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Man-fei the Dancer (Part 1)

By Yap Huan Lin

Oct-上-Pic1 1991 雲門舞集《輓歌》,請標示「杜可風攝 雲門基金會提供」

Mid-turn, performing Requiem (Photo by Christopher Doyle, courtesy of Cloud Gate Culture and Arts Foundation)

Against the black backdrop, the spinning Lo Man-fei (1955 – 2006) transformed into poem that encapsulated life, and a powerful symbol that remains in the mind of the audience long after the film ended

Renowned choreographer, and founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Lin Hwai-min once remarked: “She was born to dance.” When choreographing Requiem for her, he noted: “She would put her soul into doing anything you asked of her. Not only would she master every action, she understood their meaning.” Hence, Manfei opens with one of her solo dance performances.

The camera pans, towards the breeze, the reeds, the sun, the ripples in the water, and then to close-ups of dancers, allowing the audience to find a moment’s calm in the restless world. Quietly, it follows Man-fei’s elder sisters to Yilan, heading toward the railway station, as they speak of this place where the three sisters had spent their childhood.

Man-fei was their little sister. A young girl with large and bright eyes, began dancing at the age of five…

Identifying with the Students

This poetic documentary about life, farewells, and those we miss, was the opening film of the 2018 Singapore Chinese Film Festival.

In one scene, a butterfly flits out of the window into the distance. Is that Man-fei’s soul?

Determined to pursue a dancing career after school, Man-fei’s time in her university’s Department of Foreign Languages broadened her horizons and inspired her future creative work. She learnt dancing in an American dance company, and earned a master’s degree in dance at New York University. She then taught dancing at the National Institute of the Arts (now the Taipei National University of the Arts). In 1994, together with first-generation Cloud Gate dancers Wu Su-chun, Cheng Shu-gi, and Yeh Tai-chu, she formed Taipei Crossover Dance Company. After returning to the States to complete her doctorate, she matured as both a person and a dancer.

Man-fei’s passion for dancing led her to cultivate the next generation of dancers. She also created several large-scale performances, enabling young dancers to take the stage. As the artistic director of a new troupe Cloud Gate 2, she insisted that the young dancers should choreograph their performances. Cloud Gate 2’s TANTALUS turned out to be both refreshing and avant-garde, justifying the faith that she has placed in these young dancers.

Man-fei also had a distinctive approach when teaching. When a student overslept on his first lesson, she rang him and told him to relax by making and finishing a cup of coffee before coming to school. When another student was swearing for not performing well, Man-fei slowly walked to her and repeated the profanity before turning to leave. When a student was raising money for a photography exhibition, she handed some money to the student and said that she intended to buy a few prints.

She was gentle but firm, passionate and straightforward. Director En Chen combines the sentiments and gratitude of the students with footage of performances, rehearsals, and the recollections of her good friends, painting a rich and genuine picture of Man-fei’s life in dance.

Many people go through their entire lives not knowing what they seek. Some insist on their ideals, but the road is long and lonesome. Man-fei had an enviable life, in which she had a group of like-minded friends who did not shy away from the struggle in pursuit of dance.

Oct-上-Pic2 曼菲北藝大上課,請標示「劉振祥攝」

Teaching students at the Taipei National University of the Arts (Photo by Liu Chen-hsiang, courtesy of Luo Yi Fei)

(Translated by Daryl Li)

Please look out for Man-fei the Dancer (Part 2)

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