Nothing is simpler than a bowl of rice. And yet rarely do people think of the labor of love that goes into the production of those small grains. It is easy to take rice for granted.
The same could be said of Lin Hwai-min’s (林懷民) newest work for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集), Rice (稻禾), which had its world premiere on Friday night at the National Theater.
Rice is the essence of simplicity; there are no flashy moves or pyrotechnics. It is not simple in the sense of the stark Zen minimalism of other Lin works such as Water Stains on the Wall (屋漏痕) or the Cursive (行草) trilogy, but simple in the way a breeze sways the branches of trees or stalks of rice, clouds are reflected on the surface of a lake, or the wind rustles past. It is the simplicity of the things we take for granted in the world around us.
That natural world is both the inspiration and the setting for Rice, brought into the theater thanks to the videography of Chang Hao-jan (張皓然), who worked over two years filming the seasons in Taitung County’s Chihshang Township (池上), and Ethan Wang’s (王奕盛) projection design.
The video shifts in focus from close-ups of seedlings to expansive views of the East Rift Valley, from ripened grains to sweeping fields of green, while the screen size changes from a thin low-to-the-ground stretch of muddy paddy to a full backdrop panorama or small boxes of color, thanks to Lin Keh-hua’s (林克華) set design.
40th ANNIVERSARY SHOW
As befitting a work marking the 40th anniversary of Cloud Gate’s founding, Rice is truly an ensemble work. While there are scattered short solos, quartets and sextets, the emphasis is on the company as a whole, with the exception perhaps of the gorgeous coupling of Tsai Ming-yuan (蔡銘元) and Huang Pei-hua (黃珮華) in the “Pollen II” segment.
Tsai and Huang curl and weave about on the floor against a small rectangular backdrop that is a sea of green and gold, seamlessly melding together, at least one part of their body always in touch with the other’s.
Much of the movement in Rice is low down, there are few lifts or carries, but lots of floor work and shoulder rolls, keeping a connection with the ground, the earth. The women are often hunched over, like farmers bending down to plant seedlings. The repeated sequences of male dancers slowly pacing across the stage, a long flexible bamboo pole bouncing in one hand, brings to mind the steady pace of a water buffalo pulling a plow through a field.
There are repeated cycles of movement, just as the changing seasons repeat the cycle of life on a rice farm
Yet Lin clearly has a bigger message in mind then just a valley of rice in Taiwan. When it is time for the paddy to be burned after the harvest, blackened fields fill the screen. Concentrate on the close-up of the flickering flames amid the burning clumps of stalks, with the smoke filling the air, and the image could be an aerial view of the now annual fires that consume huge swathes of Sumatran rainforests, producing a smoky haze that chokes Singapore and parts of Malaysia.
It is hard not to read a message about the destruction of our environment into the segment.
Rice ends with footage of water streaming down from the top of the screen through a paddy and flooding across the stage, readying the earth for another planting, as a lone woman, bathed in blue sunlight, stands center stage, ready for another season.