Cloud Gate: making dance out of martial arts and meditation

The Cloud Gate dance company occupies a unique place in Taiwanese society and its founder has become a national treasure. Nicholas Wroe talks to Lin Hwai-min as he brings a signature work to the UK

The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan arrives at Sadler’s Wells next month to give one of the last performances of its signature work. Songs of the Wanderers opens with the solitary, still figure of a Buddhist monk standing under a spotlit stream of falling rice. The stage gradually fills with over three tonnes of golden coloured grains – especially shipped in from Taiwan – which form into deep drifts to become the mountains, rivers and desert through which dancers slowly enact the rituals of pilgrimage. Although it draws on Buddhism, the imagery also encompasses more universal readings and the performance is accompanied by the rhythmic chantings of a Georgian choir.

So it is intriguing to learn that this work, depicting a timeless spiritual quest for “asceticism and quietude”, is a characteristic offering from a company that emerged from one of the most turbulent periods of modern Asian geopolitics. For decades following the end of China’s civil war in 1949 the Taiwanese regime led by Chiang Kai-shek had claimed to be the legitimate government of all China, but international recognition gradually eroded and in 1971 it was expelled from the United Nations. Cloud Gate founder Lin Hwai-min was studying in the United States at the time and found himself returning home to an island in which a whole generation were suddenly trying to discover who they were. “There was a lot of energy in literature and the visual arts,” he says. “When I set up Cloud Gate [named after an ancient Chinese dance] we were the first professional dance company. We felt part of a movement in search of its roots. In one respect the mission of the company was to explore what it is to be Taiwanese, as we knew so little about our own home.”

There was a hunger for dance. Whether we drew on folk tales or history, it was all part of our aud­ience’s lives

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Source: Guardian Dance News

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