Walking into the National Theater last Thursday night to see Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s (雲門舞集) Nine Songs (九歌) was like returning to a much-loved haunt. The lotus pond at the front of the stage and the beautiful set reproducing Lin Yu-san’s (林玉山) wonderful Lotus Pond (蓮池) painting looked wonderful and much the same as remembered, even though all were brand new.
And that was true of the performance, since the casting for most of the 14 major parts has changed from five years ago.
Lee Ching-chun (李靜君) as the red-clad witch/shaman in previous productions was mesmerizing, appearing at times truly possessed as her body shook and rocked. However, Huang Pei-hua (黃珮華), who is one of two dancers who have taken on the iconic role, has made a good start at replacing Lee and is sure to grow further into the role.
In the Goddess of the Xiang River segment, the goddess is carried on stage standing motionless on two bamboo poles, trailing a very, very long white veil, looking very otherworldly — a presence enhanced by the ethereal, graceful, quivering moves of the role. Chou Chang-ning (周章佞) was amazing in this role in the last production, but Huang Mei-ya (黃媺雅) more than matched her on Thursday night. Chou will be alternating the role with Huang in the current run.
The one seemingly irreplaceable role in Nine Songs is that of God of the Clouds in the second act. Wu I-fang (吳義芳) created the role in the original production and reprised it five years ago, making the impossible seem possible, for the masked, loin-clothed God of the Clouds enters the stage on the back of two retainers and never touches the ground as he strides along, shifting his feet from one man’s shoulder to the other, posing in an arabesque or being lowered for a series of slow-motion rolls across his bearers’ backs. However, young Yeh Wen-pang (葉文榜), who has been a stalwart of Cloud Gate 2 for many years, performed admirably in the role. It was wonderful to see him dance with the main company.
Artistic director Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) said in an interview that he had trimmed at least one of the segments and tightened the piece up, but the difference was unnoticeable. One left the theater fully satisfied, and happy that Nine Songs has returned to the company’s repertoire.
Cloud Gate will be performing Nine Songs at the National Theater tonight through Sunday before beginning a six-city tour around the nation. However, all but the NT$400 seats have sold out for tonight through Friday night and the weekend shows are completely sold out. Tickets to shows outside Taipei are also moving fast.
What didn’t move very fast at all was the Company Ea Sola’s production of Drought and Rain (旱‧雨) at the Novel Hall on Saturday night. The 70-minute piece turned out to be more of an austere example of performance theater than a dance work, with traditional Vietnamese song given a major role.
The elderly farmers turned performers were nimble enough, but it would have been exciting it they had been given a bit more to do. There was too much repetition in their moves, though some of the images created — the entrance with life-sized cardboard cutouts of ancestors through the dark mists of time; the troupe draped in white rain ponchos, faces hidden under conical straw hats; the in-your-face presentations of hand-sized portraits of lost loved ones — stick with the viewer long after the show is over.