Choreographer: Lin Hwai-min
There’s an old Taiwanese proverb which states ‘Flowers in the mirror and the moon on water are both illusory’ and it comes to life in Lin Hwai-min’s Moon Water now playing on the Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage. First seen in 1998, this film recorded in Taiwan in 2008 is full of delicate illusion and comes as an oasis of calm in these strange times.
For 70 minutes dancers flow and float upon a polished stage while a mirror behind them reflects their elegant moves in shimmering light. Helping this ebb and flow, are Tai Chi movements that underpin this piece, and give it its meditative tone, meaning that the choreography feels ancient and sacred.
The dancers echo every accent of Bach’s Six Suites for the Solo Cello played by Mischa Maisky, gracefully stretching on the long notes and clenching their torsos as the music changes direction, trying to find its way out. The camera captures every flourish and floating gesture, and sometimes it is so close that you can see the sweat on their bodies and the muscles working in their abdomens.
Configurations change as dancers perform in pairs, or threes, but they look best when they perform together, moving as one entity. The precision even extends to the way the dancers walk off stage, the front of the foot moves first before the back of the foot joins, like a pulse. Male and female dancers take on the same steps, ensuring that for most of the performance gender is unimportant.
Occasionally the music, especially as the cello hits its lowest points, seems at odds with the contemplative feel of the dance. At times Bach is cold and melancholic, and it lends a sadness to the stage and the intimacy is lost, especially watching through a computer screen.
Towards the end, water seeps onto the stage and the dancers kick and slide in the silvery lake, their loose white trousers soaking up the liquid. For long moments they remain prone on the floor, the music now paused, and it’s in these quiet seconds, with only the water trickling, that the calm is the most pure.
Beautiful and hypnotic, Moon Water is also a little soporific, and its peacefulness might make one restless for more dynamism or variation, either in the choreography or the music. Without action, noise and event, Moon Water’s serenity goes unchallenged.
Runs until here 22 May 2020