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Henry Baumgartner

Another Way into the Cloud

Cloud Gate 2
Joyce Theater
February 8–12, 2012
Reviewed February 12

Scene from "Passage" by Bulareyaung Pagarlava.Photo by Liu Chen-Hsiang

Although New York audiences have long been familiar with Lin Hwai-min’s amazing Cloud Gate Dance Theater from Taiwan, its second company, Cloud Gate 2, is only now appearing here for the first time. But this is not your usual second company: Cloud Gate 2 is a completely separate group that does not perform Lin’s work at all. Rather, they specialize in the work of new or lesser-known dance makers from Taiwan or elsewhere in Asia, though the choreographers on this program, who all come from Taiwan, have each had some international exposure.

The work certainly looks nothing like what we are used to seeing from Cloud Gate--there is none of the large-scale sumptuous gorgeousness that is Lin’s trademark. The staging is fairly spare, and the lighting, mostly credited to Lee Chien-chang and Chen Chien-chang, tends to favor brightly lit dancers on a murky background. The work recently on view at the Joyce, five pieces by four choreographers, of course varied in its appeal, but some pieces hit the mark, while everything was at least worth seeing--no small statement given a program of such length. And the quality of the dancers was superb.

The first piece, "Wicked Fish" by Huang Yi, was one of the more engaging pieces on the bill. A thin ray of light in front of a line of dark-clad dancers momentarily catches flashing arms, hands, or heads—a slippery, darting light that brings to mind fish in the water. Suddenly the music--Xenakis’s "Shaar"--begins zooming ominously up and down the scale, as the dancers start to turn and gyrate. The dancers rush back and forth, not in any particular direction, but often turning and hurrying off in a group, a little like schooling fish, I guess. They didn’t always remind me of fish at all, never mind wicked ones, but the piece was exciting to watch.

"Tantalus" was by Wu Kuo-chu, who served as artistic director of the Tanztheater in Kassel, Germany, before his untimely death in 2006. The title here is not so easy to explain; the dancers in this humorous piece do not seem particularly tantalized as they shrug, gasp, and run in place to the accompaniment of Meredith Monk’s delightfully cacklesome "Tale"—"I still have my hands! I still have my telephone!" This piece is somewhat less successful and, like several of the pieces here, seemed overly long.

Bulareyaung Pagarlava’s name may be familiar as the creator of two pieces for the Martha Graham company in recent years. Pagarlava, who is a member of the Paiwan tribe, one of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, contributed "Passage," a somewhat mystifying yet reasonably involving bit of surrealism. The music, which sounds like Bach played on homemade instruments, adds to the air of intrigue. There are people in black who keep wiping the floor, and others who keep changing the clothes on another dancer--sometimes she resists, sometimes not. And there’s the scantily clad gent in white body paint carrying a suitcase and an umbrella. Eventually everyone strips down to simulated nudity, and the woman with the changing outfits pops out of Umbrella Man’s suitcase. The dance started out strong but began to drag a bit toward the end. Huang Yi’s second effort, "Ta-Ta for Now," a sort of slapstick quintet with chairs to music by Khachaturian, also outlasted my interest.

Last, but not least, "The Wall" by Cheng Tsung-lung provided some of the more satisfying moments of the evening. A line of black-clad (again!) dancers enters in silence and parades around the four edges of the stage. Then, to Michael Gordon’s "Weather One," they form into military-looking troops and go marching across the stage, crisscrossing, interpenetrating, eventually breaking up for some heavily athletic unison dancing--a difficult task brought off pretty well by the clearly well-trained company. At one point there’s a loud bang and everybody stops, while a soloist continues to dance alone to quieter music--a particularly moving touch.


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