‘13 Tongues’ is not enough to tell a story, but the vibe is glorious



There once was a storyteller named 13 Tongues, who lived in a rough neighborhood of Taipei and had an astonishing ability to bring all kinds of characters to life. I got that much from the program notes for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s production about this legendary figure titled, aptly enough, “13 Tongues.”

Then I watched the piece Thursday night at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, and learned nothing more about him. Or her. Or them. Nothing was terribly clear in “13 Tongues,” except for the extraordinary skill of the 13 dancers.

United Ukrainian Ballet makes American debut at Kennedy Center

That was almost enough. The piece, choreographed by Cloud Gate’s artistic director, Cheng Tsung-lung, and inspired by his mother’s memories of the storyteller, is only an hour long. It goes by quickly enough that you might not mind the rather faint touch of coherence. And it is full of extravagant beauty.

The atmosphere is mysterious and nocturnal, with a blackened stage like a moonless night, though at times brightly colored projections appear. At one point an enormous koi swishes across the rear wall. The dancers move through this dreamscape with such liquid ease you would think they are also swimming in water.

It is tempting to write at length about the dancers and their movement quality, which is soft and windblown. They are trained in Qi Gong, martial arts, modern dance and ballet, all layered into a unique language of wide-legged crouches, undulating spines, arms snaking overhead, wrists and fingers swirling like strange, spiny flowers. Grouped together, the company members form an impeccably precise, uniform ensemble, yet when individual dancers break away they command the stage with freewheeling, eccentric independence.

There is a great deal of anxiety in this depiction of the world of 13 Tongues. A lot of intense vocalizing: screaming, shouting, loud Taoist chanting, hysterical laughter. Are the dancers seeing ghosts, or possessed by spirits? Out of a huddled group, a woman emerges, her dress aglow with fluorescent colors. She is lifted and tossed among the others and — whoosh! — suddenly, she is gone, and they are left holding an empty frock.

Marilyn Monroe was a great dancer but ‘Blonde’ never shows that

“13 Tongues” is a wildly creative and dynamic experience, what with all the moving bodies, electronic music, more fluorescent costuming and video projections that get brighter, bolder and eventually a bit dizzying. It feels at once contemporary and retro. In fact, the dancers glowing under black light, thrashing to a crazy beat, bring to mind the Electric Circus, a storied downtown New York nightclub in the 1960s, which happens to be when 13 Tongues was weaving tales in Taipei.

The bohemian vibe of this production is electrifying, and by the end, the storyteller’s conjurings — if that is what we are watching — take on lives of their own. Or maybe it all means something else entirely. I think meaning is not the point.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan performs13 Tongues” at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater through Oct. 22. $49 to $99. (202) 467-4600 or kennedy-center.org.

Source link

Leave a Comment