Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received complimentary admission to write an open and honest dance show review of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s production of 13 Tongues and Dust.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan is no stranger to Sadler’s Wells in London. The theatre has presented many evening-length works by the company’s founder, Lin Hwai-Min, during the 42 years he led the company – including Formosa and Songs of the Wanderers. However, their 2020 show features two pieces, split by an intermission. The audience is treated to 13 Tongues, by new Artistic Director Cheng Tsung-Lung, and the latest work by Lin Hwai-Min, entitled Dust.

We also cover one of their most famous productions: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Moon Water.

The dancers’ costumes glow in Cheng Tsung-Lung’s ’13 Tongues’
Photo credit: Lee Chia-Yeh

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

Although Lin Hwai-Min is synonymous with the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, as he steps away from the position of Artistic Director, it’s time to inspect the qualities that are imbued within the modern dance company. Louise Levene of the Financial Times sums it up well: “Cloud Gate’s multi-disciplinary training in Qigong, martial arts, ballet and contemporary dance makes them unusually strong and versatile.” This training and the careful, artistic use of production elements – such as props, lighting and projections – are what make Cloud Gate Dance Theatre so memorable.

“Cloud Gate’s multi-disciplinary training in Qigong, martial arts, ballet and contemporary dance makes them unusually strong and versatile.”

– Louise Levene, Financial Times
Cloud Gate dancers sit and link arms in Lin-Hwai Min’s ‘Dust’
Photo credit: Liu Chen-Hsiang

13 Tongues & Dust Review

13 Tongues: Cheng Tsung-Lung (2020)

Bell chimes announce the beginning of Cheng Tsung-Lung’s 13 Tongues. An 11-strong cast in black garments seem to practise fighting invisible foes, accompanied by their own shouts, yips and a few cries of ‘ai-ya’ (the Chinese equivalent of ‘ay, caray’ in Spanish). Although united in the cacophony, the performers remain individually focused.

Then bright colours splash on the background screen, ushering in a looser style of movement. The group assembles and claps their hands in unison, singing folk songs, perhaps in the Hakka dialect? Soloists emerge and seamlessly fall back into the fold.

During some segments, the singing rhythmically emphasises certain syllables; and the music almost seems to come from the Indian subcontinent. Its reminiscent of the complex chants that accompany traditional Indian dance, like Bharatanatyam.

A dancer high kicks in ’13 Tongues’
Photo credit: Lee Chia-Yeh

At one point, a woman in a patterned neon tunic emerges, spectacularly lit with black lights. The others raise this story teller and bend forward, allowing her to walk over their backs. Her movements affect the entire group, radiating outward – until she cleverly clamours upwards in the mob and ‘disappears’. With no owner, a comical fight for the neon garment ensues.

13 Tongues isn’t all cheery, though. Even as each performer assumes a fluorescent costume, fanatical laughter and screams puncture the piece. Individuals emerge in passionate outbursts, silently narrating a personal vignette, as the feverish corps continues their relentless chorus of step-taps.

A techno beat enters and the projections images melt downward, giving the illusion the dancers are rising. The frenzy boils over and a calm emerges… replaced with shouts, yips and exclamations of ai-ya’.

In ’13 Tongues’, a giant koi fish swims up-screen behind a group of dancers
Photo credit: Liu Chen-Hsiang

Dust: Lin Hwai-Min (2020)

Lin Hwai-Min’s touching piece is based on the destruction of Dresden and has been billed as ‘his own requiem for this century’; but when you watch, your heart will still swell and rise in your throat, hoping that the disheveled performers will somehow reach a safe haven.

The premise is simple. The dancers painstakingly stagger towards the light on the other side of the stage. But when standing already appears a momentous effort, how do they persist? They slump forward; they nudge one another; they pull each other along, every inch a shallow, short-lived victory…

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre performs Lin Hwai-Min’s ‘Dust’
Photo credit: Liu Chen-Hsiang

Their seemingly fragile bodies are buffeted backwards, fog illustrating the winds blowing against them. They assemble on the brink, their weight leaning forward; but are forced into an undulation that sweeps them back, like a wave. Individuals take a stand, shaking as if being exorcised, and collapsing to the ground.

The performers assemble again, sitting with arms linked in ultra slow motion floorwork session. Essentially, they lean backwards together and back up, but the visual effects in the rows are stunning. Then single dancers pop up and are sent caterwauling over the group, which divides. Some start for the other direction, where they came from, but that avenue is lost, too.

Although the dancers remain stuck in hell, the haunted audience is freed as the curtain comes down. Dust exemplifies dance theatre at its best.

Star Rating:

These two distinct pieces highlight the skills of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre performers. The energetic 13 Tongues piece showcases the dancers’ incredible physical facilities, which – to the untrained eye – take a back seat in Dust, where emotion reigns. Lin Hwai-Min’s Dust is a mini masterpiece. As the show draws to a close, the audience can sigh in relief, assured that the beloved Taiwanese dance company rests in good hands.

If You Go to 13 Tongues & Dust

Dates: 26 – 29 February, 2020 at 7:30pm

Running time: 1 hr 50 mins (including one 20-minute interval)

Price: £15 – £50

Theatre: Sadler’s Wells

Address: Rosebery Ave, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 4TN

Nearest tube/ train station(s): Angel, but walkable from Barbican and Farringdon

Ticket office phone number: +44 2078 638000

Please see the Sadler’s Wells What’s On page for more information.

All information accurate up-to-date at time of posting.


Have you seen Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan perform? If so, what were some of your favorite shows? We particularly enjoyed Rice (2013) and Songs of the Wanderers (1994) in person, as well as Moon Water (1998) on DVD. Tell us about the shows you’ve seen in the comments section below!

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