Rice was first domesticated as an agricultural staple around 5000 B.C. in the Yangtze River valley in China and it was eaten in its natural, wild form long before that. Considering this fact, it is understandable why the artist Lin Hwai-min would choose to pay homage to this life sustaining food source with his visually stunning work Rice which was presented on the Glorya Kaufman Dance Series at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Mr. Lin is the founder of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan and his choreography is revered throughout the world. Understandably, many place him in the same category as George Balanchine, William Forsythe, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and other renowned dance artists who have brought innovative ideas to breathe new life into the art form over the past century.
Rice follows the entire cycle of rice growing from the planting of seedlings in flooded farmlands to the burning of fields after the harvest. Each sections of this evening long work relate to the process and the elements that support its growth. They are Soil, Wind, Pollen I, Pollen II, Sunlight, Grain, Fire and Water. The cast of Rice consists of twenty-two beautiful dancers who execute Mr. Lin’s choreography with incredible control, precision, breath and passion. Simply watching them move is enough to make the evening a totally fulfilling experience.
The dancers perform in front of a breathtaking video landscape by Videographer Chang Hao-Jan (Howell) that leads us through the entire growth cycle of rice. According to the program, Chang spent two years filming rice fields in the East Rift Valley of Taiwan to capture “the cultivation of rice: flooding, sprouting, harvesting and burning of the field.” This is the living backdrop for Mr. Lin’s choreography. Throughout the performance we hear Hakka traditional folk songs, drum music by Liang Chun-mei, and music by composers Ishii Maki, along with music by Western composers Vincenzo Bellini, Camille Saint-Saëns and Gustav Mahler.
The floor’s surface is made use of by Set Designer Lin Keh-hua. We see a brown/black floor become water lanes and then a flooded field. Several sections of the flooring are removed and later entirely rolled up by female dancers to expose a totally white surface. The projection helps give us the sensation of water rushing in to flood the stage on which dancers represent the death of the harvested rice plants. Simple, but elegant costumes in lovely muted hues by Ann Yu Chien, Li-Ting Huang and the Department of Fashion Design from Shih Chien University enhance the production and allow us to fully see the brilliant execution of the movement. All this is then aided by wonderful lighting by Lulu W.L. Lee that evokes the architecture of the landscape, and the energy and emotions of the choreography.
The dancers represent all aspects and elements in the growth of rice. We see the planting and sense energy the backbreaking work of the farmers. They make us feel the wind and there is an astonishingly sensual, almost erotic duet performed by Haung Pei-hua and Tsai Ming-yuan to visualize the process of pollination. We see male dancers perform with long, flexible bamboo poles that at times emulate wind rushing through rice fields. Later these same poles are used as weapons or martial arts instruments of battle, and next to support partners in a series of male/female duets. In the last section Water, the poles are used by women to represent the death of the rice plants.
In Rice we see Mr. Lin’s vision of birth, toil, sex, fire, death and the promise of regeneration. It is magical, but definitely rooted in reality. As in life, the energy of Rice is steady, repetitive in the sense of growth through experience, sometimes explosive, but definitely ever changing.