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It has been four years since the extraordinary Cloud Gate Dance Theatre danced in the Triangle, and it was four years before that that they appeared here for the first time. Four years, or eight, is not long enough for the images the dancers made to have vanished in memory, and neither will be nearly long enough to fade the indelible imagery of director Lin Hwai-min's newest evening-length work, Water Stains on the Wall. Carolina Performing Arts is hosting this return visit, and the program — very highly recommended — repeats Friday, Oct. 7, in UNC's Memorial Hall.
Cloud Gate was formed by Lin in 1973, and over its nearly 40 years, the company has explored deeply and widely the aesthetics and practices of Chinese calligraphy. Dance is a marvelous way to translate calligraphy into another art form, because the dancers can be both the brush and the ink, both the action and the mark. The title of this dance derives from a famous conversation recorded between two great calligraphy masters of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), who discussed the inspirations for their respective styles. The master of wild cursive lauded the motions of nature, while the master of Kai script admired the fluid, slowly-changing process of water staining a wall. In previous works, Cloud Gate has explored the wild cursive mode; here they gradually stain the sloped white (rice paper) Marley-covered stage with characters of a different quality. Where wild cursive takes its energy from the evanescent motion of birds and snakes flitting and slithering briefly across the endless field of time, the water stain mode seems more about the layered traces time itself leaves upon the field of life. In Water Stains, we see lines and forms repeat, slightly shifted from the previous iteration, very like the wavering marks made and left by water dripping down a wall over a long period.
The dance is utterly wonderful: The sloped pale stage, the brilliant lighting through which pass dark projected "clouds;" the sheer white wide-legged pants the dancers wear, and the transparent tulle skirts over them; Hosokawa Toshio's strange music full of twang and space — but most of all the sleek pliant dancers, with their grace, control and sensitivity to the loveliest of lines. But there is more. The company trains not only in dance, but in martial arts and in Chi Kung. Calligraphy is also part of their daily practice. So there is a wholeness, a balance, to the work that one doesn't often experience in dance. It is very beautiful.
As noted above, the second performance here by this company is 10/7. For details, see the sidebar.