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Even without a narrative, the dancing body can communicate a story with every lunge, reach, or turn that it "writes" in performance, as with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan's work Wild Cursive, the third part of choreographer Lin Hwai-min's trilogy, titled Cursive. Inspired by Kuang Cho (an expressionistic calligraphy associated with drunkenness and spontaneity), Wild Cursive brought the calligrapher's unkempt brushstrokes to life through a stunning palette of movement invention and rich [End Page 310] set and sound environments that were anything but untidy in design. Wild Cursive was not the translation of a calligraphic text, however. Far from being literal or linear, it was delightfully postmodern in its ability to reference so many different dance styles in both Eastern and Western traditions and yet transcend them to become something entirely new. It was the portrayal of two beautifully ephemeral and simultaneous visual worlds: one embodied through a luscious intercultural dance experience, and the other through the instantaneous composition of long white rice-paper panels that hung in the performance space, revealing an eerily beautiful, inimitable, and untranslatable scroll in front of us as ink spilled downward in a different pattern every night. A rich soundscape unified and complemented both worlds.
Throughout the eleven expertly woven sections of Wild Cursive's seventy-minute lifespan, Lin Hwai-min's movement vocabulary was a beautiful feast of intercultural aesthetics that blended in nonformulaic and unpredictable ways. Movement stepped in and out of ballet, Chinese opera, tai chi, chi gong, postmodern dance, and many familiar, "ready" positions borrowed from various martial arts, often manifested through flexed, pronated positions of the feet with wide, spread toes. Overall, the dancers embodied a constant readiness and a Zen-like concentration throughout this profound spiritual and physical journey. Dancers landed difficult jumps with cat-like precision and then skimmed along the marley floor like carpenters smoothing their hands over a well-sanded piece of wood. Exceptionally long leg extensions lifted and lowered with controlled speeds in one moment, and then swinging, slicing arms punctured the air in the next.
In addition to movement that borrowed from many sources, the dancers embodied all things associated with Chinese calligraphy: the pen, the symbols and brushstrokes, the calligrapher, and the paper. Calligraphy-like movement, often localized in the dancers' spines, undulated like fluid conduits of information, extending out to pelvises, limbs, and ending in the flickering of fingertips, as if there were need to shake out excess droplets of ink. Sometimes we witnessed contemplative, gestural movements: a woman bathing her arms in a pool of light, dipping into it with her head and then the rest of her body as though it were a calm, inviting lake, or dancers curling, twisting, and circling their wrists in space, painting the air with quick but articulate brushstrokes. Other times we saw a different sort of writing: horizontal jumps emphatically pushed out into the air like some sort of punctuation. Was it an exclamation mark or even an uncertain question mark? Also present in this well-timed movement phrasing was the use of stillness. After a flurry of movement, dancers appeared strong and stable like old trees with deep root systems in the ground, as if to contemplate what their moving, swaying, and bending bodies had just experienced. At these moments, I imagined a Kuang Cho calligrapher pausing in the midst of a fit of writing in order to receive another message that begged to be written. Lin Hwai-min's dancers, like luscious brushstrokes of calligraphy on paper, left their movement imprints in the space.
Dressed in black pants and shirts, the dancers resembled the black ink lingering around them as it slowly spilled down from invisible pipes onto the sheets of long, white rice paper of varying heights that hung like austere columns. If you took your eyes off the dancers to notice the pathways of ink on paper, you realized that there was an inherent connection to all things in this dance world: the...