From the Olympic arts Festival in Sydney
Cloud Gate Dance theatre
NINE SONGS - August 21, 2000
by Ginnie Wollaston
The opening and closing images of Nine Songs - performed by Cloud Gate Dance Company carries the hallmark of Mr Lin Hwai - min's quality choreography, which touches the nerve centre of myth and dance theatre. The evening's work was divided into nine sections of dance accompanied by nine songs, some taken from indigenous traditional songs and other music specially composed by JU Percussion Group. The strong presence of the ensemble and soloists move in and around intense moments of drama, sexuality, surprise and sheer magical beauty.
The piece begins with a ceremonial circle of seated, white costumed dancers, rattling their arched willow sticks on the floor preparing us for the arrival of the sharman figure. From the moment the scarlet female dancer (Lee Ching-chun) arrives, we are hooked into watching the process of transformation that a sharman may undergo to engage with a different level of consciousness. In entering the trance like state, her body writhed and rippled, moaned and gasped as it wound itself into the floor to escape the physical restraint. The powerful dancing of Ching - chun reminded one of Graham's masterpiece Errand into the Maze, but in this role rather than enter into the labyrinth of desire to meet the minotaur, this sharman met the Sun God and in an intensely physical duet they enact the ritual of mating.
This ritual is enhanced by the strong dancing of the ensemble who carry the soloists away and towards each other like meat to the slaughter - while also retaining the discipline of the circle as if to contain the energy that has been summoned. The ensemble use movements drawn from martial art forms as well as the deep understanding of contemporary dance, using breath that is rooted deep in the pelvis and back, as a source of movement into the centre and away from the floor. The power of the ensemble is outstanding to watch - as they move as individuals and yet can come together in total unity.
Several of the sections use movements from diverse sources of traditional dance and theatre forms. The third and fourth songs, Homage to the Goddess of the Xiang River changes the rhythm and focus to a much slower, liquid use of dance and movement. A single white sheet draped across the stage becomes the river, the angular top torso, rippling side to side from the masked Goddess (Wang Ching-mei), looks more like a Javanese sculpture or puppet from a Puppet show. We are watching dance within a theatrical tradition that has a different aesthetic understanding of pace, two dimensional movement and the use of symbolic gesture from a stationery figure. While to my western trained eye, the section felt over long, it remains distinct in my memory, as if a calligrapher had painted the image on my mind, enjoying the simplicity and minutiae of the hand and torso movement.
The most spectacular solo section was the Homage to the God of the Clouds, because the masked God danced on the shoulders of two carriers, never for one moment doubting his footing. Sometimes he balanced on one leg, waiving the other in the air, only to be caught by the carrier and placed on the shoulder, at other times he paced and strode through the air with this upper torso and arms striking a pattern of wind and rhythm that would have had the clouds dancing and streaking across the sky. The virtuosic technique of Wu I-fang was indebted to Peking opera, but his vibrating hands and dramatic skill was surely influenced by the Balinese Dance Theatre traditions. The solo had its amusing moments too with a roller skater dancing around with the Chinese flag, so reminiscent of the old communist dance dramas and the odd bicyclist dressed in a modern raincoat showed that Lin Hwai-min was never too far from making the traditional rituals relevant to our contemporary society.
The section that was most problematic was the final one, Homage to the Fallen, when suddenly the whole group become soviet styled social realism - taking sculptural replicas of the monuments to those who died in the revolution. The movements became over-stylised, the emphasis on the dying and returning to life too simplistic and after such sophistication of movement and metaphor, this section lost impact. The meaning of the section appeared to be to indicate that death is not the last step and that rebirth is a part of our life. However the movement sequences appeared to make the statement too easily. Instead the final image returned this viewer back to the profound understanding of this philosophy though Lin Hwai-min's simple but profound understanding of ritual and myth. The whole ensemble took over 10 minutes to literally 'plant' a river of flames on the stage, carefully placing each night light on the stage, as if each one might have been a poppy, a flower to remember a soul that had passed on until the whole stage was aflame with this river of light. The silence and concentration of each performer transformed the atmosphere of the theatre into one long moment of meditation on the transience of death - a theatrical moment to savour.