Rice unfolded in eight sections, danced in front of the lushly evocative projections of Ethan Wang, whose images of vast fields of waving rice stalks in all variation of weather alternated with intimate images of patches of rice plants swallowed by encroaching, soggy mud. This was not a happy dance of peasant farmers extolling the joys of a simple life, but a sad picture of these peasants working hard, defending themselves and, in the end, despairing—an existential statement of hopelessness in the face of Nature’s might. Though never quite defeated, they ended up looking frightened and imprisoned by their unending duties.
The opening, “Soil,” set the mood with a hard-edged quality. First, one then a number of women entered, wearing the simple solid-colored dresses designed by Ann Yu Chen and Li-Ting Huang. They stood, stalwart, backs straight, feet apart, raising their heels and pound them down on the floor, over and over again. Repetition was, indeed, the hallmark of Rice. Limited movement themes (twisty, reaching lunges; long stride walks; sudden wide and high leaps by the men; anguished arm gestures) and very simple stage pictures (circles; intersecting lines; individuals spread evenly about the stage) gave the work both a feeling of ennui while also providing its visual and emotional structure. Long bamboo poles, were used as weapons, pole vaults, and, when laid on the stage, as perimeters of private spaces. As the dance proceeded, the cast rolled out white materials which turned the stage into a screen onto which Mr. Wang’s images could be projected, making the stage one large 3-D landscape painting.
Only one section, “Pollen II,” was different. Two dancers, male and female, the scantily clad Huang Pei-hua and Tsai Ming-yuan, crawled slowly all over each other in an incredibly un-erotic duet. Some sections had more sweep than others, but the basic mood was grim.
The dancers were disciplined, well-rehearsed and in tune with each other and Mr. Lin’s philosophical leanings. None stood out, but then none were supposed to.
Program notes mentioned capturing the exuberance of the natural cycles of growing and harvesting this all important grain. Rice never achieved the exultant qualities implied by section titles like “Sunlight,” “Grain,” “Fire,” and the finale, “Water.”
The soundtrack ranged from traditional folk songs, sounds of wind and rain, drum beats to Western works such as Bellini’s “Casta Diva” and the fourth movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, all creating varied, often striking, aural environments.
Rice (September 16-19, 2015)
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
Next Wave Festival
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, in Brooklyn
For tickets call 718-636-4100 or visit http://www.BAM.org/NextWave
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission