One of the best things about festivals is getting the chance to see new stuff completely outside your experience and Cloud Dance Theatre of Taiwan fits this description perfectly.
Knowledgeable friends kindly forbore to fill me in on what this company is actually like, leaving me to find out for myself the full force of their creation – the result is enough to knock your socks off.
Bathed in a timeless golden light, dancers creep, crawl, evolve towards standing at some period during what must be the very dawn of human time wearing clothes that somehow seem to have evolved organically with them, holding staves that are no more than unfashioned branches in their hands. Hunter gatherers, they have somehow stumbled upon agriculture, but civilization is at some far remove in the future. These are the very first people.
Throughout the whole 90 minute performance a monk stands stage right utterly immobile as an endless stream of golden rice falls on his head until he stands surrounded by a mound of its grains. The history of everything seems to be in it, from hunter-gathering and the beginnings of agriculture, primal and pre-historic, even the discovery of fire. This is a glimpse into the deep past of humanity, its relentless struggles and its eventual rise, its light seeming to come from somewhere in the deep past to a haunting, dream-like score of Gregorian chants.
As a sort of coda at the end, after the cast have taken their bows, just as we thought it was all over, a man came on stage and silently, very deliberately began to rake the rice round and round in the age-old furrows of the first agriculture in a pattern as old as time.
You think you’ve seen everything. And then you see Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. Pure zen.
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre repeat their performance of Songs Of The Wanderers at 7.30pm tonight (May 11). For tickets visit Birminghamhippodrome.com or phone 0844 338 5000.