Thu, Sep 18, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Walking on sunshine

Filmmaker Singing Chen discusses her participation in Taiwan’s social movements and a 10-year long documentary project based on the life and work of Legend Lin Dance Theatre founder and choreographer Lin Lee-chen

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Film director Singing Chen.

Photo Courtesy of Chin Cheng-tsai and Public Television Service

Ten years is a long time to film a documentary, but for director Singing Chen (陳芯宜), it was worth it.

Titled The Walkers (行者), it explores the career of choreographer Lin Lee-chen (林麗珍), the renowned founder and artistic director of the Legend Lin Dance Theatre (無垢舞蹈劇場) who has spent the past 19 years creating three modern dance pieces — Miroirs de Vie (Mirrors of Life, 醮, 1995), Anthem to the Fading Flowers (花神祭, 2000) and Song of Pensive Beholding (Chants de la Destinee, 觀, 2009). Combined, they are Lin’s tribute to Heaven, Earth and man.

Chen says the decade spent filming the documentary revealed similarities between the filmmaker and the subject.

“Feeling adrift during her 30s, it took Lin 10 years to complete Mirrors of Life, which she did in her 40s … I began making the film at age of 30 and just finished it,” says the director, 40. She added that their relationship was “built on mutual trust, openness and support. It wouldn’t have lasted as long otherwise.”

Doubt in success

The project began in 2004, four years after Bundled (我叫阿銘啦), Chen’s critically-acclaimed debut.

With success, however, came artistic doubt about the direction her life and career were taking. Then she was presented with the opportunity to film Lin.

“I was shocked by the sheer amount of repetition demanded of the performers during the rehearsals ... It’s like a kung-fu master-disciple relationship. It’s not only teaching [performance] techniques. It’s a philosophy of life,” Chen says.

Lin, a native of Keelung, grew up attending temple ceremonies. Before setting up Legend in 1995, she had spent 10 years conducting field work on Taiwanese folk traditions, collecting material on ritual dances, temple rites and religious music.

Often described as mythical, primitive and meditative, Lin’s choreography is deeply rooted to the earth, a contrast to the upward movements of Western dance.

Slow motion

Lin’s dancers always move at an excruciatingly slow, measured pace, half-crouched, their upper body completely still. Her world is filled with mesmerizing geometry and studied stillness that transports viewers into a mythical reality. Having traveled with Legend to France, Russia and Mexico, Chen observes that Lin’s energy is calming.

Moving to the clear

In 2007, Chen completed her second feature God Man Dog (流浪神狗人), an allegory told through a mosaic of characters about how value is assigned in a capitalist society. The director says she wouldn’t have made the film had it not been for Lin, who helped her address the confusions she was experiencing.

Chen says that making documentaries about artists is a way to seek answers to her life’s questions. Her feature-length documentary, Ears Switched Off and On (如果耳朵有開關, 2013), is about Taiwan’s pioneering sound artists Dino, Wang Fu-jui (王福瑞) and Lin Chi-wei (林其蔚). Mountain Spirits (山靈, 2014) focuses on artist Wang Wen-chih (王文志), noted for creating huge installations using natural materials such as bamboo, rattan and wood.

Chen says that although these artists work in different mediums, their goals are essentially the same.

“To put it simply, through the ritual of dancing, Lin cleanses the mind and attains Zen-like clarity. Wang Wen-chih creates a state of tranquility through his woven space. While it may be difficult for people to understand, the sound artists actually feel calm amid deafening noises,” Chen says.

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