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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Dance Festival 2024: 13 Tongues

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan's 13 Tongues, Inage by Liu Chen-hsiang


13 Tongues. Choreographer Cheng Tsung-lung’s homage to Taipei's historic Bangka district in Taiwan, and to its 1960s street artist and storyteller, Thirteen Tongues. The number 13 likely to unsettle the overly superstitious as haunting, clanging chimes open proceedings. A repeated two note, monastery call rung out on a handbell. The stage dark and cavernous, dwarfing the eleven dancers dressed in black. Lining up before descending into a damned and demented cacophony of movement married to shrieking cries. As if the inmates in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest had decided to make some frenetic martial arts movie.

One can detect, or impose, an underlying narrative. A Divine Comedy journeying from the darkened hell of egoist insanity to the glittering heaven of communal relationship. Duets and quartets of shared movement gradually emerging from the chaos. The cohesion of the group coming to dominate even as the soloist remains. Lim Giong’s diverse score offering musical moments channeling everything from gospel to blues, electronica to tribal rhythms, providing a poetic, stanza-like structure. In which further juxtapositions play against each other. Solos next to group see the soloist never alone. Darkness against light uneasily divides the stage. Sharp, pulsing gestures against easy flowing movements. Extensions and lifts informed by graceful, wave-like motion. Vigorous waving, clapping, and laughing bringing the rhythms and sounds of the street onto the stage. And so it goes, the soloist becoming more and more subsumed as the ensemble dominates. The whole built less on repetition so much as rinse and repeat.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan's 13 Tongues, Inage by Liu Chen-hsiang

As the end nears, Wang Ethan’s projections elaborate the modicum of colour allowed onstage. Assisted by Shen Po-hung’s twilit lights and Lin Bing-hao’s wildly contrasting costumes. The simplicity of black, martial art styled uniforms giving way to a flash of colourful fluorescence. Flourishing into a carnival of neon as a giant goldfish swims past. The dancers glowing like fabulous fireflies trapped inside a lava lamp. The final, synchronised sequence a chorus line flaring like fireworks, dazzling briefly before the inevitable fizzle. The diverse many becoming a synchronised whole. The collective's colourful uniformity somehow less intriguing than their diverse, individual characters. The sum not quite as powerful as its individual parts.

13 Tongues themes of inclusion, of dissolving barriers, echo the aspirations of festival director Jazmin Chiodi. Barriers between the trained dancer and the lover of dancing. Between stage and street. The past and now. The practiced and natural merging in a series of vibrant vignettes. In which movement as powerful as gravity proves as light and graceful as smoke. The flavours of Taiwan’s hustling, bustling street life, its people and characters, richly conveyed in this heartfelt love letter. 13 Tongues' Irish premiere getting Dublin Dance Festival 2024 off to a hugely promising start. Whilst also proving 13 can be a very lucky number.

13 Tongues by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, presented by Dublin Dance Festival and Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until May 15.


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