Eternal Tides conjures a strange and entrancing world of dreamlike imagery

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      A Legend Lin Dance Theatre production. Presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, with TAIWANfest. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Saturday, February 3. No remaining performances

      Whether or not you lost yourself in The Eternal Tides’ looping, meditative trance on Saturday night probably reflected how much you had on your mind, or what you had to do in the morning.

      That’s because Taiwan’s Legend Lin Dance Theatre asked you to let go of all your earthly concerns and submit to the striking, often slow-moving parade of painterly images that played across the vast Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage. But for western audiences accustomed to rushing around and processing information at the speed of 5 GHz, settling into The Eternal Tides’ Zen-like mood wasn’t easy. Still, for those who succeeded, the rewards were profound and the visuals were spellbinding.

      Iconic Taiwanese choreographer Lin Lee-Chen made her message of “Hurry up and slow down” clear from the outset, candles burning on an artful shrine at the front of the stage, two traditional percussionists arriving to sit, lotus-style, at giant dagu drums, their opening beats seeming to summon the show’s strange spirits.

      And what a fury they conjured: as filmy white silk panels rose from the stark stage, they revealed a near-naked, powdered figure. She began whirling on the stage for a seeming eternity, her knee-length black hair flying around like she was a human tornado. Like so much of the piece, it was an almost impossible physical feat, repeating to the point of impossibility. And finally, when we lost ourselves in its spell, she let out a scream piercing enough to reach the boarders on top of Grouse Mountain.

      The rest of the intermissionless, 140-minute show was a flow of similar dreamlike tableaux. Skirted figures appeared slowly from the sides of the stage, emerging with candles, skeletal trees, and tall, featherlike grass. Bare-chested men in red bandannas fought, drummed, and shook bells. Apparitions materialized from the back of the stage to move toward us: in one of the show’s eeriest moments, a woman in a giant, birdlike pleated silk headdress simply shook her long nails like rattles in another unearthly endurance test.

      The dancers were honed, committed, and disciplined in the extreme. Rows of them crept, bent over, in perfectly synced slow motion, hands outstretched with candles. At another point, a man and woman paired sensually at centre stage, oh-so-slowly wrapping themselves around each other.

      The props were elemental: stones, fire, smoke, grass, and steam. The giant grasses moulted around the stage, creating an ephemeral dust that the dancers kicked up when they moved. Lin has said the piece is about the eternal cycles of life, and the endless flow of water. She is saluting both nature and the ancient rituals of Taiwan’s Indigenous peoples here, but in interviews, she also dissuades viewers from trying to find anything too literal in her work.

      No doubt: some audience members were immune to The Eternal Tides’ spell, unable to let go of their to-do list or simply too attention-deficited to dial in, with a few leaving the discomfort of their seats before the show was over. But it spoke volumes that the majority who stayed provided an extended standing ovation for the curtain calls. Though the exact nature of the strange ceremony we had just been a part of remained a mystery, it worked its heady, hypnotic power anyway.

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