I have never seen anything like this.
The stage is hung with long white translucent panels. Just in front of the stage, a candle burns on a sort of shrine. On each side of the stage is a large drum, and on one side is also a gong. The musicians enter first, each carrying a candle, each taking excruciatingly slow steps towards their respective drums. Eventually, they sit. The gong is struck, slowly, rhythmically. A seated figure becomes apparent at the back of the stage, swathed in white, face mostly hidden. Eventually we realize the vocalizing is emanating from her—long held notes, transmitting something primal, perhaps life itself. All of this unfolds slowly, over an indeterminate period of time. Gradually—so gradually!—the white panels begin to rise, a few at a time. We become aware that every movement, every sound, gains immense significance when slowed down to such an infinitesimal pace. Our senses are heightened. We become keenly aware.
The panels finish rising. We are shocked to see a body on the stage, lying on her side, naked but for a thong, skin white as bone. The gong strokes continue, at some point turning to barely audible drum strokes which, over the course of a half hour or so, gradually—so gradually!—become loud. The voice continues, seeming to breathe life into the body. Embedded in this life is the most profound sorrow. The body begins to stir. Ever-so-slowly she starts to tremble and move, gradually outlining circles with her head, her neck, her whole body, as she slowly, gradually, comes to her knees and finally her feet. For the next half hour or so, she turns her body in circles, long black hair (like, 4 or 5 feet long) flying around her alabaster body. Over and over and over she turns, sometimes getting back down on the ground and back up again. The turning is almost violent, as if it is somehow being inflicted upon her, perhaps by the voice and the drums. It is utterly mesmerizing, but also more than a little disturbing. Finally, just when we are beginning to wonder if the twirling will ever end, she erupts in primal screams of bone-chilling profundity, and collapses, writhing on the ground. Immediately two other dancers cover her with white cloth.
So begins the Taiwanese Legend Lin’s Dance Theatre’s Eternal Tides. And it continues for two hours, without an intermission, moving almost constantly at the pace of the sun, or the moon, or the seasons: incrementally, and almost unbearably beautifully. But there is not an instant of boredom, there is no need for an intermission, and just like the sun, or the moon, or the seasons, before you know it, it’s passed, like one long, slow blink of the eyes. Like life—so full, so long, but just a single heartbeat in the larger scheme of things.
The choreography is founded in Eastern traditions, based on stability, tranquility, relaxation, calm, progress, and power. There is none of the frenzy of Western modern dance. Each step is slow and deliberate, bringing to mind the slow-motion forms of Tai Chi. Each scene is like a slow-moving tableau: you feel as if you’re staring at a beautiful painting for an extended period of time, and it just happens to be moving, very slowly. Although it’s hard to determine a story, there are definite intimations of love, violence, power, death, ritual, eternal life cycles presented in what feels like a small moment of eternity. And although most of the movement is slow, it is nevertheless impressive. This is a virtuosity of stasis, of stillness, and it has its own kind of power and beauty that is difficult to describe but profoundly moving.
The final tableau is perhaps the most beautiful. It follows a slow-motion scene of tribal warfare. A single female dancer slowly pulls a long piece of white material from the back of the stage to the front, arms stretched to each side, white, contrasting with her loose black pants, each step significant, deliberate. Meanwhile, two women emerge from each side of the stage with stick brooms, each step slow, deliberate. Two more women emerge with bells on their fingers, adding to the ritualistic ambience. Slowly, the women seemingly re-consecrate the ground that has just seen violence and death. Words just cannot do it justice: it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and must be experienced to be understood.
So do yourself a favour and go, but without expectation, without presupposition. As the founder and choreographer Lin Lee-Chen advises, abandon yourself, follow the journey, be open-minded, and you will find yourself.
Danse Danse presents Legend Lin Dance’s Eternal Tides from January 24-28 at Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts, 8pm. Tickets $76-84 here.