The big show of the PuSh Festival this year was “Eternal Tides” by proclaimed choreographer Lin Lee-Chen as part of Legend Lin Dance Theatre. The hype worked as Queen Elizabeth Theatre was packed on Saturday with a bustle of anticipation for the night’s performance. We had been promised a visually spectacular piece and to this extent it delivered – the imagery produced on stage was absolutely exquisite. Lin Lee-Chen has a cinematic flare for light, atmosphere, and character creation.
The meaning of the piece was purposely enigmatic, Lin Lee-Chen preferring to not enforce interpretations on the audience, but instead inviting them to respond in their own visceral way. My translation, with no prior knowledge of Lee-Chen’s work, was that the piece seemed to be about something ephemeral and essential like the interconnection of the phases of life and nature. There seemed to be some ancient spirits of nature caught in the same cycles as their human worshippers- birth, love, war, the ebb and flow of life, the eternal cycle, the eternal tide. This was evoked through some exceptionally powerful tableaus, from the opening scene of a naked embryonic spirit transformed into a spinning wailing banshee, black hair flailing wildly, the result a potent mix of sheer power and vulnerability, to the incredibly sensual meeting of warrior and demure maiden in an entwined lovers’ tryst. I also loved what looked like a reptilian deity, all quivering headdress and rattling tendril fingers. In terms of image-making it was absolute perfection.
Lin Lee-Chen is obviously a Grande Dame of the dance world and therefore I am loath to pass critique on the piece. Critique that has perhaps more to do with my naivety than the worth of the piece itself. But here goes, at the risk of sounding incredibly prosaic, I just would have enjoyed this performance more if there had been some, well, dancing in it. Dancing as the man on the street understands it, movement variation – fast, slow, flowing, abrupt, frenetic, SOMETHING, some variation to the slow methodical hunched walking that populated practically the whole performance. This glacial pace was a bold move for a performance that was over 2 hours long with only the merest hint of explanation in the programme. The exquisite visuals coupled with the excruciatingly slow pace had the result in me of something like a mesmerised trance- alternating, in equal measure, between boredom and awe.
Dare I say it, I think the piece was a little indulgent, with disregard of the uninitiated audience member, who may not be aware of Lin Lee-Chen’s impressive back catalogue. Had it been shorter, or contained more compelling movement, or simply had the description in the programme been less enigmatic, the piece would have been so much more inclusive to a wider audience.
It is a valid point to argue: why add the spoonful of sugar to make it more palatable to a mass audience? The retort being that it’s a shame to restrict such a beautiful, spellbinding work for the appreciation of the few devout who can contextualise it. So for me, although the performance itself was for those souls blessed with a greater attention span them myself, I loved the imagery conjured up on stage. The ethereal world beating just beyond our grasp, it was like a loose veil had been peeled back on reality to reveal the pulsating essence of life underneath. I left wanting to see more of Lin Lee-Chen’s work and will specifically be seeking out the documentary “The Walkers” that will, I hope, give me a greater appreciation of her work.