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Lin Hwai-min: A Love Affair with Rice (Part 2)

By Chou Sing Chu Foundation

Continued from Lin Hwai-min: A Love Affair with Rice (Part 1)

The establishment of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre was rather fortuitous. The sixties were a time of revolutionary thinking and Lin Hwai-min had gathered a few dance contemporaries to perform at villages and schools. The response was incredibly encouraging and in 1973, Taiwan’s first modern dance group, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre was born. Its name, Cloud Gate, is borrowed from two ancient dances which are no longer extant.

RICE - Photo by Liu Chen-hsiang (2) MS4

Cloud Gate dancers appreciate the significance of rice as an important essence of life (Photo by Liu Chen-hsiang, Courtesy of Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay)

A Compelling Blend of Grace and Power 

Just as its name suggests, Cloud Gate is sturdy yet graceful. Its performances are often internationally lauded for bringing together eastern and western elements of dance, but to Lin who was exposed to different cultures when he was growing up, this comes very naturally to him. The oriental concept of time differs greatly from the western one. “We lean towards a more spontaneous and idealistic form,” says Lin. Thus, he incorporates oriental aesthetics into his dances such as Moon Water, Cursive and Wild Cursive which presents a blend of flowing moves against a backdrop of music. On the stage, the dancers’ every curve, every twist follow the surge and ebb of the music.

When one is involved in creating something, it is an ongoing process of trial and errors. Whenever the dancers have gotten used to the western style of rhythmic drills, Lin would have them practice the ‘horse stance’. This perfectly captures Lin’s spirit of ‘coffee with salt’; to look to unconventional means to achieve excellence.

The Spirit of the Rice Fields

 Cloud Gate often performs overseas but it has never forgotten the land that has nurtured it and the support that it receives from Taiwan is reciprocated similarly. In a video clip that Lin plays before his talk, we see residents of Chihshang township braving torrential rains to watch a performance by Cloud Gate. Under the vast skies and against the endless fields of gold, the stage seems like an enormous mirror and the dancers blend in seamlessly with their surroundings.

Lin Huai Min2

Lin Hwai-min makes use of the aesthetics of Chinese calligraphy in Cursive I (Photo Courtesy of Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay)

Having grown up in the Chianan Plain, Lin admits that he has a ‘rice complex’. Legacy has a glorious transplanting scene while at the end of Song of the Wanderers, a lone dancer rakes the three and a half tons of the unruly landscape of golden grains in circles, perhaps encouraging its audience to put down their burdens in life. Lin’s latest creation, Rice once again ventures into the theme of rice fields because ‘the land does not lie and one will sow what one reaps’. Rice demonstrates the performers’ deep understanding and gratitude towards the land. The lithe movements of the dancers portray the earth, wind, sunlight, grains, water and fire depict the cycle of a harvest and the inexorable force of life. The production which took two years to complete fuses Hakka folksongs and western classics and is a visually stunning production as its dancers twirl across the stage to dance the lyrical tale of the earth.

Cloud Gate dancers don’t simply dance. They undergo training in taiji, calligraphy and even meditation to cultivate endurance and discipline.  This is the source of their strength. Be it stories of India or the folksongs of Taiwan and Georgia, these seemingly unconnected elements will be woven into one fantastic story by Lin. This is his take on ‘coffee with salt’. Through self introspection, he sees the world.

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