Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan presented choreographer and Artistic Director Cheng Tsung-lung’s “13 Tongues” at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. “13 Tongues ” integrates folk dance, religious rites, and Taoist chant to vividly conjure the streets [of Bangka/Wanhua] where he worked as a child.” Cheng’s mom used to regale him with stories of Thirteen Tongues, a “legendary 1960’s street artist and storyteller” who was a master at crafting fantastic characters who embodied the motley spirit of his neighborhood.
In “13 Tongues,” Cheng emulates the hero of his childhood fascination and uses the stage to give us glimpses into the characters and, human and spiritual events that inhabited the streets of his youth. The characters in Cheng’s stories are made all the more vivid by their environments, which are continual displays of visual creativity and brilliance crafted through the collaborative efforts of Art Designer, Ho Chia-hsing; Projection Designer, Ethan Wang; Lighting Designer, Shen Po-hung; and Costume Designer, Lin Bing-hao. These environments are filled with evocative soundscapes which ebb and flow between music that was composer by Lim Giong, and chants and songs brought to life with the help of Voice Coach, Tsai Pao-chang.
Throughout the work, I am mesmerized by the dancers’ movements. The quality is distinct, honed through their unique training in “meditation, QiGong, internal martial arts, modern dance, and ballet.” Their grounded pelvises effortlessly shift between their legs, dropping into and rising out of the floor with incredible grace and agility. Circularity punctuates their style in the most beautiful ways, from the circular nature of their arms, the twisting of their torso, the under curves and twisting movements of their pelvis, and the circular arcs carved into the space from the martial arts traditions.
I had three favorite moments of the evening. In the first, men surround a group of women and sing a song with a particularly syncopated rhythm. The women begin to dance in a seemingly disconnected manner. Then, out of nowhere, fleeting but delightful synchronicity catches your eye amidst the chaos as a dancer’s movements perfectly mirrors the syncopated rhythms of the singing men encasing them.
Another captivating moment seems to portray the dynamic imagining of a spirit responding to its entreaters. In the downstage left corner, dancers dressed in black form a circle. Against dim light, they move in unison, as if in fervent prayer, until a figure emerges from the center of the circle donning a neon dress electrified by black light. At the figure’s emergence, the other dancers become like Ursula’s tentacles in “The Little Mermaid”, yielding to its will. As the spirit continues to reveal itself, its “tentacles” push, pull, and propel it through the space until it disappears leaving its entreaters holding only a dress.
The third moment embodied Cloud Gate’s brilliance with making simplicity enchant. A solo dancer moves in the upstage left area. Under her, the black stage is dissected by a stark diagonal white light. Behind her is a black screen with a giant goldfish watching her. In this trio of projection, lighting, and dancer, she is the only part that moves. The imagery is so simple and even more beautiful to behold.
“13 Tongues” was performed by Chen Lien-wei, Chen Mu-han, Chen Tsung-chiao, Cheng Hsi-ling, Chou Chen-yeh, Fan Chia-hsuan, Huang Li-chieh, Huang Lu-kai, Huang Yen-cheng, Huang Yu-ling, Lai Wei-chun, Shao Hsing-wen, and Yen Hsueh-hsin
To learn more about Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, please visit their website.
To see the Segerstrom Center’s full performance season, please visit their website.
Written by Marlita Hill for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Scene from Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s “13 Tongues” – Photo courtesy of The Segerstrom Center