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Tai-Gu Tales: The Life of Mandala

Presented by Taipei Cultural Center in association with The Joyce Theater Foundation, Inc. at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC, Feb. 5-9.

"Searching for the Essence of Life and Transcending Suffering in Images of the Human Body" was the heading on the playbill that led into the performance of "Tai-Gu Tales" at the Joyce. That is a large gulp of written material for a choreographer to tackle in 90 minutes, but by putting the cumbersome words aside, and allowing the mind to absorb the loveliness of the structure of the dance as it unfolded, one could grasp the meaning as well.

The atmosphere was set within minutes of the first look at the mysterious and beautiful movement performed by the dancers dressed in the carefully designed costumes of Tim-Kam Yip. There were the rich musical score composed by Chieh-Yun Shih, the dark, brooding lighting effects by Keh-Hua Lin, and the remarkable Chun-Kang Peng as the central figure, on stage for the entire piece. He created a spell of fascinating proportions with slow, sustained muscular control maintained at a pace of excruciating effort that required an exacting expenditure of energy and focus.

In a broad diagonal of light, Hsiu-Wei Lin was crouched, covered with her mane of black hair. She is the artistic director and leading female dancer, and though she, too, danced throughout the piece, it was Peng whose strong presence kept the attention riveted. There were passages of staccato movement, as the dancers seemed to be reacting to fear, juxtaposed with long, lingering slow motion as they silently padded about the stage in defined circular paths. Erotic couplings, battling between the men, the dancers crawling like animals—all of it was impeccably done with taste and dignity and a certain elegance that kept the less understandable parts palatable.

" 'Mandala' is defined as 'the true word,' 'the essence,' 'real meaning,' and 'sanctuary,' " the program explanation read. Truthfully, where one met the other, I can't be sure. But the whole visual—the mystical beauty of the lean, aesthetic figures moving with one another—created a solemn, peaceful aura. And when all else seemed a puzzlement, Peng's remarkable performance kept it going—and going well.

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