Cloud Gate’s ‘Songs of the Wanderers’ dazes Penangites

It’s not always true that quieteness or tranquility bring peace, calm or contentment. Sometimes, disorder or chaos, can bring about a certain calmness, determination and progress.

When I set through “Songs of the Wanderers” by renowned Taiwanese Cloud Gate Theater group at the Dewan Sri Penang on Friday, I felt like I was approaching a slow, endless death.

I felt as if I was in limbo, as I lost sense of time, or feeling, and have come face to face with only emptiness, nothingness, a blank.

It wasn’t a scarry feeling, but one that could have almost led me to the land of dreams as such scenes went on for more than half of the show.

Scenes of several dancers, performing as wandering souls, garbed in plain cloths crawling snail paced across the desert-like stage, carrying leafless branchs or twigs, were too draggy for me, too aimless to the point of torment.

In this barren landscape, iluminated by glistening saffron rice scattered across the stage, time strecthes for eternities. Nothing here changes. There is no night and day.

I started fidgetting on my seat, and wondered when this scene would progress to a faster, lighter pace but it was not until after three quarters of the show that the tempo picked up to a more delightful note.

But I was thankful that in the midst of these souls searching, three scenes appear to provoke the audience’s curiosity and one begins to sit up, to question.

On the left of the stage is a statue-like monk standing under a shower of rice. His palms are clasped in meditation and he does not move an inch throughout the 90-minute show. What a feat!

Towards the end of the show, the wanderers begin to break into spasms, they shudder and collapse as if hit by lighting. Then they wake again, and begin their slow and graceful walk.

But there is another monk, who undisturbed by all the commotion, slowly ploughs the grain covered stage throughout the dance. He continues to plough, unstoppable like time.

We only come to see the end result of his action after witnessing the ‘wanderers’ abruptly leap, dance and bathe in a cascade of pouring rice. They twirl and swirl, kicking up waves of padi.

They leave the stage and re-enter it with bowls of fire, where a dancer finally sits and meditates in front of the dancing flame.

When this happened, I finally felt a sense of release as if the wheel of time is finally turning, moving, changing, living. That I had finally been able to exit a very tense situation.

From where I was I could only imagine that one finds contentment, peace, joy and happiness when the soul finally finds its eternal resting place.

It was then understandable why most of the 1,000 odd crowd who turned up at the show, gave the dancers a standing ovation.

But then, it was not over yet, although the dancers gathered in front to give their celebrity’s bow.

It was only over when the ploughing monk eventually completes his task, a big round spiral which evokes the passage of time or the journey of the mind.

Symbolically, the spiral denotes the growth of one’s consciousness from the inner to the outer self.

During the performance, melodic, meditative hymms accompany the wanderers throughout their quest.

The music, which are folk songs of ploughing activities – not spiritual hymms- are from Georgia, sung by the Rustavi choir.

Produced by Lim Hwai Min, the 64 year old founder and artistic director of the dance company, the performance is based on Buddhist asceticism.

He uses an astounding 3,500kg of brown rice, recycled with every performance, to create scenes of mountains, plains and rivers on the stage.

Inspired by his journey to Bodhgaya, India and the novel Siddharta by Hermann Hesse, Lim chereographed the dance in 1994, which has been performed for 180 times in major cities around the world.

The Penang stint marks the inaugural performance of the company in Malaysia, made possible by the Penang government, in conjunction with the first year anniversary of the twin city status of Taipei and Georgetown on Feb 10.

It will be showing in KL’s Istana Budaya on feb 16 and 17, 8.30pm. Tickets ranged from RM68 – RM368.

Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Malaysia representative Lo Yu-chung and Taipei Investors Association in Malaysia (Penang) chairperson Hsu Cheng Te was present at the event.

During his cocktail speech, Deputy Chief Minister Mansor Othman said that “at times, culture can actually build bridges where foreign policies cannot and culture can re-establish trust and understanding”.

“And where, or if, there are barriers between nations caused by differences in language, political views or religion, communicating through art can be a way of revealing what we all have in common”.