiness and an obtuse introspection seemed to compromise this human expedition.

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Daniel B. Yates

Educated by the state, at LSE and Goldsmiths, Daniel co-founded Exeunt in late 2010. The Guardian has characterised his work as “breaking with critical tradition” while his writing on live culture &c has appeared in TimeOut London, i-D Magazine, Vice Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives and works in London E8, and is pleasant.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan: White Show Info


Choreography by Lin Hwai-min

Cast includes I-wen Chiu, Wan-chun Ko, Ming-yuan Tsai, Chia-liang Lin, Chien-hung Yu, I-ping Su, Hui-ling Liu, Mei-ya Huang, Tzu-chun Lee, Tzu-wei Kuo, Mu-han Chen, Tzu-ping Hsiao, Yi-ping Yeh, Lap-cheong Wong, Hsin-fang Lin, Tang-li Hou, Tsung-hsuan Lee, Chun-wei Lai, Hsing-lun Lai.

Original Music Atsuhiko Gondai

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