By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
“Cloud Gate,” a ritual “ballet” from 5,000 years ago, is considered the oldest-known dance in Chinese history. In 1973, choreographer Lin Hwai-min created its cutting-edge descendant, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, a company that has been presenting a unique blend of ancient Asian aesthetics and contemporary Western techniques ever since.
Having studied Chinese opera movement in his native Taiwan, modern dance in New York, and classical court dance in Japan and Korea, Lin Hwai-min used his own breadth of experience to create an exciting ensemble, which has won worldwide acclaim. It may be the only dance company to have an asteroid named in its honor.
This month, Cloud Gate 2, a spinoff formed in 1999 to showcase gifted young choreographers and dancers, will make its San Diego debut at UCSD’s Mandeville Auditorium, as part of a hot-ticket U.S. tour, starting in New York.
On the program are five very different pieces by four choreographers, each doing his thing to a very different style of music. The 24 dancers combine the exuberance of youth with the discipline of training that includes Tai Chi, martial arts, and a range of techniques drawn from Chinese Opera, modern dance and ballet.
One of the highlights of the evening is sure to be “Tantalus,” based on the tale of the Greek anti-hero who gave us the word “tantalize.” Tantalus, having angered the gods on Olympus, was condemned to an eternity of hunger and thirst in the underworld, with the fruit and water he longed for always just out of reach.
CG2 puts a new spin on the old story, giving it a touch of black humor, and turning it into a look at contemporary urban life. European reviewers called this piece, set to rapid-fire vocals by experimental composer/performance artist Meredith Monk, “impressive” and “breathtaking.”
The surreal “Passage” sounds like another winner, set to the sounds of “Lamborena: Bach to Africa,” a thrilling interplay of baroque music and Gabonese chants.
Then there is a trio of dances choreographed to wildly diverse string compositions: “Wicked Fish,” whose movements are fast-paced and fluid, and whose music is a lush, 60-string showpiece by Iannis Xenakis; the playful “Ta-Ta For Now,” which uses a Khatchaturian violin concerto to underscore an office uprising; and the architectural shapes of “The Wall,” with the techno beats, ambient noises and processed strings of New York’s Bang-on-a-Can Festival co-founder Michael Gordon. According to the composer, his piece “does with a string orchestra what a composer in 1723 would have done had he access to the technology.”
Martin Wollesen, artistic director and curator of UCSD’s ArtPower! program, has been trying for years to bring Cloud Gate 2 here.
“I’m super-excited to have them,” he said. “The main company is absolutely stunning, but they require a lot of visual production and technical support. Cloud Gate 2 is in no way a lesser company. They’re stripped-down to essentials, but the artistic vision and core training are the same. And they give us a chance to see a new generation of dancers, and a great snapshot of how young Asian choreographers who have grown up with the cross-pulse of Eastern and Western culture are shaping the future of dance.”
If you go
What: ArtPower! presents Cloud Gate 2
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22
Where: Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD