Water Stains on the Wall
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan @ Dunstan Playhouse
8:30pm, Thu 15 Mar 2012
The very first year I ever put some effort into getting out-and-about during these Festival things, I kept a rudimentary spreadsheet of stuff that I saw that year because… well, that’s how my head works. Just a list of dates, times, shows, and a one-or-two word summary of my impressions.
I went digging through my digital archives to find that spreadsheet, and it lists sixty-one shows that I saw that year… which surprised me somewhat (I thought it was half-a-dozen lower). But that’s beside the point; the whole reason I went searching is because, on March 6 1998, I saw a performance called Songs of the Wanderers – and my one-word recollection of that piece was “Incredible”.
(March 6 1998 turned out to be a pretty bloody good day of Festivalling: Salamandrar, Every Night a Wedding, Songs of the Wanderers, and The Waste Land were Great, Inspiring, Incredible, and Fucking incredible, respectively.)
And that little back-story is relevant now because the company that delivered Songs of the Wanderers – Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre – is behind this ethereally-advertised production of Water Stains on the Wall.
When the curtain lifts we are presented with a very heavily raked white stage floor, upon which stand seventeen of the Cloud Gate dancers – ten women, seven men, all wearing the same white, flowing, cloud-like leggings; the men are bare-chested, the women wear skin-coloured leotards. They hold their initial formation and start moving almost imperceptibly forward; a slight sway develops in the group as a whole, and it’s like we’re watching waves lapping at the beach; the movement is so light and gentle and mesmerising.
Suddenly one man starts swaying in the opposite direction to the rest of the group; his movement seems to affect others nearby, and soon the counter-movement grows, capturing more dancers in its wake. The group soon dissolves into an organically chaotic display, wherein individuals or pairs or larger groups would flow across the stage, whilst others would spiral outwards… it’s intoxicating to watch, though the fact that the dancers don’t recognise each other at all – not even a knowing glance – is a little disconcerting.
Throughout the performance, the stage has images of black, drifting clouds projected upon it; the white floor catches these images beautifully, but it’s the way that the dancers’ leggings drift in and out of the projection that really catches the eye. When the clouds are replaced with water marks, the dance shifts subtly, but maintains its organic feel.
Oh yes, Water Stains on the Wall was an incredible performance, and would have been an almost enveloping experience… were it not for the audience. Like the woman in the front row whose phone rang as soon as the lights dropped. I could see her fumble with the phone, her face bathed in light, as she rejected the call… but rather than put the phone on silent or – heaven forbid – turn it off, she let it ring again as the curtain was raised, and again when she had a troupe of dancers (heroically) holding their pose three metres in front of her.
And at that moment, I felt ashamed – because this woman represented this audience; she represented me.
She was eventually escorted out – by Festival Centre staff or saviour punter, I don’t know – but I couldn’t believe the fact that was was let back in a couple of minutes later. In her absence, the rest of the audience managed to follow her sterling lead and produced a cacophony of coughing… it was like a minute-of-silence at an unruly high school.
But… happy thoughts. Happy thoughts.
Cloud Gate dancers? Amazing. Lin Hwai-Min’s choreography? Breathtaking.