Dallas — Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Rice offered an abundance of visual delight Friday night at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House, presented by TITAS. The themes of death and rebirth, devastation and resurrection, apply to rice—but also by implication to human beings.
Choreographed by artistic director Hwai-min Lin with magnificent video footage by Howell Hao-jan Chang, the work took its inspiration from the Taiwanese rice fields of the Chih Sheng valley and the cycle of growth, harvest, destruction and renewal. The video alternates from close-ups of pendulous buds to dizzying images of waving grass to grand views of distant mountains. What is remarkable is that the video does not swallow up the dancing; nor does the dancing simply imitate. The two are in perfect harmony.
In sections called “Soil,” “Wind,” “Pollen,” “Grain,” “Fire” and “Water,” the mood changes from calm to fierce to resigned, aided by an eclectic sound score. The sounds include wind and thunder, recorded Hakka folk music and the operatic voice of Maria Callas.
In the second section, “Wind,” waves of grain shimmer in the background and slowly grow more violent. On the floor, dancers swirl and rustle, gather and separate as individuals. The movement has the look of curving, looping, flowing calligraphy, of the tender undulating tendrils. (The calligraphy analogy is apt as part of the dancers’ training includes calligraphy as well as breathing exercises, martial arts, modern dance and ballet.) As the wind picks up, a man shoots up abruptly, then comes to earth softly.
As the video images signal the changing seasons, the dance too changes, portraying growth from youth to old age. As youths, the dancers are lithe and supple, seeming to churn up the ground beneath. In maturity, they move more often in slow motion, and when old, lumber on weary feet.
In both “Pollen” and “Fire,” men swing long rattan canes, sweeping the ground in “Pollen” and swinging with more force as if to fuel the flames in “Fire.” “Fire” is especially sinister as it scorches the land in small, then ever growing flames—destroying the crops and turning the fields dark.
In the last section, “Water,” age takes it toll. One woman after the other makes slow, labored steps though wet paddies, their bodies bent and contorted, their faces distorted. In the growing darkness with snow gathering on the mountains, they crouch and roll up sections of the cut Marley flooring, revealing the bare earth beneath.
A solemn work, Rice evokes a far-away place and a time even more remote. Its chief shortcoming is that it comes across as decorous rather than dynamic.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.