Thu, Nov 30, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Poetry in motion

Lin Hwai-min’s newest work, ‘Formosa,’ can be seen as the final section of a quartet dedicated to the people and land of Taiwan

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre dancers perform an extract from Lin Hwai-min’s latest work, Formosa, during a photo call at the National Theater in Taipei on Thursday last week.

Photo: CNA

Just as Taiwan has been shaped and altered over the centuries by a variety of people and cultures, Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) as an artist has been shaped and inspired over his seven decades — by his family, Taiwan’s history, books, poetry, paintings, calligraphy, dance, taichi, theater and choreographers.

The scores of works he has created for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集) and other companies over the past four decades have reflected those influences and his changing perceptions about dance and movement, as he progressed from works inspired by traditional Chinese folktales and Martha Graham to a style influenced by Germany’s late, great Pina Bausch to more abstract pieces.

He has created a slew of memorable works, including Moon Water (水月), Nine Songs (九歌), Songs of the Wanderers (流浪者之歌), the Cursive (行草) trilogy and Whisper of Flowers (花語), but for those who know and love Taiwan, four will remain paramount: 1978’s Legacy (渡海), 1997’s Portrait of the Families (家族合唱), 2013’s Rice(稻禾), and now, Formosa (關於島嶼), which had its world premiere at the National Theater in Taipei on Friday night last week.

While Cloud Gate fans are hoping that Formosa will not be Lin’s final work for the company, after he announced last week that he would step down as artistic director at the end of 2019, it does provide a fitting coda, the final element in a Taiwan quartet.

Much like life itself, Formosa begins and ends in a vacuum: a stage bare except for a white floor and backdrop.

Poet, calligrapher and painter Chiang Hsun (蔣勳) begins to read a selection of excerpts from poems about Taiwan, including one of his own, beginning with Chen Lieh’s (陳列) Arriving and Departing Yushan and for a few moments all there is his voice.

Which is fitting, because Lin said the opening poetry was key to creating the piece — he favored verses that had names of places in Taiwan. Once he had decided on the opening poems, he put the others to one side to focus on developing the movement.

The appearance of the first dancer — Chen Mu-han (陳慕涵) — on stage coincides with the first projections of Chinese characters onto the backdrop.

Over the next eight sections, dancers stride on, off and around the stage. There are solos, duets and groups, with prominent roles given to the troupe’s younger members, although veterans such as Chou Chang-ning (周章佞), Tsai Ming-yuan (蔡銘元), Huang Pei-hua (黃珮華), Huang Mei-ya (黃媺雅) were not overlooked. The mood swings from light to dark, from connections to confrontations.

The dancers, costumed in an assortment of deceptively simple tops, pants and dresses by London-based designer Apu Jan (詹朴), move individually, or in clusters, and sometimes overlap, much like the characters in the projections, which shift from vertical straight lines to horizontal, scrolling from right to left or up and down, changing in size from small to big, clumping together or splitting into their components and drifting away.

The characters were as tiny as stars in a far-off constellation or as huge as boulders toppling off the sides of a mountain; they were luminous and grand, dark and threatening and finally blot out the stage.

The projection design was done by Chou Tung-yen (周東彥) and Very Mainstream Studio, with videography — the crashing waves that end the piece — by Howell Chang Hao-jan (張皓然).

Sometimes the videos and projections used by Lin in his recent works have threatened to overwhelm and distract from the dancing, like those in Rice, but because the projections in Formosa are not linked to the spoken word, or even to the characters’ own meanings, it is easier to view them in the abstract, to see the projections as a whole, not an individual element.

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