Sun, Feb 19, 2006 - Page 18 News List

A man on a mission

As Lin Hwai-min turns 59, his dance company Cloud Gate continues to rack up success after success


Taiwanese modern dance pioneer Lin Hwai-min, founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, is known for fusing traditional Chinese influences and modern dance.


The Cloud Gate Dance Theater (雲門舞集) started out in a studio above a Taiwanese noodle shop. Now, 33 years later, it's a world-renowned modern dance company with performances already booked into 2008.

The man who founded the company and still runs it, Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), said he has evolved over the years -- from a topdown choreographer who dictated the dancers' moves to a leader who collaborates with his performers. He said he now tries to draw the material from their movements.

``Everything comes from their bodies. Therefore, very organic,'' he said in an interview.

The former dancer and writer also said he became less rigid as he grew older.

``When I was young I thought things were clear-cut. Things had to be straightforward. Now I'm not this way,'' Lin said in a Hong Kong hotel room, where he sat barefoot, cross-legged on a sofa chair while clutching a pillow.

Cloud Gate has graced presti-gious stages like the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and Lin was named Choreographer of the 20th Century by Dance Europe magazine. Among his projects this year is a solo for French ballet star Sylvie Guillem, who performed with the Paris Opera Ballet and Royal Ballet of London.

Since founding Cloud Gate in 1973, Lin also set a goal of promoting modern dance in rural Taiwan. Today, he's almost synon-ymous with Chinese modern dance.

Lin, who turns 59 today, said he hasn't done any serious dance workouts since last performing some 23 years ago, but he still looks like a dancer: short, muscular, his robust torso stretching his black shirt.

Lin sprinkled English sentences and phrases into a mostly Chinese exchange, gesturing wildly when demonstrating a dance move.

Birthday boy

Born: Taiwan in 1947

Career: Studied journalism and published two novels by age 22.

Established Cloud Gate in 1973.

Founded and chaired the dance department at National Taipei University for the Arts in 1983

Honors: Named Choreographer of the 20th Century by Dance Europe magazine and won the 1999 Ramon Magsaysay Award in Journalism, Literature, and Creative Arts

On the Net:

SOURCE: Taipei Times

He said Cloud Gate is in a rarefied state -- focusing on culti-vating the expressiveness of the body instead of telling stories through dance. The company has abandoned pure technical training in favor of encouraging dancers to gain full awareness of their bodies.

``Our teachers tell our students the human body is 90 percent water, so your movement has to resemble water, be as loose as water,'' Lin explained. Cloud Gate's instructors now encompass such varied disciplines as tai chi, martial arts, ballet and calligraphy.

Cloud Gate's latest work reflects its new philosophy. The Cursive trilogy is inspired by Chinese brush calligraphy.

In Cursive I, dancers in simple black costume perform kung fu-like moves on an undecorated stage in a flowing style, taking the ferocious edge off what resemble fighting routines. In one section, a cluster of performers kneel and rise up while raising their arms like hawks.

``It's not just about characters,'' Lin said of Chinese calligraphy. ``It's about the energy ... it has a very good rhythm and it's a sense of musical composition.''

But Lin points out that pure form must be backed up by strong fundamentals.

``If you're not strong in technique, you can be carried by the story, by costumes,'' but not in pure dance, Lin said.

Blending traditional Chinese elements and modern dance is Cloud Gate's trademark, largely the vision of Lin, a writer-turned-dancer educated in Taiwan and at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Fellow dancer Tom Brown said Lin is a rarity in the modern dance world in that he singularly devoted more than three decades to mold a group of dancers, whereas turnover and mobility is high in companies in the West and few choreographers command the focus of Lin.

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