Tonight begins the final chapter of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre's (雲門舞集) The Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢) and the start of a new era for the nation's premier dance troupe.
For years, Cloud Gate has marked the seasons by performing one of the pieces in its repertoire in February or March and then unveiling a new work in its fall season. Late spring, early summer was reserved for overseas tours and festival appearances, which often consisted of a mix of the old and new pieces.
No more. A spinal injury last year made Cloud Gate's founder, artistic director and primary choreographer Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) re-evaluate his priorities. Not that time was running out exactly, but he decided he needed to make the best use of his energy while he still had plenty of it.
"Most of our energy and focus has to be on new things," Lin said yesterday after a dress rehearsal of Dream.
So he wants the company to perform only new pieces.
"We were keeping the repertoire for society. Without repeating these pieces, like Legacy, some of our history is gone," he said.
For Lin, it's important that young people are exposed to, and develop and interest in, their literary and cultural heritage. The younger generation has to get in touch with the past, he said.
His first works -- such as the Legend of White Snake in 1975 -- were inspired by Beijing Opera. Dream, created by Lin in 1983, was one of a series of pieces based on traditional Chinese literature and folklore.
His next works could be seen as sweeping epics, describing the history and hopes of the people of Taiwan. Among the most famous is Legacy, the story of people coming to Taiwan. Its premier, ironically, took place on the same day the US broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Dec. 16, 1978.
In the 1990s, Lin's choreography became more abstract. One of the highlights was the 1994 Song of the Wanderers, based on Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha. This was followed by Moonwater, Bamboo Dream, Cursive I and Cursive II, among others.
But now the company is going to retire some of these pieces.
Basically the epics, Lin said.
"It's such a burden," he said, referring to the effort of keeping all of his older works in the repertoire.
When asked what exactly he had in mind to do next, whether he would continue to focus on abstract, full-length pieces, or create new epics, Lin was succinct: "No plans."
Which is a little hard to believe from a man who has, over the years, juggled running a dance company, creating new works, overseeing the dance department at the National Taipei University of the Arts, trying his hand at directing opera and serving as artistic director of the "Novel Hall New Dance Series."
It will be hard to say goodbye to Dream, which is loosely based on the Chinese classic of the same name from the mid-1700s by Tsao Hsueh-ching (曹雪芹). The book told the story of the gradual decline of an aristocratic family through a dizzying array of characters and their friendships, love affairs, betrayals and deaths.
Dream follows the book by being divided into six sections: Prologue, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Epilogue. Lin has pared down characters to the story's hero, Chao Pao-yu -- here known as the Youth in the Garden -- his parents, 12 main women and then an assortment of monks, young maids and some male dancers.
The Youth in the Garden is clad only in jade-green briefs to represent the book's description of Chao being born with a piece of jade in his mouth. The dancer who plays the monk that Chao eventually becomes -- after the death of his beloved -- is robed in crimson red.