Asked about his first impressions of Cleveland, Taiwanese dancer/choreographer Meng Cheng Lee offers a surprising response. “Here, it is so big and so calm. My country is small but very busy. The cars, the people, the movement – here, it is different.”
If it is a sense of calm that Lee has found during his six-week residency with Verb Ballets dance company, the Cleveland-based dancers could say they have found the same quality in their short-term dance mentor, who is widely considered one of Taiwan’s most celebrated modern dance artists. Lee’s philosophical approach to dance and instruction is as much about personal transcendence as it is about movement.
“If you look at a Chinese painting,” explains Meng, “the painters, they save a lot of space. The Western painting fills the whole canvas. But the space is the essence from where we project things. So the dance is the space in the painting, and from that we get in touch with our inner self, our spirit, our soul.”
It is this transcendental approach to modern dance that audiences will witness during the company’s dance recital, titled The Arrival of Departure, which will be performed at Breen Center for the Performing Arts.
The Arrival of Departure draws its inspiration from a recurring fictional character in Lee’s choreography named “Mr. Rabbit.” The character, developed by Lee, is best described as a symbolic projection of the primal nature of humankind. Mr. Rabbit is more than an animal, but not quite a person.
“[Mr. Rabbit] is literally about transformation from the primal animal to the higher intelligence,” Lee says. “The rabbit is the primal, animal nature of the man, but he is trying to reach a human level and transform into something more.”
This transformation is depicted through the movements of the Verb Ballets company, who imitate the rabbit by crawling on the dance floor, using all four of their limbs with quick but intricate movements. The dancers ultimately transform from their imitative four-legged floor work into dance movements that allow them to stand. In this respect, Lee’s work allows the audience to consider deeper questions about the nature of what it means to be human.
“You may see the dancer in the desert looking for a mirage or an illusion of some kind,” Lee says. “But is he looking for the beginning or is he looking for the end?”
World Premier of a major work by Lee Ming-Cheng with Verb Ballets: 8 pm May 7 at the Breen Center, 2008 W. 30th Street, Cleveland