FORMOSA in Kuala Lumpur 2019 by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre
In the 16th century, gazing out from the decks of ships off the coast of Southern China, Portuguese sailors saw an island thick with mountains and trees, rising from the sea. “Formosa!” they exclaimed—“beautiful!”—anointing the verdant place that would come to be known as Taiwan.
In this full-length work choreographer Lin Hwai-min uses Formosa, a beautiful island beset by earthquakes, typhoons and societal rifts, as a metaphor of the world we live in and to contemplate an epigram from the Buddhist Diamond Sutra:
All things contrived are like dream, illusion, bubble, shadow,
and as dewdrop or lightning. They should be regarded as such.
While recorded indigenous songs, contemporary music, reading of poems about the land, and lore of the island serve as the soundscape, luminous projected images of Chinese character typefaces provide visual backdrop. The characters are mainly names of mountains and rivers, cities and villages of Taiwan; they interlock, overlap and merge in teeming thickets to evoke a host of stunning imagery.
Against the lustrous, transfigured sphere, dancers mingle in intimations of community, making tribal ritual and urban bustle seem as one and transforming the stage as a playground of love and life, mediated by tragedy, hope, and rebirth.
Towards the end, blocks of characters drop onto stage, like landslide during earthquake, then characters gradually fall apart into dispersed strokes and lines. They seem to imply writing as a precarious vehicle for memories, which blur and recombine at the whim of history’s wind.
A blue sea appears, only to wash the broken characters away in raging waves. The dancers exit, projection vanishes, leaving a white, empty stage just as the dance opens.
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