Leaving the theatre, I notice a couple of audience members in the crowd, staring straight ahead with red-rimmed eyes and making a beeline for the door. One of them, my theatre buddy, releases one-word statements, mainly “Beautiful.” Cursive is beautiful but communicates much more than just an aesthetic appeal.
Cursive utilises a range of eastern and western movement disciplines, including martial arts, Chinese Opera movements, modern dance and ballet, to explore Chinese calligraphy masterpieces. The work integrates all theatrical elements with surety, resulting in a deft weave of lighting, video and slide projection, costume and music alongside highly skilled dancers. The effect is an all-encompassing offering of three-dimensional calligraphy on stage where dancers’ bodies echo the art of Chinese calligraphy.
This notion of bodies “writing” characters is beautifully and simply introduced with the video projection of a character written on a huge white screen as a dancer dances the ink line. The use of different sized screens serves as the only setting throughout the performance. Different screens depict new calligraphy masterpieces for each piece (ten in all), framing the dance with an image. Lighting defines the horizontal plane, laying out rice paper rectangles on stage on which the dancers explore the characters in space. The fluidity of the dancers’ bodies move like a brush across paper with punctuations registering the brush lifting from the page.
The dancers’ movement has an air of familiarity for western audiences with a recognisable repertoire of contemporary dance integrated with martial arts style kicks and poses often punctuated with the dancers’ collective breath. Other disciplines included in their training and coming through in their dance is an ancient form of Chi Kung (Tai Chi Tao Yin) and meditation.
The exploration of line through movement is heightened through the costuming; black fitted jumpsuits for the women and black pants with one wide and one narrow leg for the men. This important touch of detail by costume designer Lin Ching-ju, accentuates the thick and thin and straight and curved lines in calligraphy projected onto the screens.
The score, composed by the renowned contemporary Chinese composer Qu Xiao-song, enhances the quality of line with the fluid sounds of the cello, mixed with the staccato and resounding reverberations of percussion with an assured use of silence, at times uncomfortable for this particular audience.
Lin Hwai-min, choreographer and the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre Artistic Director and founder, has skilfully crafted Cursive taking the audience on a journey, eloquently introducing what is to come; the physical exploration of Chinese characters in space. As the performance progresses I find myself mesmerized as I follow dancers scribing lines, echoing characters and in the process building whole and beautiful images that generate strong emotional responses, marching me toward a darkness and sense of being swallowed before release into a lighter, more comfortable place. Lin Hawi-min deftly shifts from one piece to the next with a change in rhythm, energy or dramatic image that startles or surprises, moving me onwards through the performance.
Cursive is beautiful and also brings the added depth of lyricism, inspiring strong emotional responses to the work. It takes the audience on a beautifully crafted journey, which could be seen coldly as a study of line but does much more as it invites you into an emotionally charged study of Chinese art.
by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
Venue: Festival Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates/Times: 8pm, 13 & 14 February 2007
Duration: 1 hour 10 minutes
Bookings: BASS 131246 or www.bass.net.au