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When the set is more rewarding than the movement, there is something seriously awry. So I found at Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday night when Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre unveiled its latest offering, Wild Cursive. This, the programme proclaims, is “the result of a long journey into the ancient practice of movement and spirituality”. Tiens!
No one would deny the links between bodies moving and the quest (and acquisition) of transcendent awareness. But what Cloud Gate offers is a dance-language that owes something to martial arts, to t’ai chi, to addled modern dance and to a portentous manner that is determinedly “meaningful”, without conveying any meaning other than its own up-itself posings and bursts of repetitious activity.
Meanwhile, as decor, long banners of white paper descend from the flies and are mysteriously stained with the random calligraphy of black ink, dripping and bleeding through the paper and forming ideograms that have no meaning save their inexplicable but potent dramatic identity. The effect is entrancing, and reminded me of the fascinating use of calligraphic ideas and forms now being used by a current generation of Chinese artists in astonishingly powerful paintings. (For anyone interested, art works in this style are now on display in Beijing galleries, where I saw and hugely admired them as this year began.)
Cloud Gate’s director and choreographer, Lin Hwai-min, is responsible for this design “concept”, which is superbly realised by Hung Wei-ming, and as the dancers’ movements shift between bursts of bellicose activity and poses reminiscent of Chinese opera and of t’ai chi, the eye is drawn to the mysterious developments of the ink as it seeps and curves down the banners, having a beautiful identity of its own. The company’s artists fling themselves about, or droop and wilt and posture, with the best will in the world, but of purpose or “spirituality” I could discern no trace, either in their actions or in my own increasingly bored reactions.
There is a sound track of noises natural and unnatural: wind, of course, and waves, and some anguished blasts that suggested an elephant trumpeting from both ends. It is all very inscrutable, and long, very long, for its 70 minutes without an interval.
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