ONE OF THE most important pieces of news in the dance world last year was Lin Hwai-min’s announcement that he’ll step down as artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, which he founded in 1973, by the end of 2019. Because Master Lin, as most of us call him, is a living legend of contemporary Asian performing arts, the news was so major that I received more than 10 text messages and emails from dance colleagues worldwide commenting on this.
Setting the record straight during a post-show discussion after a performance of his latest work “Formosa”, Master Lin stressed that he’s not retiring completely from the dance world and that he’d be happy to come back [as a guest choreographer] if the new artistic director Cheng Tsung-lung asked him to. Sensing that this was indeed a piece of good news, the audience in the National Theatre came together as one for a round of thunderous applause.
Chinese characters move along with the dancers in “Formosa”. Photo/Liu Chenhsiang
If there’s such a term as a text-heavy dance performance, then “Formosa”– the word for “beautiful” that 16th-century Portuguese sailors gave to this island – would certainly fit this category. Master Lin was not only inspired by many poems about Taiwan for this production but also had poet Chiang Hsun, whose “The Song of the Rift Valley” was also heard, recite them throughout the performance as part of the soundscape along with a richly selected score by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, Frenchman Gerard Grisey, Cloud Gate’s music director Liang Chun-mei and Sangpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw from an indigenous tribe. Various typefaces of Chinese characters were deftly made into visual projections and these were moved along, and against, the dancers by scenographer and digital artist Chou Tung-yen and Very Mainstream Studio.
For foreign eyes and ears like mine, these, thanks to their keen juxtaposition, became respectively music and moving images that efficiently accompanied the dancers’ movements which, notwithstanding other dominant production elements, remained downstage centre. In the end, despite its potential to become to become busy both aurally and visually, Master Lin made sure that it was instead lyrical and political and could be enjoyed by audiences around the world.
Master Lin, unlike many of his colleagues from his generation, chose to work with much younger artists in various fields with whom he had never collaborated, among them fashion designer Apu Jan whose costumes balanced design with practicality and comfort. Cloud Gate’s young dancers blended in with their veterans on stage and during the post-show talk, many young audience members asked him questions and shared their thoughts. This proves without a doubt that Cloud Gate will continue to progress with or without the artistic directorship of its founder.
My personal history with Cloud Gate dates back to an intercultural performance conference at UCLA in 1997 when I first learned of its works. A year later I met Master Lin in person at another conference in Manila; and again after watching his “Songs of the Wanderers” at Biennale de la danse a Lyon, which remains my favourite Cloud Gate work. I have watched many of his subsequent works in Taipei and Singapore and my most memorable experience was when I was invited to moderate a talk by Master Lin and our Pichet Klunchun, co-organised by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Thailand (TECOT) and Chulalongkorn University’s Master of Arts programme in cultural management (MACM) back in 2009. This coincided with Cloud Gate’s Thailand debut with “Moon Water” at Bangkok’s 11th International Festival of Dance and Music. The insight and inspiration Pichet has continued to receive from his Taiwanese mentor over the years partly explains what Pichet Klunchun Dance Company is doing now.
With the recent establishment of the cultural division of |TECOT, it’s about time that |Cloud Gate returned to our Bangkok’s International Festival of Dance and Theatre.
The writer wishes to thank the National Performing Arts Centre—National Theatre and Concert Hall’s (NPAC-NTCH) |Tsou Feng-chih for the kind assistance.
Cloud Gate will perform its previous work “Rice” in Mexico City next week. “Formosa” then goes on a US tour, with Chicago and Seattle among the stops, from February 25 to March 24, followed by a European tour featuring performances at Sadler’s Wells in London and Theatre de la Ville in Paris, from April to June. Find out more at www.CloudGate.org.tw.
NPAC-NTCH’s “Taiwan International Festival of Arts” (TIFA), with dance, music and theatre programmes from around the world, runs from February 23 to April 4. Check out www.TIFA.NPAC-NTCH.org or book tickets at www.ArtsTicket.com.tw.