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Production

Cursive

Company

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

Reviewer

Deanne Tan

Date

04/02/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

The Esplanade Theatre

Rating

****1/2

From Page to Stage

Cursive is a deep expression of the art of Chinese calligraphy, told through physical movement that finds its inspiration in the "focused energy" which both dancer and writer harness in the practice of their craft. Choreographer Lin Hwai-min describes how he trained the dancers to improvise dance movements while facing images of calligraphy: "The dancers absorbed the energy, or chi, of the writer and imitated the linear 'route' of ink, full of lyrical flows and strong punctuations with rich variations in energy. The exercise produced unimaginable motions, from subtle slow motions to [...] attacks with powerful energy."

Employing a minimal style, Cursive attains the distinction of being a beautifully balanced piece of dance choreography. The performance is paced the way a calligraphic text would be, with ebbs and flows of energy. The strikingly taut dancers of Taiwan's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre move with an effortless naturalness, interweaving elements from taiji and Chinese martial arts with western ballet styles. The moments of vigorous energy are reminiscent of wushu displays, while the lyrical, contemplative sections bring to mind modern expressionism.

The calligraphic themes employed in Cursive are carefully explored through creative staging, which resists over-reliance on literal interpretation. In most of the ten acts, Lin uses images of calligraphic works projected onto screens on stage to form backdrops or stage pieces. The dancers, dressed in simple black robes, dance alongside the looming presence of the Chinese characters, to become equal elements in a grand display of static and moving calligraphy.

Lin also plays with the concept of negative space in one breathtaking act, where hundreds of white characters are projected against a dark stage. Small groups of dancers, clad in nude costumes, move deliberately amidst a veritable forest of calligraphy, and as they move slowly, their backs also become screens on which the white characters are projected.

In the ninth act, the crystallisation of Lin's concept is masterfully demonstrated. Dancer and rehearsal director Chou Chang-ning delivers an inspired exploration of the essence of calligraphy, melding both literal and figurative interpretations of the fluid energy in cursive calligraphy. Dressed in flowing black robes with extra-long sleeves, reminiscent of traditional Chinese opera garments, Chou becomes the flowing jet black characters against the white screen that is projected onstage, alternately impassioned and calm.

The strength of Cursive lies in Lin's daring concept, which find the meeting point between two genres of artistic expression and makes it real. Lin has illuminated the emphasis that the ancient art of cursive calligraphy places on the process of creative expression, so that the finished product can become highly abstracted and unrecognisable from its non-cursive form. As with any other modernist concept that values the artistic experience, Cursive becomes a powerful vehicle for original expression. Under Lin's direction, the dynamism of this expression is finely balanced with meditative thoughtfulness, creating a beautifully nuanced poem of human motion.


"The strength of Cursive lies in finding the meeting point between two genres of artistic expression and making it real"

Credits
Founder and Artistic Director: Lin Hwai-min
Associate Artistic Director: Lee Ching-chun
Composer: Qu Xiao-song
Set & Image Design: Lin Keh-hua
Lighting Design: Chang Tsan-Tao
Costume Design: Lin Ching-ju
Dancers: Chou Chang-ning, Lee Ching-chun, Wang Wei-ming, Chiu I-wen, Huang Pei-hua, Sung Chao-chiun, Yang I-chun, Tsai Ming-yuan, Wang Chih-hao, Wen Ching-ching, Chou Wei-ping, Huang Hsu-hui, Lin Chia-liang, Lin Tzu-chun, Su I-ping, Tsai Hui-chen, Tsao Kuei-hsing, Liu Hui-ling, Shen Yi-wen, Wong Jyh-shyong, Wong Lap-cheong, Yu Chien-hung

More Reviews by Deanne Tan

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.