Dance Matters: Earth, Air, Water

September 26, 2011

Cloud Gate in
Water Stains on the Wall. Photo by LIU Chen-hsiang, Courtesy Cloud Gate.



Cloud Gate Dance Theatre tours the U.S. this month with Water Stains on the Wall, a work that is bound to conjure something like a dream state. The dancers perform on a tilted stage, looking like they are floating.

How do the Cloud Gate dancers maintain their serene and impossibly fluid style? At the Dublin Dance Festival, where the company appeared in May, director Lin Hwai-min had an answer: “In our floating balances, we get energy from the earth.” Part of the centering process involves putting your internal attention on a spot three fingers below the navel. In this way, says Hwai-min, you draw the audience in.  The director also pointed out that his choreography has an affinity with other Asian forms: “In tai chi, martial arts, and calligraphy, everything is circular, just as the earth spirals around the sun.”

Despite Hwai-min’s lofty ideas, he can be charmingly self-effacing. When asked if his dancers do ballet, he said, “We can never do it. Our legs are too short!” Good thing, because Cloud Gate has a whole other kind of elegance. The dancers can go from ominous to ethereal in a flourish of the hand or a circle of the ankle. The effect is one of sheer celestial beauty.

In Taiwan, where the group is based, they are wildly popular, commanding sold-out houses and having streets named after them. Now Cloud Gate returns to the U.S., where they are not a household name. See them at Carolina Performing Arts, Oct. 6–7; BAM’s Next Wave Festival, Oct. 12–15; Ann Arbor’s Power Center, Oct. 21–22; the Harris Theater in Chicago, Oct. 28–29; and San Antonio’s Lila Cockrell Theatre, Nov. 1.