Carolina Performing Arts brought the third and final chapter in Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s stunningly beautiful trilogy, Cursive, to Memorial Hall for a two-night run that underscored this company’s standing in the world of dance theater. Wild Cursive premiered in 2005, but it was new to this area, though the American Dance Festival had presented the work’s first section in 2003. It was amazing to see how choreographer Lin Hwai-Min’s seemingly complete idea was carried further and deeper in this exploration of “wild calligraphy.”
This 70-minute uninterrupted performance comprises twelve segments, danced by as many as 17, or as few as one, in a flow of motion punctuated with momentary tableaux. Drawing heavily on the movements of tai chi, and the aesthetics of calligraphic brush work, Wild Cursive is far more a spiritual experience than entertainment. The spiritual environment of this dance is one that connects the natural world with refined endeavor, and the images made with such care blow away in the careless wind of time. We are drawn into that rarefied realm, where accomplishment and its erasure are known as two parts of one whole, by the wonderful soundscape crafted by Jim Shum and Liang Chun-mei. For a long time, there is no sound but the occasional slap of a dancer’s foot, or the outflow of a dancer’s breath. Eventually — and so naturally — other sounds begin. A cricket chirps. Wind blows. Rain falls. Susurrous waves wash an unseen shore. Gongs reverberate, and bells render their chimes. Again and again, silence reasserts its place among the sounds.
Within this soundscape, dancers clothed in flowing black and sweat’s sheen move like the ink from a great calligrapher’s brush into graceful and unlikely forms and positions. They can move very slowly and with great delicacy, or with a sudden explosive force that reminds us that tai chi is a martial as well as a meditative art. Their control, their ability to be still and hold a position, as well as to move with beauty, puts them among the greatest practitioners of dance today. Sound without silence is just noise, and dance without stillness merely commotion. Cloud Gate shows us again that the art is in the balance.
Sadly, the visual element of this work was stronger conceptually than in actuality. Where the first section of Cursive had used projected light images of calligraphy, here great scrolls of thick rice paper unfurled from the rigging to create pale columns in the stage space. From an unseen source, ink was dripped down them to make slowly changing patterns as it followed the paper fibers’ pull downward. This sounds more interesting than it is. Because, obviously, one can’t make pools of ink on the stage for the dancers to slip in, the amount of ink dripping was inadequate to make rich marks — nor did the marks have the grace or power of activity. Dripping is not the same as brushing. At the very end, one last scroll descended, and a generous dark pour of ink rolled down in a beautiful indication of what could have been. While the slow change and random quality of the ink flow made sense intellectually, and the straight white edges of the scrolls were a wonderful contrast to the dancers’ arcing bodies, the resulting flat patterns were a wan shadow of the dimensional, kinetic, soul-centering patterning of the dance.