Legendary dance troupe grows in leaps and bounds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2007, 12:00am

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre incorporates a wide range of styles, having evolved over the years from narrative pieces to modernist abstraction

It is more than 30 years since the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan gave its first show in Hong Kong, in September 1975. The troupe performed Tale of the White Serpent at the former Lee Theatre before performing it in its homeland Taiwan. Since then, whenever Cloud Gate comes to Hong Kong, it plays to full houses.

Cloud Gate returns to the territory for the 15th time in April, bringing two programmes as part of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's Cultural Presentations series of music, dance, Chinese opera, theatre and multi-arts.

Tale of the White Serpent and Unforgettable Moments of Cloud Gate (April 25 and 26) are signature works of Cloud Gate founder and artistic director Lin Hwai-min. These works are considered some of Lin's finest work as a choreographer. The programme also includes excerpts from works such as Nine Songs, The Dream of the Red Chamber, Moon Water and Legacy. Lin said that performing these dance pieces once again in Hong Kong was like reading his own diary.

The modern dance trilogy White will have its premiere in Hong Kong on April 28 and 29.

Nearing 60 and still a bundle of energy, Lin has devoted the past 33 years to developing Cloud Gate. The dance company has become such a venerated institution in Taiwan that the government has proclaimed August 21 as Cloud Gate Day, and renamed a street in the capital Cloud Gate Lane.

Lin studied Chinese opera movement in his native Taiwan, modern dance in New York and classical court dance in Japan and South Korea.

The name Cloud Gate is a reference to what is considered China's oldest dance, dating back 5,000 years. But Lin said the group was concerned neither with promoting traditional Chinese dance nor imitating western dance but rather creating something distinctly different. A Cloud Gate production combines old and new, east and west, indigenous Taiwanese songs, Chinese calligraphy, martial arts and echoes of western classical music.

Lin has earned a string of international accolades. He was named best choreographer at the 2000 Lyon Dance Biennial, received a lifetime achievement award from the City of New York, and was named Asian Hero in 2005 by Time magazine. The company makes regular tours of Asia, Europe and the United States.

The shows are expected to be a nostalgia trip for faithful Cloud Gate fans in Hong Kong. 'Our Hong Kong audience has stayed with us for decades,' Lin said. 'We received e-mails from Hong Kong friends saying they missed the old programmes and wanted to see them again.

'The audience will see how Cloud Gate has evolved from the 1970s up to the present,' Lin said. 'They will see how the group has evolved from narrative pieces to abstract work, and how their body language has grown increasingly expressive.'

The shows will also be an exciting introduction to Cloud Gate for newcomers.

Tale of the White Serpent, which premiered in 1975, is a Chinese folk tale delivered in the style of Beijing opera.

Legacy, dating back to 1978, is a meditation on the migration of the Chinese people across the straits from the mainland to Taiwan, and synthesises modern and traditional dance. The Dream of the Red Chamber is more in the style of traditional ballet.

Lin started changing direction in 1993 with works such as Nine Songs and Moon Water, which signal a departure from work based on literary classics.

'In the early days, Cloud Gate dances were more representational and they told stories,' Lin said. 'By the time we reached Songs of the Wanderers, texts and representational imagery had disappeared.'

In this work a single dancer stands motionless in prayer during the entire performance, while grains of golden rice fall in a steady shower over the performer.

'We always look to reinvent ourselves,' Lin said. 'I have done some touching up for this production of Tale of the White Serpent and Unforgettable Moments of Cloud Gate. The audience will see improvements over past editions. Meanwhile, the White trilogy signals the future for Cloud Gate.'

White is a purely abstract work that explores nuances of colour; the set is minimalist, and the dancers are dressed in shades of white. Audiences will see White as very different from Lin's previous work, but in fact it has some things in common with two other popular Cloud Gate works, Moon Water and Bamboo Dreams, according to Lin.

'I especially like the third chapter, where the dancers stand on one leg for a long time while moving the rest of the body. It is spectacular. I am very proud of it,' he said.

The Cloud Gate Theatre of Taiwan comprises the main dance company, and Cloud Gate 2, which tours communities and works with young dancers and choreographers, and the Cloud Gate Dance School, which promotes dance education.