3.5 stars out of 4
Chicagoans should leap at the chance to see Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan this weekend, a two-night engagement at the Harris Theater presented by the Dance Center of Columbia College. Both Columbia and the Harris are renowned for their excellent dance programming, and their partnership here allows Chicagoans access to one of Asia’s leading dance companies.
Cloud Gate was formed by Lin Hwai-Min in 1973 as the first contemporary dance company in the Chinese-speaking world; he has since grown the company into a world-touring force and accumulated many accolades. His blend of western and eastern aesthetics, along with superb use of technical elements, creates a truly unique concert dance experience. His latest work, Formosa, draws inspiration from the island of Taiwan itself, both its natural beauty and its dangers (“earthquakes, typhoons, and societal rifts.”) Recited poetry and projected place names add to the ambience, though for non-Chinese speakers these will be abstract and may have you wonder what you’re missing. Luckily, the dancing itself is so striking that even absent of context, there is much to contemplate. The company’s 24 dancers are riveting in their execution of Lin’s vision.
One of my favorite of Lin’s techniques is his use of contrast: while one group of dancers stomps and writhes, another may walk calmly, each group highlighting the difference of the other. A set of couples transform from fighters into lovers, their strength melting into a flowing energy. In the aftermath of a war (a wonderfully chaotic section that feels like a scene from a martial arts movie) that leaves everyone dead, survivors slowly emerge and band together, joining hands and briefly lining up for a folk dance, before stopping still to witness another round of chaos. The piece ends as it began with a stark white stage, throwing into relief everything that has come before.
Gorgeous dancing is enhanced by complex lighting design from Lulu W.L. Lee, and music from Kaija Saariaho, Gerard Grisey, Liang Chun-Mei and Sangpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw. (The only element I found disappointing was the bland costume design by Apu Jan.) Atmospheric projection design is by Chou Tung-Yen and videography by Hao-Jan Chang. The cumulative effect is, as the Portuguese said, formosa.
Formosa plays March 2 and 3, 2018, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (205 E. Randolph St.). Call the box office at 312-334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org for tickets, or www.colum.edu/dancecenter for more information.