In the 16th century, gazing out from the decks of ships off the coast of Southern China, Portuguese sailors saw it: a great green mass, thick with mountains and trees, rising from the sea. “Formosa!” they exclaimed—“beautiful!”—anointing the verdant place that would come to be known as Taiwan.
Lin Hwai-min and his Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan take that appraisal as inspiration for their own work of abstract beauty born from land and lore.
Using gesture, script, song and other elements from the island as raw material, Lin and dancers create a lustrous, transfigured sphere in which only the universal remains— a playground of love and life, mediated by tragedy, hope, and rebirth.
Recorded music by award-winning indigenous singer Sangpuy serves as the soundtrack as the dancers stomp, sway, dash, and dart. With unparalleled grace, they mingle in intimations of community, making tribal ritual and urban bustle seem as one.
Luminous projected images of Chinese character typefaces, interlocked and overlapped, provide the stunning visual backdrop. Devoid of specific meanings, they merge in teeming thickets to evoke a host of imagery: mountains and rivers, earthquakes and tsunamis, ancient inscriptions, a black sun. They seem to imply writing as a precarious vehicle for memories, which blur and recombine at the whim of history’s wind.
At the work’s end, a blue sea appears amid the characters only to wash them away in the waves.
The ocean rages. The dancers exit. The stage turns to a vacuum of white.