St James Theatre 2, Wellington

27/02/2018 - 28/02/2018

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2018

Production Details

“A visual delight” – Taipei Times

Beyond Time offers a thrilling “glimpse into other dimensions” (Broadway World) with its fusion of martial arts, tai chi, contemporary dance, bold percussion and stunning visual effects. You’ll be carried off to an enthralling new universe far removed from the bustle of everyday life.

Each performance is an intense physical and spiritual journey for these artists, whose virtuosity and precision make them “consummate multitaskers: dancers who drum and drummers who dance, creating music as they move” (The New York Times).

From a dark stage, a solitary figure in white emerges, twirling to a haunting melody. Rows of dancing drummers beat a strong pattern of sound and movement. Meditative and explosive. Modern and spiritual. This remarkable work will hook you in with its powerful, hypnotic pull.

St James Theatre 
Tuesday 27 Feb & Wednesday 28 Feb 2018

Spectacle , Music , Dance ,

1hr 15mins (no interval)

A wealth of delights

Review by Tim Stevenson 28th Feb 2018

A black stage framed by black curtains; on a tall black backdrop, threads of silver light trickle downwards like falling rain. The sound of dripping water. A man with his head shaved monk-style turns and turns rhythmically on the spot, his white costume swirling as he revolves …

… And it’s welcome to the world of Beyond Time, a dance work from U-Theatre which combines live drumming and a vocabulary of movements drawing from martial arts and the sacred dances taught by spiritual leader Gurdjieff, amongst other sources. Taiwan-based U-Theatre was set up in 1988 by its artistic director Liu Ruo-yu and features master drummer and music director Huang Chih-chun.

It’s one of the delights of the New Zealand Festival that the audience gets to roam around the world, across time and through the realms of the imagination without having to venture very far from the comforts of our own homes.

Beyond Time offers one of the more adventurous trips away available through this year’s Festival. It’s a bit like visiting the centre of an esoteric mystery cult on an evening where the temple dancers and musicians are performing a cycle of important and solemn rituals.

The movements of the dancers are always precise and perfectly coordinated; sometimes abrupt and dramatic, sometimes flowing like water. We sense that every gesture and pose is full of meaning, even if we cannot discern what is being signified.

The expressions on the faces of the dancers are solemn, hierophantic, unless the ritual requires otherwise; as when they open their eyes and mouths in expressions of amazement (perfectly coordinated across the troupe) or join to mock the ritual’s hero.

The drumming provides an orchestral range of percussion, from the sounds produced by enormous drums almost as tall as the drummer, to cup-like bells that a dancer can balance on the palm of one hand.

To help us interpret what is happening on stage, we’re provided with a summary of the ritual, which has five parts: A downpour, Reflections of the moon on 1000 rivers, Wading through the air, The eclipse, The vortex, Beyond time – and a poetic guide to each. The summary reinforces our sense of the cosmic scope of proceedings; for example, this from the beginning of The Eclipse: “Resting on the shoal of stars And suddenly hear you calling, softly From the other shore of the Milky Way.”

The temple and ritual analogy might seem a bit far-fetched, but isn’t too remote from the origins of U-Theatre’s work, which comes out of meditation, concentrated communal study and more than one approach to stage performance that emphasises the spiritual dimension (Gurdjieff, Jerzy Grotowski).

This review has focussed on the sense of serious and elevated purpose that underlies Beyond Time, and the company’s own material owns this as an important aspect of the work. It should also be said that this is a piece that offers a wealth of delights for anyone with an interest in dance and live music.

The choreography is eloquent and beautiful, and the dancers perform their parts with wonderful grace and skill; the ensemble work is a model of concentration and coordination. The drumming combines power, variety and delicacy. Live performances and electronic visuals and sound are combined with a sure sense of stage spectacle. There is a clear sense of narrative progressing through search, struggle, and despair, leading to integration and peace.

The treasures I take away from the performance are a series of beautiful and striking images; dancers moving across the stage with what looks like their reflections in water projected high up on the backdrop; white clad dancers building their movements around huge gongs which they strike ceremoniously at intervals; cymbals sounding sweet and clear against the thudding of hand-held drums.

Beyond Time is enthusiastically applauded by its first-night audience, to the point that one or two of the dancers break out of their meditative calm and crack a smile.  


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