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Review 3, 2-12: Mandala
Exploring the New and Old with Tai-gu Tales
By Peggy H. Cheng
Copyright 2003 Peggy H. Cheng
NEW YORK -- The Tai-gu
Tales Dance Theatre, led by artistic director Hsiu-wei Lin, was
presented at the Joyce Theater this past weekend in association
with the Taipei Cultural Center, in an evening-length work in four
sections entitled "The Life of Mandala." Lin is a former principal
dancer with Taiwan's Cloud Gate Dance Theater (under the artistic
leadership of Lin Hwai-min, arguably the most famous contemporary
choreographer in East Asia) while her husband, Hsing-kuo Wu, is
a highly regarded Peking Opera performer. The aim of this couple
has been to explore the marriage of the disciplines of contemporary
dance and Peking Opera. In "The Life of Mandala," the result is
a meditation on the visual beauty of mandalas and an exploration
of the human body as sculpture and artifice.
The dance work opens
in darkness and silence, until candlelight appears and a man is
heard mournfully calling, as if appealing for some kind of salvation.
As he continues his call, bodies rise and come to life, wrapped
in rags as if mummified. The caller is like a shaman summoning the
spirits of the dead to a fire in a clearing. This section, "Sublimation:
My soul thirsts for purity," immediately sets up the ritualistic
world that the Tai-gu Tales Dance Theatre inhabits.
The piece continues
into section two with "The World of Desires," essentially a presentation
of (hetero)sexual instincts. Loin-clothed and wild-haired, the troupe
of dancers fling about and toss, leap, and land heavily on the earth
where, it seems, they are bound to end up on all fours or on their
backs. Inventive acrobatics, as well as more conventional tumbling
moves, predominate in the livelier sections while an intense if
somewhat externally-imposed boundedness guides the quieter moments
of ceremony and ritual. The tumbling and the many sculptural body
pictures reminded me that the male half of the group is trained
in the highly stylized movement forms of Peking Opera, mostly in
"acrobatic roles," while the women have received a combination of
modern and classical dance forms.
What Lin seems most
adept at achieving in "The Life of Mandala" is a visual representation
of a mandala on stage. Her ability to construct a stage picture
seems instinctual, without too much brainy diagramming, and organic
in the way a kaleidescope morphs with the slightest impulse in any
direction. This gift was best showcased in the last section of the
piece, "Buddhist Chanting," an uplifting dance that was in fact
accompanied by recorded Buddhist chants.
Like many dance artists
around the world, Lin continues to explore movement that combines
the influences of contemporary art and ideas with that of an ancient,
highly-codified artf orm. To explore these ideas within Taiwan,
a society that has only recently (in the relatively recent art form
of "modern dance") begun to train dancers in contemporary dance
is yet another challenge. It will be intriguing to see where these
explorations take Lin and her colleagues.
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