Rice 1

Photo by Liu Chen-hsiang

Whether invoking earth, wind, water or fire, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan embodied all elements during its Southern California debut of choreographer Lin Hwai-min’s  “Rice” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in February with beauty, elegance and grace.

From start to finish, Cloud Gate, using their signature blend of martial arts, modern dance, ballet, and Qi Gong, an ancient breathing exercise, shifted through the seasons with a sagacious sense of the body, nature and its rhythms.

In one moment they appear like blades of grass wafting in a summer breeze, their arms waving slowly as if imitating the force of a seaweed forest caught in ocean currents. In the next, they are an autumn field on fire, jumping, hopping and leaping like sparks igniting into flames.

Rice 2

Photo by Liu Chen-hsiang

With this versatile and voluptuous energy, Cloud Gate creates a magnificent current of moving bodies that is as spectacular as videographer Howell Chang Hao-jan’s expansive landscapes of rural Taiwan — flowing rivers, muddy streams and windswept meadows. Each component of this moving tapestry — living and projected — inspires awe; together they reach the sublime.

“Rice” arrives at an especially ecstatic highpoint in Huang Pei-hua and Tsai Ming-yuan’s passionate duet “Pollen II.” The pair physicalizes a sensuous roll in the grass, so to speak, cleaving to each other as a rapturous aria lilts in the upper registers and blades of grass roil in the wind as backdrop. Poised opposite each other like crouching crabs, they discover one another by each extending a single leg, attempting to consummate a tentative handshake with their toes.

Despite the brief comedy of the moment, the touch inspires a divine connection, reminiscent of God imbuing Adam with life through his fingertip on the ceiling of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. But the relationship turns to more earthly pleasures as the two dancers meld into and out of each other’s contours, folding like fans and unfurling like blooms, until finally reaching an orgasmic revelation within a ravishing tableau. Their bodies are perfectly balanced against each other, like the apexes of two arches meeting exactly in the middle, a spine-tingling second of symmetry.

Rice 4

Photo by Gia To

Yet that ecstasy turns to shame when a woman in red appears on stage. Slumped on her haunches, she writhes in pain. Or is it guilt? Agony and despair seem to rage across her face. She hugs her legs and forces them over her head, contorting her body into near impossible positions. Has she been jilted? Heartbroken? Or worse?

The answer elucidates itself when she lies on her back, her knees bent and legs spread to deliver pretend progeny with a circle of women hovering around her childbearing pose.

Even in pain life must go on. And it does. Rains come; fields burn; men go to fight the elements, wars, and themselves.

But one thing is steady against all this chaos — Cloud Gate’s deeply kinetic connection to the earth, their bodies and each other. For “Rice,” the company took to the very rice fields they evoke, harvesting grain from the East Rift Valley of Taiwan with the farmers who turned the region from a chemically tainted area to an organic farmland.

In “Rice’s” closing moment, a single woman stands at the center of the stage, picks up a man’s fallen fighting stick and shakes it steadily—calm and ready for any of life’s impending storms.

Video courtesy of the Music Center, review by Christina Campodonico