A delicate balancing act
Gustav Mahler wrote Song of the Earth to bid farewell to this planet. A century later, Lin Lee-chen goes further to lament the earth's wounded soul in her Song of Pensive Beholding. Despite their differences - the Austrian composer's masterpiece is rendered through voices and a 100-strong orchestra, and the Taiwanese choreographer's piece is minimalist - they both express profound feelings for the world and evoke emotions that are beyond words.
The Legend Lin Dance Theatre's two-hour production is part of this year's World Cultures Festival presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. Premiered in Taiwan in 2009, the eight-part work features 20 dancers and a small group of musicians. Lin sets her signature ritualistic style of movement against an exotic musical backdrop and bare stage design to address the deepest thoughts on human deeds and values.
'Our everyday life is too fast to allow us to stop and think,' says Lin after a strenuous rehearsal at the troupe's base, a former custody barrack for political prisoners, in Xindian district, Taipei. 'But once you slow down, you will begin to see things clearly, like through a magnifying glass, and you will hear yourself, even voices of others, as well as of the environment.
'Then you will come to see the hidden beauty out there, and at the same time come to realise all the suffering and pain we inadvertently inflict on the environment,' says the soft-spoken choreographer, who has just turned 60.
Only by interacting with the earth theme, she says, can audiences be brought closer to the soul of the earth, and to appreciate how our survival depends on the intricate balance of all things.
Song of Pensive Beholding, or guan in Chinese, which literally means 'observing', is the finale of Lin's Heaven, Earth and Man trilogy. The first two parts premiered in 1995 and 2000 to immediate acclaim. But it took another nine years for Lin to conclude the series.
The upcoming performance will mark the Legend Lin Dance Theatre's Hong Kong debut.
'I felt I needed time to compose myself to re-think not just on things human but everything in our surroundings. Clean water, nice sunshine and good air are what our ancestors passed to us, but we've turned them into unhealthy stuff through superficial and commercial pursuits. The recent financial crisis, for example, was caused by very clever people,' says Lin, who founded her troupe in 1995.
Lin will tell the story through the eyes of eagles in their struggle for survival since time immemorial. 'I am a native of Keelung, a neighbouring city of Taipei, and I grew up watching lots of wild eagles flying around and hearing fables about eagles as well. But the story stretches beyond the ancient fables and goes deeper than the eagle's eyes,' she says.
It touches on, for example, human greed, which turns a clean river into a stream of dirt. Lin expresses that through the colour change of a centre-stage cloth from plain white to turbulent hues.
'The water is actually the soul, which is originally plain and pure, but becomes contaminated once human desire to possess it sets in.'
Costumes and music reflect the exotic cultures of the minorities in Taiwan, and Lin allows no compromise when it comes to authenticity. The black pleated skirts, for example, came from the Miao ethnic group and are at least 30 years old. Each of the ornaments used by the dancers, including body paint and the long pheasant tail feathers for the eagle brothers has undergone strict scrutiny from Lin's own 'eagle eyes'.
As for the music, simple repetitive tunes will be performed live on percussions, hand bells and woodwind instruments such as the Australian didgeridoo, plus chants. Much of it is Lin's own composition based on her feel of the story flow.
She harbours very high expectations for the Hong Kong debut, which she has purposely scheduled as the show's overseas premiere before the entire troupe takes it to Paris and Lyon immediately after.
Song of Pensive Beholding, Nov 4-5, 8pm, Kwai Tsing Theatre, HK$130-HK$280. Inquiries: 2370 1044