Cloud Gate Dance Theatre's highly polished Rice is a performance to sit back and absorb.
Epic in scale and sculptural in style, it follows the agricultural cycle of rice production in the fields of Taiwan's Chih Sheng valley. In sections evocatively named Soil, Wind, Sunlight, Pollen, Grain, Fire and Water, it parallels the cycles of life for people, the rice fields, and the life-giving grain.
A hybrid, abstract movement vocabulary drawn from rice field labouring, Hakka cultural forms, Chinese martial arts and Western modern dance has been developed for this work by choreographer Lin Hwai-Min.Angular and it is at times almost calligraphic.
In simple jewel-coloured dresses, jeans and T-shirts, the company's 22 dancers are farmers whose lives are ruled by the demands of rice production, and their dancing shares with us aspects of their lives throughout the farming year, and the different stages of rice development.
Behind the dancers, projected across the back wall, and at times across the stage floor, is gorgeous film shot in the fields of Chih Sheng by Howell Hao-jan Chang. Ranging from panoramic vistas to a single pollen-laden flower head, the film vividly communicates the stages of rice development, from tender green shoots peeking through flooded fields, to lush green fields flowing with the wind, and from heavy heads of plump, golden grain to burned-off stubble and ashy detritus which will enrich the next crop.
The accompanying score brings the sounds of wind and weather, traditional Hakka folk songs from the rice fields, drumming sequences which drive the work along and intensify the mood, and Western operatic music which feels strangely out of place. Long bamboo poles are wielded mostly by the men - swung, spun, vibrated, tapped, and, most dramatically, struck vigorously and percussively against the floor to symbolise the climactic threshing of rice and the destructive forces of fire.
Who: RICE by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
Where: ASB Theatre, 10-12 March at 8pm, Auckland Arts Festival 2017