Songs of the Wanderers
Dancers of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre
Lin Hwai-min – Choreography
Music – Georgian Folksongs
Chang Tsan-Tao – Lighting
Austin M C Wang – Set Designs
Taurus Wah – Costumes
Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler
Reviewed: 6 May, 2016
Venue: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Songs of the Wanderers is a staple of this Taiwanese company’s repertoire; created some 22 years ago, it continues to weave its particular stage magic at each revival. Born out of choreographer and company director Lin Hwai-min’s own spiritual journey born out of his travels in India, it is fostered by the development of his own meditative regime and melded with Herman Hesse’s account of Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment. What emerged and what has survived is an intensely focussed work born out of all the influences he absorbed. It starts with a striking image which remains throughout: a monk (the marmoreal Wang Rong-yu) standing downstage is showered by a steady stream of golden rice which bounces off him in an aura of gold, a metaphor for the passing of time and of life itself. The stage is covered in rice (we are told three and a half tons by the end) which is thrown, piled, scaled and spread in ten episodes by the dancers clad in pilgrims’ rags who at times carry branches or staffs tinkling with prayer bells.
Movement is generally slow, very slow, but almost always beautiful, and any bursts of energy acquire thereby extra force and impact. Lin’s vocabulary is weighty, demanding great control and strength from his dancers, with the impression that nothing, absolutely nothing, is superfluous to the concept. It is impenetrable, unknowable, but one suspects audiences take from it what they will. In a surprising juxtaposition, the music is not from the Far East but is from Georgian tradition, folk songs sung often mesmerically by the Rustavi choir, an intriguing amalgam of Western and Eastern musical influences, underlying the universality of the quest for spiritual enlightenment, understanding and peace.
Lighting is precise and atmospheric, the dancers spotlit or the whole stage suffused in a golden glow.
Songs of the Wanderers is not always the easiest of shows – it demands reflection and concentration, but it does pay dividends – the often striking stage pictures, the superlative performance, the underlying focussed serious and the hypnotic music all combine to make it a stimulating theatrical experience.