You can find American culture appropriated in every corner of the globe these days. Lin Hwai-Min, the artistic director of Cloud Gate Taipei Contemporary Dance Theatre, has carried his studies at the Martha Graham School in New York back to his native Taiwan, fusing them in his choreography with Chinese opera movement and acrobatics.
In "Legacy," which was performed last night at Lisner Auditorium, Lin adopts the Graham technique in depicting the settling of Taiwan as a Chinese land. The result was not as disorienting as this mixture of cultures might at first suggest.
Graham herself used her technique to depict Greek myths. And in its scale and ambition, the epic treatment of "Legacy" does have something in common with these Graham works. While this runs counter to the American tradition of creating ever anew in modern dance, Lin has chosen a good master and he emulates her style with authority and respect for its sensibility. (Let us not forget here that the American avant-garde has been adopting traditional eastern theater techniques for a good 30 years.) The mightiness of the struggles depicted in "Legacy" does make this subject seem ripe for treatment with the Graham angst.
Like Graham, Lin also employs the cinematic technique of flashback. The piece opens with a stunning image of contemporary youths who remove their clothing to reveal peasant garb beneath. Moving in slow motion, the dancers attempt to get into the skin of their ancestors by "remembering," i.e., reliving, their labors. Also like Graham (but also like eastern theater), Lin uses spare, convertible props -- the same sheet is used as a sail, rolling waves, a rope and a shroud.
Lin has an architect's eye, a gift for grouping his dancers in compelling patterns in both horizontal and vertical space. The choreographer is at his best in creating passages of architectonic rituals in which dancers move in sequential cadences. In fact, his work seems of most interest as pure dance apart from any programmatic content.
Which is not to say that the 90-minute work was without its tedious sections. Some of the theatrical devices and vocabulary were simply too familiar to sustain interest.
The company itself is quite impressive. The dancers are strong and as masterfully skilled in the western techniques as in the eastern. Lin Keh-hua's dramatic lighting created mysterious mists and stunning walls of light as a medium for these compelling performers.
Cloud Gate's other program, "Dreamscape," receives its final performance tonight at 8.