Fri, Nov 18, 2011 - Page 13 News List

The collective memory of song

Lin Hwai-min’s latest work should have audiences not only tapping their feet, but humming along to the songs

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Chou Chang-ning, above, and Lee Tzu-chun, below, rehearse for How Can I Live On Without You.

Photo courtesy of Liu Chen-hsiang

Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) may self-deprecatingly say that he is getting too old, too tired, and too whatever to keep choreographing, but he still has a lot of surprises up his sleeves. And sometimes the surprise isn’t just for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) fans, but himself and his company.

To those for whom pieces like Moon Water (水月) or the Cursive (行草) trilogy symbolize Lin’s recent work for Cloud Gate, his latest production, How Can I Live On Without You (如果沒有你), will be an eye-opener. It is a love song to Taiwanese music of the past six decades, and a love song to his dancers and fans.

“Songs are a collective memory,” Lin said at a press conference back in September, shortly before the troupe departed for a multi-week tour of the US and a stint in London.

“Songs tell a history, you can tell an era from a song,” he said. “People will say: ‘Oh, I really loved that song,’ but people argue over the meaning.”

He also wanted to show audiences that Cloud Gate is not the same company as it was before, that it has a lot of younger faces.

Lin said he got the idea of using “modern” love songs while humming a line from the song How Can I Live On Without You (made famous by the late singer Bai Guang, 白光), in the shower and realizing how danceable it was. There was just one problem. Lin didn’t really know many popular songs; he had grown up listening to classical music. So he asked his dancers to each submit a list of favorite songs.

“Some I hadn’t heard before,” Lin said, adding that the late Lo Man-fei (羅曼菲) — one of the troupe’s original members and director of Cloud Gate 2 (雲門2) — was always trying to drag him to concerts by Wu Bai (伍佰) or other singers.

According to associate artistic director Lee Ching- chun (李靜君), her boss hadn’t heard most of the songs the dancers suggested.

“Mr Lin is always curious about what he doesn’t know,” Lee said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, adding that Lin was fascinated by “the journey of discovery, asking ‘Who’s that singer? Who’s that?’”

“He’s discovered a lot about the pop world, especially the words. As a writer, he’s very sensitive about words, so he was very interested the lyrics,” Lee said.

Since most of the songs were new to Lin, he didn’t play favorites when it came to selecting the 18 that would be in the show. The only considerations, he said, were the power of a song’s melody and whether it was danceable.

The songs certainly are an eclectic mix, ranging from Wu Bai, folk singer Tsai Chin (蔡琴), indie singer-songwriter Crowd Lu (盧廣仲), Fong Fei-fei (鳳飛飛) and Jay Chou (周杰倫) all the way back to 1940s crooner Bai Guang.

“Some of the dancers were disappointed that the songs they chose weren’t in the repertoire, but some were too nice to dance to, or sometimes just were not right,” Lee said, adding that Lin was still tweaking the playlist a month ago.

To link such disparate tunes together, Lin envisioned a kind of cabaret, with the dancers portraying a concert singer, a karaoke outing or a TV variety show.

It’s not just the music that’s so unusual for Cloud Gate. Lin’s style of working changed as well, Lee said, adding that it was very different from the way he choreographed the Cursive series.

“I’ve been here [with the company] for 28 years and this is the first time the studio was always full of laughter. It was the first time we saw Mr Lin swing his hips — because you know, he has to show the dancers what he wants, he doesn’t just tell them,” Lee said with a laugh. “Everyone who was in the studio feels the change.”

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