January 22nd, “Rice”

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

I got a slow start this year.

2016 started with words about dance.  I attended two discussions as a part of the Fresh Festival (“Phenomenology & Feminisms, or Ladies Night with Fauxnique Monique Jenkinson” and “Dance Discourse Project #21: Dreaming the Future Landscape”).  I’m not sure what I expected out of these events.  I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to “do” as an audience member/participant, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to take home with me.  Maybe I chose the wrong talks (unfortunately, I didn’t have much choice in my schedule).  Maybe the they needed better facilitators.  Maybe I needed to participate more.

Now, for the dancing – Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. I bought this ticket last Fall, and it was a little weird to have this on my calendar for so long.  I am usually not thinking that far in advance.

CalPerformance program.

If I could only choose one word to describe “Rice,” it would be “satisfying.” Beautiful dancing, rhythm, video, light, sound – all of it was satisfying.

As I learned from the program notes, the choreographer, Lin Hwai-min, took his dancers to join farmers harvesting rice in the field.  It tells “the story of the land while contemplating the devastation of Earth.”  I don’t know how, but this showed up in the dance. I could sense it.  Perhaps what I found so satisfying had something to with how these dancers embodied soil, wind, pollen, sunlight, grain, fire, and water via the experiences of death and rebirth, devastation and resurrection.  The program notes also suggest that the dance “enacts a human drama parallel to the life cycle of rice.”  But is this all?  As I pressed start on my rice cooker today, I began to reflect back on the performance as something more than just a satisfying experience.  What might it mean to be watching laboring dancers embodying the human and non-human labor of rice production?  Is this aspect of labor eclipsed by the beauty of moving bodies and images?  If so, why?

It’s often so easy to sit in the audience and be satisfied with the beauty of a dance.  But dance doesn’t only exist in the theater or in program notes.  Dances connect to experiences, identities, communities, ideologies, questions, and more.  They ask us to think differently, consider alternative worlds, explore new concepts, and imagine other ways of being.  Yet, the theater can isolate the experience of watching and even detach us from those connections.  Yes, watching “Rice” was satisfying, but its labor gives me pause and in that pause I am confronted by multiple kinds labor and laboring that are visible as well as invisible.