featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 1, 10-14: Ocean of Drums
Water Music, and Dance, from U-Theatre

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- Nothing gets an audience more excited than drumming. And flashy percussion is what U-Theatre from Taiwan delivers for 100 uninterrupted minutes. The troupe -- directed and choreographed by its founder Liu Ching-ming, a 1983 New York University Performance Studies graduate -- performed "The Sound of Ocean" at the BAM Harvey Theater (October 7-11). Master drummer Wong Chee-mun creates the music and is the lead drummer of five men who play large barrel drums. The seven women, including Liu, play smaller, conga-like drums.

The pronunciation of the letter "u" sounds like the Chinese word for "excellence," which is also the word used for "performers" in imperial China. The company creates its theatre pieces and trains daily in meditation, martial arts, and drumming at its mountaintop facility outside Taipei City. Liu says, "Performance is the representation of the best aspects of life," and Wong holds the conviction that "to learn to play the drum, one must first learn to meditate."

In 1997, after four years of creative gestation, "The Sound of Ocean" premiered in Taiwan. The plotless piece, divided into five segments: "Collapse," "Flowing Water," "Breakers," "Listening to the Ocean Heart," and "The Sound of Ocean," began with the "Flowing Water" section, which evokes the sound of steadily falling water with a continuous stream of rhythmic motifs, played on seven small tom-toms and two big drums.

Under Liu's direction, with dramaturgy by Lee Li-heng, the piece visually soothes the eye: placement of the drums on the main stage floor and two levels to our left (stage right), smoothly staged transitions between sections, costumes by Yip Kam-tim -- which for the men get progressively briefer from long skirts at the start to brief loin cloths for "The Sound of Ocean" -- lighting design by Lin Keh-hua, and rough-hewn set pieces by Liu Chung-hsing that recall Noguchi's famous sculptural pieces for Martha Graham's repertoire. At the same time, the aggressive drum rhythms stimulate the soul.

The opening, "Collapse," a rising crescendo of choreographed percussion by the company en masse gets our attention, and later, in "Listening to the Ocean Heart" -- the segment that's most dance-like -- the five men beat a pulse on tuned gongs, while doing tai-chi moves: spinning jumps and one-legged balances, in intricate canons. By contrast, "Breakers," a solo, played on a plucked stringed instrument -- was it a samisen? -- by Sun Chin-feng, simulates the gentle sound of the tide.

The title segment creates the roar of the sea with only three instruments: a large gong, struck persistently, an immense drum mounted horizontally on a sculpted platform, played from both sides, and a huge circular metal plate that rises to a deafening roar when struck with heavily cushioned mallets. Its relative visual stillness soothes, while the immense volume of sound stimulates.

After the ovation the troupe performed for an encore another men's dance, in which they beat the tops and sides of the drums and the floor with long sticks. Spiritual underpinnings notwithstanding, the work packs highly entertaining punch.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home