Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) and Cloud Gate Dance Theater (雲門舞集) have developed a reputation in recent years for beautiful, quiet, meditative pieces. Lin is hoping that his latest work will blow that reputation to smithereens.
“You are not going to recognize Cloud Gate — well, not really — but it's very stunning, very clear cut, very black and white,” Lin said, referring to Wind Shadow, which has its world premiere next Saturday.
“We hope the audience will have some kind of catharsis when they come out of the theater,” he said.
The “we” Lin is referring to is internationally renowned visual artist Cai Guoquing (蔡國強) and himself, who have teamed up to produce this fall's new work.
Working on a project for Cloud Gate was not what China-born, New York-based Cai had in mind when he visited Lin here in Taipei in the spring of 2005. He was hoping to recruit Lin to the creative team he was putting together to develop the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing.
Lin's schedule, however, was already fully booked through 2008, which meant that he would not be able to attend many of the team's meetings.
“Well, I'm not going anywhere, so can you come here?” Lin said he asked Cai.
Lin asked Cai to provide concepts for a new work and serve as the visual director, and the artist agreed.
“Cai gave me about 120 ideas, all one-liners, somehow I picked this one and I picked that one, I don't know why,” Lin said.
Wind Shadow is a stark black and white production. Against a white backdrop, on a white slope, some black-clad dancers portray humans and some play their shadows. Sometimes the humans become the shadows. People drag shadows forward, while shadows rise to take control of people. Above the dancers' heads there are flying kites and flapping flags, all white and all kept aloft and in movement by a battalion of fans in the wings.
What: Cloud Gate's Wind Shadow; also Tale of the White Serpent and Unforgettable Moments of Cloud Gate
Where: National Theater, Taipei
Wind Shadow — Saturday, Nov. 25 at 7:45pm, Sunday Nov. 26 at 2:45pm, Tuesday, Nov. 28 through Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7:45pm and Saturday matinee at 2:45pm. White Serpent & Unforgettable Moments of Cloud Gate — Wednesday, Dec. 6 through Saturday, Dec. 9 at 7:45pm and matinees on Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 10) at 2:45pm
TICKETS: Nov. 25 and Nov. 26 are sold out, there is limited seating still available for the rest of the Wind Shadow run in the NT$600 to NT$1,200 ranges. For the White Serpent, there is limited seating left for Friday and Saturday nights, Dec. 8 and Dec. 9, but more seats are available for the other shows, ranging from NT$600 to NT$2,000
Gradually black flags replace the white flags. Suddenly the mood shifts, as what seems likes miles of black silk fall from above like a malignant waterfall. The silk keeps falling until time seems to stop.
“Black waterfalls of fabric — it's something that I have longed to do for years — huge sheets of black silk — 400 yards, three of them. The first two are very slow, you think they will never end,” Lin said. “The third is very fast, you don't know whether you have really seen it or not.”
The world turns to black.
“Dancers in black on a white stage, very beautiful,” he said. “There's no story, no dance, we move very slowly ... slow movement like moving video installations.”
“Black snow, black rainbow, black hole — it's visually stunning,” he said. “So pure!”
The choreography is set against a soundscape that mixes the sound of blood moving through veins, an unborn baby's murmurs and a dentists' drill and against a backdrop of Cai's art and video works, many created especially for this production. The images are projected through the billowy flags onto the backdrop: explosions, fire, smoke, distorted faces and burnt dancing bodies, black clouds and a black rainbow.
Lin, like most artists, picks up inspiration everywhere — from his daily life, his travels, the people he meets. Just as the sound of crickets in Chiang Mai, Thailand, influenced the soundtrack for one of his recent pieces, a much more mundane trip gave him ideas for Wind Shadow.