Joyce Theater, New York, NY; October 2-6, 2013

Tom Ferraro

They say there is a golden thread that connects our past to our present. Artists are usually very good at finding this thread. In fact, the nature of great art is that it reaches back to the past and brings it into the future. One of the many secrets of Hwai-min Lin, the founder of Cloud Gate 2, is that he instilled a love of past literature in all his dancers.

Cloud Gate 2 arrived in Manhattan to premiere “On the Road” at the Joyce Theater Oct. 2 – 6, 2013. I had a chance to interview Tsung-lung Cheng , the choreographer and Associate Artistic Director before the show.  To prepare myself, I read “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac with the assumption that this work inspired the dance piece. When Tsung-lung Cheng and marketing director Salina Yeh arrived for the interview he noticed the book and smiled and I knew I assumed correctly.

“On the Road” is a novel by American author Jack Kerouac and is based upon his road trip across America in 1950.  The novel is considered the defining work of the post-war Beat Generation with its focus on jazz, sex and drugs. Many feel it is also one of the best English language novels on the 20th Century.  Tsung-lung Cheng discovered this book when he was on ten day vacation touring southwest China with two friends. He noticed the title of the book written on wall in a local bar.  And that is where this story begins.

The dance he created contains five moments that beg for comment. It begins with three men entering stage left and slowly walking in unison across the stage. You get a nice feeling of hope and anticipation that every traveler can relate to at the beginning of any journey. The 75 minute piece then proceeds in five minute segments displaying movement interpretations of the various ancient statues they encountered along the way. By so doing, we get a brief history of Taiwanese dance. About thirty minutes into the piece, the audience begins to notice that the three dancers who have white tee shirts are sweating black.  An interview afterwards with Sih-wei Luo revealed that they all had black calligraphy painted on them before the show began. This unexplained appearance of black sweat is like so much in modern dance that remains mysterious and what gives modern dance its charm and wonder.

After this, a brief intermission takes place with the dancers remaining onstage and changing in front of us. Tom Waits song ‘Flowers Grave’ is played with the opening line “Someday the silver moon and I will go to Dreamland.” The song is filled with sadness and longing and as it plays Pao-su Chiang stretches his tee shirt over his face and slowly walks as a blind man would across stage. In the final scene you see one dancer at stage right looking off into the future with the other two at stage left repeating a wonderful circular movement with their arms. On rare occasion a choreographer will be able to channel his unconscious and go under its control. I think this is what happened in this final segment – two dancers being possessed by a creative force and the other dancer up ahead on the road looking into the future and waiting for something to occur.

With this dance Cloud Gate 2 emerges as Asia’s premier dance company, following on the heels of “Passages” by Bulareyaung Pagarlava. Talent like this only emerges when there is a mentor with humility and kindness. Hwai-min Lin is just such a person who is willing to nurture young talent and to let them go on the road ahead of him. I suspect that this is a rare thing in the world of dance.

Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal has long defined European dance. Paul Taylor Dance Company has long defined American dance and Corpo Grupo now defines South American dance. Isn’t it nice to see that Asia now has a company that is talented enough and daring enough and smart enough to define modern dance in Asia. Welcome to the show.