Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s (雲門舞集) Portrait of the Families (家族合唱) was heavy going on Friday night at the National Theater, but in the end it was a beautifully wrought work that closed with an amazing visual of floating lanterns for the dead crossing the stage in two and threes.
The 14-year-old work — about the ravages wrought on Taiwan and the people who call it home, from the end of the Qing Dynasty through Japanese occupation, World War II, the arrival of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration, the 228 Incident, White Terror era and the pro-democracy protests of the 1980s and 1990s — has more than stood the test of time. The photomontage backdrop, set and choreography were as striking as when the piece was first performed in 1997. The performance’s 26 segments of oral histories are heartrending and reading through them in the program at the end of the show instantly conjured up images from the stage — it was probably better that I didn’t understand the portions in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), Hakka and Yami (雅美) while watching the show.
Artistic director Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) said he tweaked the show a little, but it was difficult to spot the differences in the 16-segment work.
The 29-strong cast members were all terrific, but it was especially wonderful to see some of the older, or former members of the troupe return to the stage, like associate artistic director Lee Ching-chun (李靜君), who proved she still has a terrific extension — and amazing control of her toes — Wang Wei-ming (王維銘), who was in several segments, Wu I-fang (吳義芳) as the Taoist medium in the segment titled Burning of the Sacrificial Boat, and Chen Chiu-yin (陳秋吟) in the Girl With Long Hair.
The staging and lighting were more than half the work, with striking set design and props by Ming Cho Lee (李名覺) and great mood-setting lighting by Lin Keh-hua (林克華).
Among the audience members on Friday was first lady Chow Mei-ching (周美青), sitting down in the center of the orchestra section, going unnoticed for the most part until the end, when her security guards were more obvious as she waited with a Cloud Gate staff member for the rest of the audience to leave the theater so she could meet with the company in her role as the troupe’s honorary chairwoman.
Out at the Taipei National University of the Arts in Kuandu (關渡), Taipei City, on Saturday afternoon, the school’s annual winter dance concert was a terrific program for both the audience and the dancers, and one of the strongest ones they have done in years.
The show opened with two short Indonesian dances reconstructed by Sal Murgiyanto, the Indonesian faculty member who is retiring after this semester. The performance of Pendet and Panji Semirang by three women in bright and complicated Indonesian dress was all about subtleties — the movements of the fingers, the tilting of the heads.
Lin Wen-chung’s (林文中) My Drunken Self, the finale of his Evil Boy (酒傾一惡童三部曲之三) trilogy showed how tough this program was going to be for the performers. The bright, zippy piece had some kind of movement for every single note of music; Lin didn’t spare the students his passion for tiny, precise details.
The first half finished with a 15-minute excerpt of Forseen by Bulareyaung Pagarlav (also known as Bula, 布拉瑞揚), which he created in 2005 for Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2). The heavy drama of the work was foreshadowed by the overture, and it more than lived up to its promise. It was a powerful work, and like Lin, Bula didn’t cut his 14 women and six men any slack when it came to the choreography, which was very physical, and for the women, filled with contractions and releases a la Martha Graham. If they didn’t have flat stomachs before they began working on the show, they certainly do now.