A lotus pond fills the front of the stage. A masked god dances on the shoulders of two men. A river goddess borne on two bamboo poles trails an endless white veil across the stage. A river of flickering candles creates a vision of eternity.
Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), his design teams and Cloud Gate Dance Theater's (雲門舞集) dancers have given audiences many memorable moments and images over the past three decades: a boatload of people crossing a storm-tossed sea, a monk standing under a cascade of grains of rice, the liquid movements of dancers in a moonlit pond, and the almost psychedelic vortex that filled the stage at the end of last fall's Wind Shadows (風影).
The imagery of Nine Songs (九歌), choreographed by Lin to mark the company's 20th anniversary in 1993, with a set by the famed American stage designer Ming Cho Lee, certainly ranks among the best. Lin has revived the work for one last run and it opens tonight at the National Theater for 10 performances before the company hits the road next month for shows in Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Lin's hometown, Chiayi.
Shanghai-born Lee won a New York Dance and Performance Award - a "Bessie" - in 1995 for his work on Nine Songs. A golden painting of lotus flowers fills the side, ceiling and back panels of the stage, echoing the lotus pond in front. The back panels glide on and off stage or are raised and lowered to reveal a golden moon, blackness or a star-filled sky.
CHINESE OPERA AND POLITICS
"It's the most operatic stages of all our works," Lin said after a press rehearsal yesterday.
Inspired by a 2,400-year-old poem written by Qu Yuan (屈原) during China's Warring States period and more recent political history on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, Lee created an evocative work that takes audiences on a two-hour journey through life, death and redemption.
WHAT: Nine Songs(九歌)by Cloud Gate Dance Theater(雲門舞集)
WHERE: National Theater(國家戲劇院)21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City(臺北市中山南路21-1號)
WHEN: Tonight to Dec.2 at the National Theater; evening performances at 7:45pm, Sunday matiness at 2:45pm.
TICKETS: This weekend and next are sold out. A limited number of the NT$600 and NT$900 tickets are left for the Monday to Thursday performances. Tickets are available online at www.tickets.com.tw or at the theater box office.
In a 1995 interview with the New York Times, Lin described his development as a choreographer as a process of "accumulation." The choreography in Nine Songs is certainly evocative of the myriad influences that have shaped Lin's work, including Martha Graham, Jose Limon, traditional Chinese opera and martial arts and Balinese temple dances.
This eclecticism is also reflected in the score, which ranges from Aboriginal songs to the chanting of Tibetan Buddhist monks, and from the gamelans of Southeast Asia to the Ju Percussion Group (朱宗慶打擊樂團).
While Qu's Nine Songs actually has 11 parts, Lin's is divided into eight sections, beginning with Greeting the Gods. The first half of the program follows the path of the sun from morning to night; the promise brought by the sun's light to the fears and torment of darkness. The second half follows the changing of the seasons - and of politics. Qu's lament that the gods have failed us mortals can be felt throughout.
This lament is brought to life by the final two sections, Homage to the Fallen, and Honoring the Dead, when tragedies that have shaped life on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are commemorated: the execution of Taiwanese people during the Japanese colonial era, when those who were to be killed wore baskets over their heads as they were led to their deaths; the 228 Incident; and the Tiananmen Massacre. The names of many of those who were executed or died, as well as those of ancient Chinese heroes, are recited in Mandarin, Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), Hakka and Atayal.