3 Jan 2007

Capture/Arrest the Ideology of Our Lived Space: on Cloud Gate's new dance "Wind/Shadow"

Wind/Shadow, in collaboration with Cai Guo-Qiang
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
Performed on 23 December, 2006
Kaohsiung Culture Center, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

I always like the dance of Cloud Gate, and Wind/Shadow makes me love them more. What is special about their dance? Isn't dance just a series of movements that shows the beauty of bodies? True, I agree that dance is a means for us to see how bodies can be transformed into an object whose values are highly artistic. However, I don't agree with the notion that Cloud Gate's dance is a series of movements that only presents the artistic values embedded in the presentation of bodies.

In fact, I find their dance to be social and political. It seems to address the audience that what they have presented on stage is a condition that is a social illness that happens in our everyday life. The movements of bodies are artistic, but beyond this superficial observation, there is a deep concern for the society and humanity. This concern is shown through the use of the performance space, and it acts as an ideology that fights against the dominant one which we form to maintain the function of our society.

Sad to say so, but it is true that the dominant ideology we construct for our society is a product that only favours those with knowledge and power. Its existence helps us maintain our privilege and social status. Through our education and communication, we are told to agree with this ideology and obey the regulations and rules it sets up for the function of this society. But have we ever examined what constructs this ideology? Why at the end does it only favour those with power and knowledge? Living under the structure of the society, individual voices are ignored, and these questions can never be examined. Examining it would damage our current social structure, and crumbling it means to devalue the existence of this society. This action denies all the social values we use to maintain our privilege and social status. When contesting it only brings disorder and disturbance, we naturally choose to accept it and live with it.

Cloud Gate notices these essential questions, and they use their dance to provide another channel for the examination of these questions. Providing an aesthetic experience to the viewers is art's function. However, only when art embraces the society would it be relevant to our life and acquire its social values. Otherwise, art is only a dead object for appreciation that is not socially meaningful to the human world. When Cloud Gate opens up this new channel for discussions on social illness, they relate their dance to our society, and this relationship generates new social values that make their dance not just artistic but highly social. These values are not solutions towards certain problems but are chances for us to see problems and to contemplate how to make a better society.

In Wind/Shadow, its social concern is hidden in bodies and is behind movements. It is a hidden meaning that requires the participation of the audience to give values to it. When body movements start to collaborate with the installations on stage, this hidden meaning are slowly shaped and heightened. In these repetitive movements, we see oppression, manipulation, and struggling of the bodies. Bodies are no longer dancers' bodies, and they have become the reflection of us who are living under the control of the dominant ideology, who are obeying every single rule of this huge social structure. As the performance lingers, strong visual presentations echo movements, and movements are the response to the visual effects. Installations highlight those highly symbolic movements. In dance we see a condition that is continually repeated. This repetition brings the audience closer to the hidden meaning and forces them to see through the surface of the visual presentation. But the dance never tries to give an exact answer. It leaves the final decision to the audience. This performance space is no longer a dancing space that shows the beauty of bodies. It has been transformed into a space in which ideas are shared and a new ideology is formulated.

What is this newly formed ideology? I believe only the choreographer and the artistic director can give us the final and exact answer. However, after seeing this performance, it inspires me to think on the false values that are circulating in our lived space. We are all manipulated by these false values and are making wrongful decisions now. Our daily actions are like those bodies on stage. The visual presentation reflects our perception of the society. We in fact produce these false values because they affirm our social status and grant us privileges. Due to their functions, we are all lost in these false values. Slowly, false values construct our ideology and serve as the dominant ideology of our society. This is not simply a performance that aims at providing illusions and a safe aesthetic experience. It asks us to stay awake to see what it wants us to see. It encourages us to relate what we have seen to what we have experienced. It provides us a way to examine what has gone wrong in our everyday life. This is what Wind/Shadow brings me, and the result gives this dance its social values.

This dance is not just a new success for Cloud Gate but a new era for the development of modern dance in Taiwan. The collaboration with Cai Guo-Qiang opens up a new possibility for presenting dance. This combination of installation arts and dance lifts Cloud Gate out of their tradition, which is mainly on the presentation of the bodies and movements. Indeed, that is what dance should be doing. However, the incorporation of installation arts strengthens the power of visual presentation and reinforces the meaning movements bring about. Installations on stage compliments movements while movements assert meanings to installations. The performance space in Wind/Shadow is full of social meanings and is open for discussions. Isn't this what good arts should offer us? I believe that making theatre (or making a performance) is in fact making society, as Edward Said once states. If a performance has no intention to talk about our lived society, then why bothers to present it at all.

Indeed, there are still a lot for the discussion of the ideology presented in this dance, such as dancers' bodies, movements, the use of objects, and the discussion on the performance space. All these elements help construct its social meanings and form a new ideology to fight against the dominant ideology of our society. If we really go into the analysis of all these, it would be a long academic essay, which I believe may only attract certain types of people. This writing is already long enough! Wind/Shadow is different from Cloud Gate's previous productions, and its form and style is unique to Cloud Gate only.

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