BEFORE the dancers of the Cloudgate Dance Company even started to help choreograph their show, Songs Of The Wanderers, they spent three months sitting cross-legged, meditating. 'We didn't do anything else but meditate,' remembered the founder and artistic director of the acclaimed Taiwanese group, Lin Hwai-min. 'After an hour of sitting quietly, concentrating on your breathing, you move differently. 'You have a lot of energy, but it is very controlled. I wanted to create a sense of slow, self-aware, motion. 'If it's a good performance, then the members of the audience should almost find themselves in a state of meditation too. They should feel very peaceful,' he added. Songs is loosely based on Hermann Hesse's classic book Siddhartha. That it should be an Asian production based on a Western writer's impression of an Asian religion does not strike Lin as incongruous. Rather it represents how everything is circular and universal. His choice of Georgian folk music as the 'ethereal' accompaniment to the dance only serves to turn the circle further around. The props and the scenery are two tonnes of rice grain, which pour slowly from the ceiling throughout the 80-minute performance. The visual and sound effect made by the stream of grain is a powerful one. 'First you hear something rustling in the darkness, and then slowly the light comes up until it is fully illuminated,' he said. 'You can see the rice trickling down on to the head of a monk so it looks as if he has a halo around him. He stays there throughout the performance without moving. He is meditating, of course.' The rice spreads out on the stage, moulded and curved by the dancers into a landscape of hills and rivers, until it is reminiscent of a Buddhist mandala in the sand - created so that it can be destroyed to remind us that everything is transient. The dancers are all in their mid twenties and like Lin are trained in tai chi, traditional Chinese opera, Western theatre movement and modern dance. The three works in their current repertoire make very different demands on the dancers' bodies: while Songs of the Wanderers - the one that will appear in Hong Kong - is meditative, Nine Songs is theatrical, and Dreamscape is described as 'strange'. Nine Songs features an actual lotus pond built into the orchestra pit, while Dreamscape stars six performing peacocks. 'If they perform, then we see them wandering with their tails in a fan while the light slowly fades. But we can't rely on it: we haven't trained them to that point,' said Lin. The peacocks might be allowed to do their own thing, but the physical and mental demands on the dancers are very heavy. 'We have some sensitive ones who faint during a performance. The audience thinks it's part of the choreography, but we know it's not,' Lin added. Lin was in Hong Kong earlier this week for two days and nine interviews to promote the shows. Next week he and his company will be in the United States for two festivals, returning to Taiwan for several performances before moving on to Hong Kong in mid-November. Despite the hectic lifestyle, Lin is extremely, almost disconcertingly, relaxed. He looked far younger than his 48 years, as he sat drinking pale tea in his hotel room, dressed in jeans and a simple shirt. He said he used to be more frantic, caught up with the anxieties of organising the dance company he founded in 1973. The difference came in 1991 when he travelled to Bodhgaya, the village in northern India where Buddha is said to have sat beneath a banyan tree and gained enlightenment. He stayed in a little hostel, paying US$1 (about HK$8) a day. There he learned to meditate, sitting under the banyan tree said to be the fourth generation after its historical great-grandparent. It must be a popular meditation spot: was it not crammed with cross-legged visitors? 'The tree is huge!' Lin said. 'It stretches out to the point that the branches can't support themselves any longer, and have to be propped up with sticks. There is plenty of room to sit there.' What struck him most was a man he met, a lama from Shandong province in eastern China. The man's life story echoed the legend of Sisyphus who was condemned to roll a stone up a hill, only to let it fall, and then roll it up again. Yet the man had accepted his fate in a way that Lin found startling. 'He had gone to Lhasa to become a monk. And then he decided to go to Kathmandu on foot,' Lin said. 'It took two years for him to succeed in his plan: the authorities caught him twice and brought him back to jail in Lhasa. But he started again each time and finally got to Dharamsala [the home of the exiled Dalai Lama].' When Lin met him, the man was staying in a teahouse in Bodhgaya, sleeping under the tables after the regulars had gone home. He had taken many weeks to cross the Indian foothills from Dharamsala because he had no money for public transport. 'I asked him what he would do next, and he said perhaps he would return to Lhasa. I said 'for Christ's sake, they will put you in jail again' and he said there is no difference. 'He said there was no difference between life in Dharamsala or life in prison in Lhasa. It wasn't an attempt to be wise, or philosophical. I think he just felt that it was true. 'We talked for hours, and at the end of it he reached into his purse to pay for the teas we had drunk. He had nothing, yet he did not expect me to pay for him,' Lin added. Lin said over the past four years he had seen - and rejected - the addictive elements of meditation. 'You can make it a profession. But I keep it simple, and not religious. I'm not training monks and nuns in this company. 'It's a bridge into a performance, a way to create that kinetic energy that makes really dynamic energy.' He said he had not started meditating with the idea of incorporating it into his art. It just happened along the way. 'I'm not good at it; the dancers are much better than me. 'But I do it every evening; it is a good way to end the day, and I always sleep well now. 'I'm much more patient. I'm slower than the hectic, crazy person I was.' The performance by Cloudgate Dance Theatre is one of the highlights of the Chinese Dance Festival, which runs from October 19 to November 15. It includes performances of the revolutionary ballet The White-haired Girl by the Shanghai Ballet, a premiere performance of San Mao by the City Contemporary Dance Company and The Possessed by the Hong Kong Dance Company. 'Songs Of The Wanderers' will be performed from November 14-15 at 8pm at the Cultural Centre Grand Theatre. Tickets priced $80 to $260 from Urbtix.