First Night: Moon Water, Sadler's Wells, London

Sinuous, serene moves that leave the drive to Bach
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The Independent Culture

Towards the end of Moon Water, by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, water starts to seep across the stage. Drips join and spread, forming a shallow pool that covers the whole floor. As the dance continues, you can hear the drip of the water system, the splash of the dancers' movements, the rubbery noise of bare feet on a hard, wet stage.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, which started its British tour with this Sadler's Wells performance, was the first contemporary dance troupe to come from a Chinese-speaking community. Founded in 1973 by the choreographer Lin Hwai-min, it mixes styles and training: Tai Chi, martial arts, Chinese opera and calligraphy, alongside Western ballet and contemporary dance.

Tai Chi is the most obvious element of Hwai-min's vocabulary in Moon Water. Such soft, sustained phrases need considerable muscular strength. Dancers rise from their knees without a jerk or a sharp angle, drifting limbs never show strain. In most Western styles, feet are pointed or flexed. The Cloud Gate dancers hold their feet softly, turned slightly in, big toes flexed upwards. Legs neither thrust nor flop, but do something between the two.

Moon Water is set to music from Bach's cello suites, played on tape. It's a curious match: sound and movement are both serene, but the Bach has momentum, a drive and an architecture that the dance lacks. Even corps moves are pointedly unhurried. The entire company inches across the stage, taking whole minutes to make an exit. Even the water is a long time coming.

Dancers appear at the edges of the stage, waiting in shadow until it's their turn to dance. After Tsai Ming-yuan dances the opening solo, Huang Pei-hua walks on stage to face him. At first, her movements mirror his, before drifting in new directions.

In Austin Wang's set, white circles are painted on a black floor, looking like ripples or salt stains. The patterns are probably clearer from the seats upstairs, but could you see the overhead mirrors from there? The mirrors aren't glass, but rippled plastic, giving a soft, blurred reflection. By the time the water floods in, the stage has several layers of reflection. Chang Tsan-tao's lighting design highlights the glinting mirrors, the ripples and falling drops of water.

Moon Water doesn't have a huge amount of variety, making this a slow 70 minutes. In one sequence, the whole company sinks to the wet floor.

When a dancer turns or half-rises, the movement sends a spray of water over anyone close by. Nobody flinches from the sudden shower, no one looks round or looks fed up. This isn't a work that has room for quick or individual reaction: everything is smoothed into meditative calm.

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