Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan creates pleasurable tension with ‘Beckoning’

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 - 9:57pm

NOSELL

Courtesy of Mallory Shea

And all of a sudden, with all the same anticipatory tension as in the beginning of an in-person performance, a body appeared on stage, bathed in ominous music and red light. He curved his frame in a serpentine manner, not a single motion rushed. They were fluid and led into one another, seeming to require great discipline and patience, while at the same time languid and natural. It was a gradual reawakening of the limbs, like the dancer was getting in touch with his senses again, slowly gaining a greater awareness of his body and its capabilities. Thus began the work “Beckoning,” inspired by “the Taiwanese street-dancing ritual of Ba Jia Jiang.” It was presented by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan through UMS, acting as a prelude of sorts to the first of four episodes explaining the thought behind “13 Tongues,” a work by the company’s choreographer and artistic director Chen Tsung-lung.

“Beckoning” moved on with tension serving as an omnipresent undertone, but with the nature of the tension shifting. Sometimes, it seemed to be of a sexual nature, as more male dancers entered one by one. They felt as though they were in limbo, with some sort of anticipation in the air. Female dancers swayed onto stage as if pulled, their motions faster and more lighthearted than that of the males before. A pause was finally found as one male and one female met and performed a playful mating dance that seemed close to fighting, at times. This pairing off of males and females occurred multiple times throughout the piece. At times, bodies touched, moving as a single unit in communication rather than the separate, quarreling forms of before.

Sometimes, it was a tension of the unknown. There was a moment when all ten dancers gathered together in a womb-like community, awash in red light. They swayed in perfect union — in complete silence. Silence can be just as weighty a choice as music; in some cases, even more so. Staying as synchronized as they did requires an impressive amount of talent and focus, as both the dancers and the audience no longer had the music to latch onto for orientation and comfort. It set my teeth on edge; I never realized that dance without music could make me uncomfortable. Yet it is just humans celebrating their bodies through movement. 

Even in the more lighthearted moments of the dance, there was still a small thread of discomfort weaving its way in. There came moments of respite from the solemn air, complete with a textured kind of sound to the music. At these times, the movements were a bit more disjointed and sudden, with the dancers working hard to keep together, even smiling at times.

The frenzy at the end did not lose the fluidity that was found throughout most of the piece. Movements were made with the full force of the company, strength found in unity.

The dance seemed like the main focus of the video, and was certainly the main draw for me. However, it was intended as an introduction to the first episode explaining the background to a work called “13 Tongues.” The choreographer Chen Tsung-lung explains that the title was inspired by a performer in a plaza near his home. The cheerful chaos of this environment is emulated in the piece, as the dancers also sing and make noises. In this plaza was a one-man show performed by a man they called 13 Tongues. This piece takes place against a backdrop designed by pen, but that takes on more the appearance of watercolor, giving a warmer, more relaxed feeling to the cacophony onstage.

The event was enjoyable, and I was surprised by how similar the experience they created was to the trance that goes over one when watching in a theater. Though the event was created to focus on the behind the scenes episode, what really intrigued me was the opening dance. It took up the lion’s share of the time, and felt far more relevant than an episode explaining a dance I had not seen. I found it odd that more clips of the dance actually being analyzed were not provided. “Beckoning,” however, provided an enjoyably uneasy experience, leaving me at the edge of my bed, just as I would have been at the edge of my seat.

Daily Arts Writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at fiakamin@umich.edu.

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