Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

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Lin Hwai-min (Artistic Director)
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Article

The cream of the cream

Founded in 1973 by Lin Hwai-min in Taipei on Taiwan, the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan was the first modern dance company in Asia and is now thought to be one of the best in the world. Its director, Lin Hwai-min, the most acclaimed and award-winning Asian choreographer, puts Asian myths and aesthetics into a modern and universal perspective. Since the late 70s, Lin Hwai-min has toured with the company dozens of times all round the world and has received several national and international prizes, including in 1997 the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and “Asia’s Hero” by Time magazine in 2005.
The long list of quotes on the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s homepage ranges from superlatives like “The best of the best” (The Sidney Morning Herald) and “Asia´s leading contemporary dance theatre” (The Times) to ´"he audience was moved to tears and celebrated the company with thrilled ovations" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). Reviewers begin their articles with eulogies like "this was the most beautiful and impressive performance I have ever seen". All agree that the Taiwanese company directed by Lin Hwai-min has created a unique fusion of Eastern and Western notions of dance and drama, and that Cloud Gate´s breath-taking technical finesse is more than equal to that of dance companies in the West.

Who could have foreseen this achievement, as Lin Hwai-min, the son of a Taiwan minister, set out on the literary career ordained for him by writing a best-seller but then borrowed money from friends to found a dance-company? He had learnt dance and choreography in the USA, on having been awarded a grant to study literature there at university. He had studied at the university´s dance studio before moving to New York to Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham’s dance schools. Though he had familiarized himself with modern dance, yet the name he gave the company showed his reverence for tradition, since the Cloud Gate is the name of the oldest form of Chinese dance. True to its name, the company studied not only modern dance and classical ballet, but also traditional Asian disciplines by turning, for instance to Beijing opera movement, to tai chi tao yin, a form of chi kung and tai chi, and to martial arts.

Recalling tradition also had political overtones since the USA had just dropped Taiwan in favour of the People´s Republic of China, which was claiming to be the sole representative of Chinese culture. Time and again, Cloud Gate has looked at the history of Chinese-Taiwanese relations. “Legacy”, its first full-length production, portrayed families which had left the mainland and emigrated over the perilous straits to Taiwan four-hundred years ago. This siding with Taiwan was continued in 1997 with the production "Portrait of the Families", which was aesthetically a declaration of independence by presentation of modern dance. On a screen serving as a backdrop for dancers, there was a range of interviews leading from the Japanese colonization a hundred years earlier to the massacre of islanders by the Kuomintang troops which had fled from Mao to the island in 1947. In 1990 Lin Hwai-min reacted with "Requiem", a solo-performance for Lo Man-fei, a former dancer of Cloud Gate and the founding artistic Director of Cloud Gate 2, to the massacre on Tiananmen Square.

Surprisingly Lin Hwai-min drew choreographic inspiration from Indian culture for the production "Songs of the Wanders" (1994). The dancers followed the stations of an endless pilgrimage, while a young monk remained motionless on the front left of the stage, onto which grains fell in a golden shower. 3.5 tons of rice-grains raised firstly a hillock then a mound which a man raked into never-ending circles in the form of Zen-Buddhism. Thus arose varying images of breath-taking beauty, as if life were an endlessly flowing pilgrimage.

Whereas "Songs of the Wanderers" was based on Buddhism and meditation, "Moon Water" (1998) was inspired by tai chi tao yin, the Chinese art of chi kung, and by meditation, which Lin Hwai-min brought together with the suites for solo cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. The title is taken from a well known Chinese saying: “Flowers in the mirror and the moon on water are both illusory.” For the Chinese, this saying has two meanings. For Buddhists it means that everything in life is illusory and rooted in nothingness. The title also expresses the ideal state of tai chi that “energy flows like water, while the soul shines like the moon”. Motions begun in the middle of the body were then carried out through chi or inner energy, their grace reflecting the calmness of the suites for cello in meditative images. Through years of training with the tai chi tao yin master Hsiung Wei, the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan has developed a unique and dynamic style with movements ranging from a sculptural stillness to a flowing and magical lyricism. Some movements, though, are surprising, when a body, under control yet full of energy, suddenly lunges.

"Cursive" (autumn, 2001), one of Cloud Gate´s recent productions, takes up where the former production left off and further explores the dramatic potential of tai chi as martial art. The title refers to Chinese calligraphy, since Lin Hwai-min had come to realize that, whatever the variations, there is always one thing in common between the brush work and movement: the concentrated energy with which calligraphers dance in writing. To share this energy, the dancers practiced following ink on huge enlargements of Chinese characters. This led to motions previously unimaginable, with subtle slow motion suddenly flaring out.

Qu Xiao-song from Shanghai was chosen as the composer and wrote a chamber work for cello and traditional Chinese percussion instruments. The flowing sounds of the strings and the explosions of the percussion also leave room for the meditative quality of emptiness. It is this emptiness which Lin Hwai-min esteems in traditional Chinese landscape paintings and which he wished to pass on in a modern form in “Cursive”. Dancers in black on a white stage were like ink on paper, and the decor was made up of only videos and slide projections of calligraphy. Huge close-ups of the calligraphy changed it into lovely abstractions, no longer easily read but forming a solid springboard for the dancers. Hence “Cursive” was typical of most Cloud Gate productions in the 90s: a modern dance drama inspired by Asiatic thought and aesthetics.

(The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan for the first time performed at the House of World Cultures in June 1997.)

Bio

Lin Hwai-min was 15 years old when he saw the American José Limón Dance Company in Taichung, and from then on he longed to be a dancer. But for a son of the civil servant who would later become the Taiwanese Minister of Transportation and Communications responsible for airways and seaways, post and public transport, this did not seem to be a worthy occupation, so in his youth Lin Hwai-min took dancing lessons covertly in a small studio and paid for them with the money he earned from the publication of his short stories, while overtly preparing for the career of a writer. At the age of 22, after writing “Cicada”, a novel which ranks among the ten best-sellers ever on Taiwan, he was awarded a grant for Iowa University in the USA, but though he attended the lectures on literature, he was soon spending even more time in the university´s dance studio. Later he moved on to New York, to the studios of Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.

On returning to Taiwan in 1972 with the long hair of hippie, he was “escorted” by a policeman into a barber shop according to the war-regulations still in force. He borrowed money from friends so as to found a dance company in 1973, which he named “Cloud Gate” after the oldest known Chinese dance. The rest is dance-history. The first long production, “Legacy”, was followed by the company’s first U.S. tour in 1979, then first European tour in 1981. From then on Cloud Gate danced all round the world in the best venues. Even so, Cloud Gate suffered a crisis in 1988, as its male dancers were called up for army service. After a tour which took the company to the international dance festival Nordrhein-Westfalen and Australia, Lin Hwai-min let the company break up. While the men went into the army, the women went to university and studied dancing and its history. Once they were all back, Lin Hwai-min was unable to resist the temptation of starting again with a third generation of dancers in 1991.

In the 90s, Cloud Gate scored its greatest successes. “Nine Songs” (1993), “Songs of the Wanderers” (1995), “Portrait of the Families” (1997), “Moon Water” (1998), “Bamboo Dream”(2001) and “Cursive” (2001), “Smoke” (2002), “Cursive II” (2003) and “Wild Cursive” (2005) are celebrated everywhere and given rave acclaims. But nowhere could and did so many viewers come to productions as in the company´s own country, where each free performance drew more than 60 000.

In Taiwan the company appears regularly in big houses like the National Theatre in Taipei but also in the halls of secondary schools in villages. In 1999, Cloud Gate 2 was founded for promoting young choreographers and for performing in universities and small independent dance theatres. Most Cloud Gate dance productions have also been worked into dance videos. Thus in the Netherlands there was a television version of “Songs of the Wanderers”, in France of “Moon Water”, in Germany “Bamboo Dream” and in Switzerland “Cursive II”.

Lin Hwai-min has won many awards. In 1983 he was chosen by Jaycees International as one of the world´s 10 most outstanding young people; in 1996 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of New York´s Department of Culture; and in 1997 he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Dance Europe chose him as the choreographer of the 20th century, and Ballet International as the personality of the year 2000 together with Merce Cunningham, Jiri Kylian, Pina Bausch und William Forsythe. In 2005, he was elected by the Time magazine as one of the “Asia’s Heroes.”

Works

Wild Cursive

Production / Performance,
2005

Cursive II

Production / Performance,
2003

Smoke

Production / Performance,
2002

Bamboo Dream

Production / Performance,
2001

Cursive

Production / Performance,
2001

Burning the Juniper Branches

Production / Performance,
1999

Moon Water

Production / Performance,
1998

Portrait of the Families

Production / Performance,
1997

Songs of the Wanderers

Production / Performance,
1994

Nine Songs

Production / Performance,
1993

Requiem

Production / Performance,
1989

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

IN TRANSIT 06

Dance - Performance - Music

(24 May 06 - 04 June 06)
images
 Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
from: Songs of the Wanderers
 Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
from: Songs of the Wanderers
extra

The Calligraphy of the Body

Dance critic Jochen Schmidt about the Choreographer Lin Hwai-min and his calligraphy trilogy Cursive – arguably the most important dance theatre piece in the world at the moment
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Beauty is a weapon

Lin Hwai-min, the founder, director and horeographer of the Taiwanese dance company Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, talks about the tradition of calligraphy, the political nature of beauty and an accident that saved him
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