When Rice first previewed it was danced on a makeshift stage constructed over the vast expense of a paddy field. Its first audiences were ordinary folks and the piece, both a homage to them and the land they toil, tells a story of nature’s most elemental forces. Exploring the rites and rituals of life (birth, harvest, death) with simple dignity, it celebrates the human spirit without unctuous sanctimony. There is throughout Rice a reminder too of the protean destructive power of nature (and men).

The dancers move against a projected landscape that is sometimes benign, though often hostile, and always capricious; always in constant metamorphosis. They are joined by music from both eastern and western traditions, most expressedly Hakka. The Hakka language is ostensibly an ‘outsider dialect’ one that originated from the earliest immigrant. Yet, ironically, it is also Hakka that recalls the structural origins of old ancient mandarin and is thus, perhaps, the most fitted vernacular to express the piece’s themes of alienation and reconciliation, reunion and separation. In Rice, most of the dancing occurs through the music. Here, the dancer’s bodies are instruments in themselves and they create their own relentless rhythm either through the imposition of silence or the labor of their breathing.

Individually, dancers showed us a choreography able (while still evolving around essential vocabulary) to convey various shades of intent: whether the light almost teasing playfulness of ‘sunlight’ or ‘fire’s’ intense fury. Collectively though, the dancers lack the purposefulness, and the interpretation the focus seen in Lin Hwai Min’s best works. While the dancers deployed that molten lyrical quality of movement born out of the combined rigors of tai chi and ballet training with poignant calm, the protracted sequences of anguish or frenzy felt oddly hollow.

Still, there is much to be appreciated. In Pollen II, one of the piece’s most startling image, two bodies explore each other in a mimesis of pollination. Danced with surreal tenderness, the duet is sensuous without being sexual, an almost platonic curiosity that is infused with beauty. But where there is life there is also death; where there is creation, there is destruction. The frenzied thrust of the bamboo pole against the forest floor to resemble the whiplash crackle of hissing fire serves as a reminder of that binary truth. Later there is in the heroism of the women a life-affirming message of resilience and courage.

Rice, whatever its flaws, is living proof that in times of discord, it is even most important that we affirm our common humanity, which can be done through the universal idiom of dance.