>moon water by cloud gate dance theatre

>reviewed by ma shaoling

>date: 1 mar 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: the esplanade theatre
>rating: ****1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


To the Chinese, Moon Water, or Suei Yuei, is reminiscent of two things. One is a Buddhist proverb: "Flowers in a mirror and moon on the water are both illusive." The other describes the ideal state of Tai-Chi practitioners: "Energy flows as water, while the spirit shines as the moon."

The choreographer, Lin Hwai-min takes departure from these famous quotes to create this work, a poetic rendering of the Taoist philosophy. It is not mere sycophancy that Cloud Gate Dance Theatre has been acclaimed to be Asia's most important contemporary dance group since its founding in 1973 by the Taiwanese native Lin. For the term 'Asian contemporary dance' is too often bastardised into meaning exoticism and is too seldom appreciated for its intrinsic elements. Tired of yet more run-of-the-mill fusion of Eastern and the Western artistic forms, we have reason to fear that Asian contemporary dance may always be trapped in its own conundrum. Lin's body of work, fortunately, relieves us from this outpost, as his choreography captures the Eastern aesthetic in its essence. Through the interlacing of a particular thought with dancing's evocation of a collective memory, his works understand that true aestheticism is never a disinterested territory that has no place for ethics. Cloud Gate's art has been known for being apolitical and amoral, but to say that it does not make an incision into life would be unjust.

>>'Lin's works understand that true aestheticism is never a disinterested territory that has no place for ethics.'

Ideally set to selections from Six Suites for Solo Cello by J.S. Bach, Lin's sensitive choreography isolated each presence on stage and drew out the beauty of organic sensuality. White strokes of a brush swept across the black marly floor to form one bold, concentric circle. A mirror was suspended diagonally midair throughout the dance, at times joined by others upstage. Due to the positioning of these mirrors, one only had partial reflections of the entire corps, adding a surreal charm to the overall aesthetic. Whether it was a solo dancer on stage as when the piece first began, or whether the figure was joined by the rest of the company all in billowy white silk, the dancers of MOON WATER retained a sense of unity that enveloped the whole theatre in their cosmic harmony. There was no one static moment in MOON WATER: each deftly executed step gathered around itself a boundless energy that reverberated in the vast space. No matter how long it took for a knee to be bent or a back to be arched, the dancers were exceptionally fluid and breathtaking. Precisely because the dancers were moving so slowly and with such supplication, one could almost hear the sound of each body. The choreography was grounded in gravity, emphasizing the contours of upper torso movements with firmly held backs and necks all paced by Tai Chi Tao Yin's breathing techniques, a 2000-year old Chi Kung exercise that constitutes the Cloud Gate dancers' basic training. There were few elevations and lifts, but when they were executed, the dancers did them with just enough finesse. With such perfect phrasing and use of space, MOON WATER was dance that spoke.

MOON WATER is an essentialism conscious of its own physicality. Beauty became independent of the human context, as the dance's composition was hinged on an immediate spirituality that did not have to be preached. The dance had no climax or tension points, as energy was kept flowing purely through the various ensemble configurations, whether solo, duo, trio, or sequential. In fact, when water slowly trickled onto the stage floor towards the last segment of the performance, it was a natural extension of harmony and unity, instead of a theatrical imposition. As the strains of Bach's cello suites came to a stop, all that was heard was the sound of the dancers' feet swishing the waters in which they lay, folded into foetal positions. The reflecting pool became a parallel dimension to the dancers' ability in mimicking nature. A giant mirror was unveiled not long after, thus flanking the entire stage with reflection upon reflection. As the dancers made their passage through the watered ripples, soaked and reborn, we were left gazing, as if the stage still held their charmed reflections.

MOON WATER treads between the real and the unreal, effort and effortlessness, yin and yang. It is impossible to differentiate what is the original and what the reflection. Ultimately its beauty transmits to us the freedom from conclusion, and serenity in movement. Now that can only be an ethics for living.