If ever there was a reason to be inside on Mid-Autumn Festival, even for just an hour or so, while still celebrating the natural world, Cheng Tsung-lung (鄭宗龍) has provided one with his first full-length work for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) as artistic director, Sounding Light (定光).
Judging by the excerpt performed for the press last week, Cheng shows he can be just as minimalistic as his mentor, troupe founder Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), while still forging his own unique path.
Just as he did with last year’s Lunar Halo (毛月亮), his final work as director of Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2), Cheng has created an almost extraterrestrial experience awash with light and sounds — the sounds around us and of us.
Photo courtesy of Lee Chia-yeh
Cheng said he was inspired — even motivated — by the forced isolation of the 14-day quarantine period that he and the other company members had to endure after returning home from a successful European tour at the beginning of the year.
At a press conference in July, Cheng said he found isolation difficult at first, the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world, of the silence, but then he began to enjoy it.
“I could hear all the sounds in the neighborhood,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Lee Chia-yeh
Those sounds got him thinking about his first full-length work for Cloud Gate 2, 2018’s rollicking and exuberant 13 Tongues (十三聲), when he had the dancers recreate the calls of street hawkers and chants of Taoist processions of his Wanhua District (萬華) childhood.
He said that he wanted to do something using the sounds and the rhythm of Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), as well as insects and other elements of the natural world.
To help him create the soundscape that he wanted, Cheng turned to Lim Giong (林強), who he worked with on 2017’s Full Moon, 13 Tongues and last year’s Multiplication (乘法) for the score, and New York City-based Chang Shiuan (張玹), who composed the vocals and the sound effects that the dancers themselves create though finger clicks and hand slaps.
Instead of the visual projections Cheng has used in recent works, he had lighting designer Lulu W. W. Lee (李琬玲) set the stage with ink wash-like movements of white light and shadows, much like sunlight moving through the clouds.
The lighting moves with the dancers through the course of the piece, which Lee said required the use of mirrors and a lot of very precise calculations.
Fashion designer Chen Shao-yen (陳劭彥), another frequent collaborator, used traditional Chinese paints to paint the dancers’ backs with natural colors that will smudge and be worn off as a way of marking the passage of time.
As for the dancers themselves, Cheng’s evolving choreographic vocabulary certainly stretches their bodies — and their physical and mental discipline — to the max, with insect-like contortions and movements, and that was before he added in the vocal and sound-making elements.
One major surprise from last Thursday’s mini-performance was the appearance of Huang Mei-ya (黃媺雅) in the opening solo, since she was among the company veterans who retired alongside Lin Hwai-min at the end of last year.
It turned out that she was filling in for another dancer, who was not feeling well that day. She will still, however, be performing with the company after COVID-19 upended her retirement plans.
It was great to see her and to find out that Cloud Gate fans will be seeing more of her.
Following next weekend’s four shows in Taipei, the company will take Sounding Light on the road, for two performances at the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts on Oct. 17 and 18 and then the National Taichung Theater on Oct. 24 and 25.
What: Sounding Light
When: Oct. 1 to Oct. 3 at 7:45pm and Oct. 4 at 2:45pm
Where: National Theater, 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
Admission: NT$600 to NT$1,600, available at NTCH and Eslite ticket desks, online at www.artsticket.com.tw and convenience store ticket kiosks
Additional Performance: Oct. 17 and 18 at 2:30pm at the Opera House at the National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts - Weiwuying (衛武營國家藝術文化中心) 1, Sanduo 1st Rd, Kaohsiung City (高雄市三多一路1號); Oct. 24 and 25 at 2:30pm in the Grand Theater of the National Taichung Theater (台中國家歌劇院) 101, Huilai Rd Sec 2, Taichung City (台中市惠來路二段101號); tickets are NT$300 to NT$2,000 for Weiwuying and NT$500 to $1,800 for Taichung, available at the theater’s box offices, Eslite ticket desks, online at www.artsticket.com.tw and convenience store ticket kiosks
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