A lot was riding on the world premiere of choreographer Cheng Tsung-lun’s (鄭宗龍) latest piece, Sounding Light (定光), his first full-length work for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) since taking over as artistic director from founder Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) at the beginning of this year.
Sounding Light, which opened at the National Theater in Taipei on Oct. 1, and will be in Kaoshiung this weekend and in Taichung next weekend, was a revelation — a light, airy work at once both earthy and etheral.
However, it also raised the question of what it might have looked like if COVID-19 had not hit the world.
Photo courtesy of Lee Chia-yeh
Cheng has said in several interviews that he was inspired by the forced solitude of the mandatory 14-day quarantine that he and other company members had to complete after returning from a European tour earlier this year.
The sounds of the neighborhood around where he was staying obviously made him more introspective than normal, and contemplative of the sounds of the natural world and those of humans.
The result is a quieter, more subtle piece than audiences have come to expect from the man who brought the sights and sounds of his Wanhua District (萬華) childhood to life in 13 Tongues (十三聲) for Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2), or used technology to such great effect in Lunar Halo (毛月亮).
Watching Sounding Light makes you feel like you are sitting in a sun-dappled glen early in the morning, seeing and hearing the forest come to life around you, but with a microscopic view of the insects, birds and other creatures. It was almost as if a David Attenborough documentary had come to life in front of you.
The sounds — the breaths of wind, the rustling of leaves, the crepitation of cicadas and the patter of rain — are not from a soundtrack, but from the dancers themselves, starting with the bird calls that open the show, thanks to the ideas and training providing by New York City-based composer Chang Shiuan (張玹).
The patterns of the light and shadow falling from above onto the bare white-gray walls and floor move as if tracing the sun’s path over the course of a day as it filters through the clouds and a canopy of trees, thanks to the magic of lighting designer Lulu W. W. Lee (李琬玲).
However, most of all you see the dancers — really get to see them.
The 12 dancers I saw — Chen Tsung-chiao (陳宗喬), Chou Chen-yeh (周辰燁), Fan Chia-hsuan (范家瑄), Huang Lu-kai (黃律開), Huang Yung-huai (黃詠淮), Lee Tzu-chun (李姿君), Liao Chin-ting (廖錦婷), Shao Hsing-wen (邵倖紋), Su I-chieh (蘇怡潔), Tsou Ying-lin (鄒瑩霖), Wu Jui-ying (吳睿穎), Yeh Po-sheng (葉博聖) — are a mix of Cloud Gate veterans and members of Cloud Gate 2, which has now been absorbed into the main company.
The combined troupe has given Cheng the luxury of mixing and matching dancers and having enough to field two full casts for a show.
Sounding Light was a reminder, if one was needed, that Cloud Gate dancers, regardless of which company they were with, have always been soloist-caliber performers.
Cheng makes the most of such talent by gives each dancer time to shine, either with an extended solo or in a duet, even as he challenges their muscles and stamina with a physically demanding movement language that ranges from sharp hip and arm angles to undulating hands, arms and torsos to hip-hop-flavored pops or Taoist parade god rocking gaits.
Cheng interweaves the solos with duets that often resemble avian mating dances, along with ensemble sections that show his mastery of pattern making.
The show opens with a beautifully calibrated solo, danced in Taipei by Tsou, who was later joined for a duet by Huang Lu-kai. Other standouts in their solos were Su, Liao and Yeh, who was always one of my favorite of the Cloud Gate 2 men.
As he did Lunar Halo, Cheng has created an otherworldly environment, but one that is also at times startling familiar.
Sounding Light is a beautifully crafted work and one that will bear repeated viewings, as I can attest, for after seeing the Oct. 2 show, I returned the following night to watch it again.
Cloud Gate will perform on Saturday and Sunday afternoon at the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, with the second cast, and then next weekend it will be at the National Taichung Theater for two matinee shows with the same cast that danced in Taipei.
Don’t miss the chance to catch Sounding Light.
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