Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (Taiwan): 水月 (Moon Water)

(This is a translation by Tadeo Berjon from my post in Spanish)

I’m just back from seeing “Moon Water”, a masterpiece by this Taiwanese modern dance group, and my mind’s ready for writing…

For 70 minutes, my spectator’s mind lived a numbing process similar to the meditation process a newbie goes through: I started by experiencing total beauty, a feeling of purification, certain expectation for what was to come; then, a waiting, no more beauty (or beauty simply remains still), there’s repetition (like with breathing, like with mantras), and there’s confusion, distraction, the feeling of wanting to stop the experience, to cut it short, to change to a different mood or state of mind (there is a struggle); then, just before the explosion (which doesn’t come because I remain there, seated, waiting), there is enlightenment, a feeling of freshness where my spectator mind enters a new stage, letting itself go, and I realize my senses have become numb too, that my mind doesn’t struggle anymore (has it been vanquished?), I see (maybe I should say “I contemplate”) and listen without watching or listening, I’m empty and the image I contemplate fills the void. Unarguably, I’ve entered a meditative state that’s broken by the dark ending, by applause.

Did I watch a performance? Definitively. Did I contemplate a spiritual experience. Definitively.

I once heard or read about someone who had experienced “spiritual liberation” by watching his master in some process. Many, many speak about the spiritual experience of watching a taichi master performing forms for hours. The spectator is not a participant and yet the contemplating of the practitioner causes a revealing experience.

Then, I get lost in the experience, I get lost in the narrative.

Is this the metaphysical theatre that Grotowski was supposedly trying to achieve? The metaphysics where the spectator may or may not be present, where he contemplates the creative processes on stage, the transformation, the ritual dismemberment of the actor and, in turn, is also created, transformed, dismembered?

I don’t know, I never saw any of Grotowski’s last performances, I only have second-hand information about them. My experience has taken me to watch other failed, lost, almost worthless experiments. Today, the performance at the Poly Theatre was different. I wasn’t expecting any performance of this kind and, while it was happening, I didn’t recognize it, and when it was over, I wasn’t quite sure of what I had seen.

I saw taichi (the group has been practicing it for years), I saw breathing techniques and a process of movement meditation (meditation has been part of their training), I saw a dancing technique of highest quality (the best modern dance technique and a formidable training, all evident on stage). But my emotions were eliminated, my reasoning was broken… there was only contemplation.

I also saw how the individuality of the dancers became lost, how they merged on stage, how they became movement, fluidity, image: one, five, twenty dancers, they became a moving mass of spiritual beauty (beauty that even got lost, at some point, due to its repetition, its slowness and fluidity). I accept that, afterwards, I found it scary (since I’m an artist too) that I couldn’t recognize any single dancer as the best one, or as the worst one, I couldn’t remember who was who, they became fused arms, torsos, water, light, Bach’s cello suite. And still, I never forget the image of the director (Li Hwai-min), on the contrary, it’s strengthened. We applauded the company, we love them, but we acclaimed the director, we waited for his words.

Is there some deceit here? Is there a group sacrifice in honour of the director’s genius? Is there, once more, a divine seducer-creator who’s capable of erasing others to put his sublime ideas on stage.

There is a peculiar turn to the idea of the performance itself (that it’s not a normal performance, that it doesn’t tell anything, that it’s an “experience”) but, in the end, that tricky turn, in which we so fervently believe at the end of the performance, is it simply proof of the egotistical ability of the director to erase bodies and minds to achieve his artistic goal?

Then, what did I see?

During my liberating catharsis I remember Butoh and Kazuo Ohno in particular, my body trembles with the memory, my emotion flows full of tenderness and compassion, of love, nostalgia, I can’t remember the choreography or even whether he was the choreographer or it was someone else’s piece. The difference, then, is evident. With Kazuo Ohno and Butoh I see only the modern Orient, modern Japan. With Water Moon I see the choreography of Lin Hwai-min, I see China and I see the fluidity of what I can understand as Tao. Differences… could they be comparisons?

“Moon Water” is a wonderful dance piece, which will remain not in my spectator’s memory, but in my body memory, just like a meditation experience. I can’t remember any one particular meditation, but I can remember the general feeling of meditating, a great meditation is everything; I can remember this great piece of dance-theatre as the fundamental experience of all the pieces of its kind.

Can all this be taken as speaking well of a performance? I don’t know. In the slightest. It’s speaking, simply put.

“Moon Water” by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan performed on Saturday July 13th 2007 at Beijing’s (China) Poly Theatre. Some 20 dancers performed on stage under the direction of Lin Hwai-min. The music for the performance was some Bach's cello suites.

1 comment:

  1. Gustavo,
    Since i didn't see any e-mail details, i decided to write to you in a comment box. I don't know how to start though.. Your posts about theatre are very inspiring, and moving. I am very much interested in theatre and gave up my investment management job in London to join Butoh school in Himalayas, and now i am in a circus school in Beijing studying .. well, circus. I am going back to India though in February to do a full 9 month course in butoh.. My friends work for russian theatre groups Derevo and Akhe, and i am fond of this kind of theatre groups that move you on a completely different, much subtler level.
    I have now been in Beijing for 2 months, and will stay here for another 2 months until the end of December ( I will go to London in January for the mime festival).. Anyway, i miss the alternative theatre scene here in Beijing, or may be i just don't know where to start looking for it.
    Since you are in Beijing too, may be you can help me with this? It would be very interesting to meet you too - of course, if you have time, and and desire. If not, I understand that completely.
    Thanks a lot in advance!


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