Before embarking on its European tour this month which will include the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, Taiwan's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre performed at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre this week a 75-minute work "Moon Water" choreographed by its artistic director Lin Hwai-Min. This 1998 work, which will also be seen in London, is divided into nine sections set to a selection from J.S. Bach's six suites for solo cello.
The atmosphere of the work is austere, with a cast of 17 white-clad dancers, and a bare darkly-lit stage consisting only of mirrors on several parts of the stage. The piece commenced with a solo for a bare-chested male dancer in white pants, which set the tone for the rest of the work. Lin's movement vocabulary throughout this work is very narrow in range, and stresses the upper body instead of below the waist. Stylised undulating arm movements, inspired by Chinese tai-chi, are combined with lively torsions of the upper spine.
Then the man was joined by a female dancer. They surprisingly didn't touch once in the duet, and mostly danced in parallel as if mirroring each other. Subsequent sections included more duets for other dancers, a woman's solo; as well a trio of two male dancers and a woman with a background ensemble which was an interesting exploration of stillness and deliberatly slow frozen motion.
After about two-thirds of the way through the work, the lack of rhythmic variety and the predictability of the steps, as well as the pervasive sombreness started to detract from one's enjoyment. Fortunately at this point came an exciting allegro solo for Sheu Fang-Yi, which to me was the highlight of the evening. Sheu's arms traced a variety of circles in the air, and she had a plastic vividness in her upper body which perfectly embodied Lin's choreographic style.
The final section, with a lot of of splashing of the water on stage by the whole cast, gradually built up slowly enhanced by two large mirrors above and at the back of the stage. The choreography was a bit repetitive and self-indulgent at times. A single woman made a very slow exit into the wings before the curtain fall, ending a gloomy and uneven production.
(Parts of this review first appeared in the "South China Morning Post".)