Review: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

The preeminent Asian contemporary dance company’s meditative work left some in a trance and the rest catatonic.

By Salish Davis March 5, 2014

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, one of Asia’s leading dance companies, made its Portland debut by burying the Keller Auditorium in 3 1/2 tons of golden rice on Tuesday. Over 90 minutes, curtains of rice cascaded from the rafters, creating a distinctive landscape of flaxen hills, valleys, and deserts.

Artistic Director Lin Hwai-min choreographed the company’s iconic show in 1994 following a visit to the bhodi tree in Bodhgaya (where the Buddha attained enlightenment), stating in the program that the dance is a meditation on “practicing asceticism, the river’s mildness, and the quest for quietude.” A monk dressed in robes stood motionless in prayer throughout the performance, as a coursing vein of rice pounded down on his shaven head. Meanwhile, twenty-four dancers moved with viscous slowness through various iterations of meditation, using forked sticks crowned with tinkling bells and leafy flagellation sticks as props. Clearly relying on an impressive array of techniques, they used focused, intentional micro-movements to physically manifest the very human struggle of enlightenment. After the performers took their bows and bouquets, a solitary dancer remained to meditatively rake the field of golden rice.

Despite Lin’s channeling of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha in the program—“There is infinite beauty within the beauty of nirvana—the reluctance to leave, and the reluctance to let go”—many audience members seemed to have very little reluctance to leave the Keller Auditorium before the show ended. And among the ones who stayed, more than one snore offered its own personalized sound score.

Critics have claimed that Cloud Gate has the “power to change your metabolism,” and I’m afraid that proved all too true. For those with patience necessary to enter that slower mindset, the performance could appear surreal, trance-like, and a welcome break from a fast-paced world. But unfortunately, my full Buddha belly, sleepy from the food carts before the show, eclipsed my latent Buddha mind.

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