The last time Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan came to the Southland, in 1998, it brought tons of rice to serve metaphorically as sand and rain. In "Moon Water" on Friday at UCLA's Royce Hall, Lin Hwai-min's troupe used water as a means of exploring contrasts between image and reality, yin and yang, and other aspects of Taoist philosophy. The results were equally pictorial and shallow.
On a bare, black floor on which the pattern of the Chinese word for "water" was drawn, Tsai Ming-yuan initiated the signature drop-crouch movement that recurred at the beginning of several of the nine sections, whether solo, duet or group.
The crouch expanded into varying outstretched shapes based on the ever-moving, circular asymmetries of tai chi and other martial arts.
Except for occasional bursts of quick movement, the tempo was almost universally slow, approximating the tortured expressivity of Japanese butoh dance theater but without its profundity. Tsai's eyes, like those of the others, looked closed, reinforcing a sense of an inner, meditative focus and the enactment of a ritual.
But a ritual of what? There was little contact between the dancers as they moved in ebb and flow patterns. One duet momentarily suggested that the relationship between man and woman might be a martial arts battle, but maybe that was just the nature of yin and yang. Those who could savor the flow of energy could find compelling interest in all this, but those of us who did not found it pretty empty.
As usual, the company danced with total dedication and exquisite control. Their movements were starkly lighted by Chang Tsan-toa, and reflected in various mirrors in Austin Wang's set. At the end, water began to flow slowly over the stage, soaking Lin Jing-ru's white silk costumes for the dancers, and revealing their bodies.
The 70-minute piece was danced to selections from Bach's Six Suites for Solo Cello as recorded for Deutsche Grammophon by Mischa Maisky. It would be hard to find a more numbing, affect-less performance.