May 27, 2006

Cloud Gate 2

A couple weeks ago, I got the idea that it would be fun to take my son's mother, my wife, Maggie, out to a cultural event for Mother's Day. "Cultural Event" is what we called them at Winthrop College University in sweaty little Rock Hill, SC, and it's what the College/University threw together to get hicks from the sticks to get themselves acculturated. Occasionally the events were the senior recitals of music majors who, though they didn't mind the boosted attendance, were horrified drunk members of Sigma Phi Epsilon, or something equally foolish, showed up to get their culture on. More often than not, the events were something sinful. It was considered good practice for the kids over at the Baptist Student Union to see sinners in their natural, cultural, environment. We had, gay dancers, welfare recipients, an anthropoligist, and a couple jazz men that had probably done drugs. Those were the days.

Cloud Gate comes highly recommended. And someday I hope to second the recommendation. Cloud Gate 2, the troupe that we saw today, is like the Newcastle United Reserve Squad, but not as butch, and several stops more graceful. I hadn't seen dance in about ten or fifteen years and was appalled or excited or intrigued by the range of emotion from disgust or discomfort to adulation and adoration. I even laughed out loud once and was surprised by a Yee-HOO once. The wife of the mayor of Taichung was in the row in front of the row in front of me. She didn't disturb me during the intermissions or distract me during the performances and the only reason I know she was there was that my wife pointed her out and we both thought that if a mayor's wife could wear jeans in public on a Saturday outing, or go out without looking like she'd had her hair did, she must be alright. Her husband is a little nutty, too.

He wasn't there.

Maggie was completely surprised by the date. We stopped at Chung-yo Department Store to do a little book shopping and stopped for a corporate coffee on the terrace downstairs while we watched a series of seemingly normal people take to a stage and dance foolishly to the same pop song over and over again. I think each person had choreographed their own bit to the 90 second clip that was played repeatedly. I was a little worried that the Watusi was making such a strong showing in Taiwan at the moment and hoped that at the department store would be the only place I would see it that afternoon. It wasn't.

At about two or so, the rain had let up to a comfortable mist, and I decided to walk the three blocks to the Chung Shan Performing Arts Center. My wife was with me, but at this point I really had to just tune her out because she kept asking "Lao Gong! Where are we going?" It's training for long car trips with the kids, I'm sure. (Do you see that tree over there? We're going just past that.) When we finally got to the gate, she was deeply impressed that her man had class. When we got to our third row seats, she was wiping her eyes with her dress. She appreciated the gift.

And I'm glad, too, cause when it started, the lead dancer stood outside the curtain wildly undulating with her hair flipping in huge, crazed circles as she spasmodically conjured up a chorus of dancers from the opposite corner of the stage. They moved upstage slowly like (!!) and I was a little preoccupied that this was possibly freaking out my pregnant wife. (She was ok. )

This first piece ran about 45 or fifty minutes and was very difficult to watch at times. That's not to say bad necessarily, but there were moments when there were three or four solo dances happening on the stage at once and you were afraid to watch one too closely for fear of missing something being done on the other side of the stage. Like a costume change, for instance. (I'm sure she wasn't naked on stage, but I missed how they pulled it off, so to speak)

There were also a lot of twitching and spasmodic movements, as well as dancers that looked like the beggars once sees in busy markets around Asia--young women pulling their torsos through the muck and the mire with prehensile ankles. Through the piece, we as an audience, witnessed the choreographer's life story--her struggles, discoveries, loss, and the glacial pace of life going on.

The second piece was a solo with a guest dancer whose name eludes me. I'm not sure what was going on in this one, and wouldn't dare to conjecturalize what the red chair represented, though I'm sure that it's significant that in ten minutes she never touched it once until the very end. There was a lovely bit where she danced with super long sleeves on her dress, looking like a cross between a butterfly and a mantis. It's remarkable how a dancer that size can make her presence felt in the entire volume of the stage.

The third act was the most fun. If you think Sex is fun. There was some editorializing on bed hopping, there was cross dressing, there was fake nudity, and there was an incredible moment of virtuosity when one of the male dancers, with his pants round his ankles scissor kicked and piroutted around the stage like a dancer. He went from fully dressed to shirts and pants-less back to fully dressed twice in the performance, all the while looking much more graceful than a reserve forward for Newcastle United. It was like Mr Bean meets Barishy--Barysh--meets Gregory Hines. Just fantastic.

At times frenetic, at times bone-numbingly slow, the concert was truly an example of the beauty that the Taiwanese are capable of. Taiwan, for all of its faults, does have some extraordinary easter eggs tucked away. All it takes is a little planning to find them.

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