Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) turned 40 this year and it is celebrating its anniversary by sharing an offering of rice with the public that has so strongly supported the troupe from the very beginning.
Founder and artistic director Lin Hwai-min’s (林懷民) latest work, Rice (稻禾), will have its world premiere on Friday night at the National Theater in Taipei. However, in collaboration with Chunghwa Telecom Co, the event will be shared with fans around the nation through a combination of live broadcasts to the municipal cultural centers in Hsinchu City and Miaoli, Changhua, Nantou, Yunlin, Pingtung and Yilan counties — with tickets being given away free — and an Internet feed to outlying islands. Coverage of the audiences at the other theaters will also be beamed back to the National Theater.
In addition, a partial broadcast of the show will also be available through Chunghwa’s emome site and Public Television Service’s (PTS) high definition channel.
It has been a massive undertaking to coordinate the evening with officials at Chunghwa and PTS, the local governments involved and the National Theater, and in interviewing Lin, I wondered who first thought of it.
“For Christ’s sake, that’s not my idea. I always want to save energy. It was the [Cloud Gate] office’s idea. They want to make people happy, make a special experience,” Lin said. “I told the Chunghwa guy [to] keep a complete record so we can do it again; it will be easier.”
Cloud Gate’s 40th year has already been a momentous one for Lin. He received the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in July, the first time it was given to someone based outside of the US or Europe.
Lin has used rice as a motif in his work before, in 1978’s Legacy (薪傳) and, most stunningly, in a golden stream that pours down on the figure of a standing monk throughout 1994’s Songs of the Wanderers (流浪者之歌).
He said he decided to use a rice paddy as the centerpiece for a new production after a visit to Chihshang Township (池上) in Taitung County two years ago.
“The minute you get into the field you drop everything. It’s healing. I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have Chihshang as an environment for dance?’” he said.
Theater audiences will be immersed in nature through a video backdrop that spans the life cycle of a rice paddy, overhead projections onto the stage floor and a soundtrack that includes wind, rain and the sound of insects. Footage for the video was shot by Chang Hao-jan (張皓然), who did a stunning job for Lin’s Listening to the River (聽河) three years ago.
Lin said they ended up with more than 100 hours of video footage, which he and his team, including Ethan Wang (王奕盛), the projection designer and another veteran of Listening to the River, were still working on this past week.
“I still haven’t given [Wang] the final nod, we’re still doing redesign. I don’t know why people want to do this these days, they are so hung up on the visuals, it’s too much trouble,” Lin said, sounding slightly harried.
Lin uses the life cycle of rice as a metaphor for the incarnation of life, reflecting the Buddhist philosophy that is evident in many of his works.
“How are you going to talk about your mother?” he said. “If you talk about the elements, it can be interpreted many ways.”
Asked how many sections the piece has, Lin had to think for a moment.