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.
“Eight maybe, let me count: soil, wind, pollen one, pollen two, sunlight, grain, fire, water,” he said. “The fire [section] is so exciting. After harvest, they burn the fields, so there is smoke on the floor and background.”
“This is one of the most difficult pieces I have ever done,” he said, though he added that at least his dancers are happy.
“The male dancers are so happy [because] they are living their childhood dreams; they get to fight with sticks. It is scary to watch, so many sticks going up and down.”
As is his wont, Lin has chosen an eclectic mix for the soundtrack, combining Hakka folk songs, Japanese taiko drums, Taiwanese drums, the sounds of nature, Maria Callas’ rendition of Casta Diva from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma and a piece by Richard Strauss for the close.
“Norma comes in, it gives an extensive sweep that you don’t get in Hakka songs … it’s so beautiful. She sings about wheat, a field of wheat where they are about to fight… But most of all is its musical sweep.”
Earlier this month, the company gave two performances in Chihshang as part of the Chihshang Autumn Harvest Music Festival as a thank-you to the farmers and the townspeople for their help.
The plan was to perform excerpts from Rice out in the fields, with the audience seated on chairs on a specially-build platform. Fittingly for a work that revolves around Mother Nature, she had her say, with heavy downpours that almost washed out the first show, and then let up just in time for the second show the next day.
Despite the soggy weather conditions, Lin said that the 2,000-member audience was happy.
“No one played with their mobiles,” he quipped. “Afterwards I could hardly walk outside in the town, people kept saying: ‘We’re so touched. When are you coming back?’”
The company may not be back in Chihshang for a while, but it will do an extensive nationwide tour with Rice after its run at the National Theater. After the opening weekend, the company will perform for two weeks — Tuesdays through Sundays — through Dec. 8. Opening night is already sold out, but tickets for the rest of the run are available at a wide range of prices.
Cloud Gate begins a six-city national tour of Rice in Greater Taichung on Dec. 13 that will end in Hualien on Jan. 19.
After the Lunar New Year holiday, the company begins the first of its international tours with Rice. In addition to the National Theater Concert Hall, the show has been coproduced with Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, the HELLERAU European Center for the Arts Dresden in Germany, the New Vision Arts Festival in Hong Kong and Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay in Singapore. Rice will be performed at Sadler’s Wells on Feb. 26 and 27, in Dresden in June, in Hong Kong in the fall and in Singapore in 2015.
With just a few days left before opening night, I asked if Lin was happy with Rice.
“Still working on it. My God, I’m suffocating; it’s too much. Especially after you have done a production [like in Chihshang], you have so much more to do.”
Hopefully, Lin will be feeling a little more relaxed after Friday night’s premiere. He will give two post-performance talk/question-and-answer sessions in Taipei, on Nov. 28 and Dec. 5.
When: Friday through Dec. 8; Friday and Saturday at 7:45pm, Nov. 26 to Nov. 30 at 7:45 and Dec. 3 to Dec. 7 at 7:45pm,
Sunday, Dec. 1 and Dec. 8 at 2:45pm
Where: National Theater (國家戲劇院), 21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei City (台北市中山南路21-1號)
Admission: NT$400 to NT$2,400, available at NTCH box offices online at www.artsticket.com.tw or through through 7-Eleven ibon kiosks. Several special 40th anniversary offers are available; for more information check www.cloudgate.org.tw/2013winter/
Additional Performance: In Greater Taichung on Dec. 13 and Dec. 14 at 7:30pm at Taichung Chungshan Hall (臺中市文化局中山堂), 98 Syueshih Rd (台中市學士路98號), although the only tickets left are for the Dec. 13 show; in Chiayi on Dec. 20 and Dec. 21 at 7:30pm and Dec. 22 at 2:30pm at Chiayi Performing Arts Center (嘉義縣表演藝術中心演藝廳), 265, Jianguo Rd Sec 2, Minsyong Township (嘉義縣民雄鄉建國路二段265號); in Greater Tainan on Dec. 27 and Dec. 28 at 7:30pm at Tainan Municipal Cultural Center (台南市立台南文化中心國際廳原生劇場) at 332 Zhonghua E Rd (台南市中華東路3段332號); in Greater Kaohsiung on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4 at 7:30pm at Kaohsiung Cultural Center’s Chihteh Hall (高雄市文化中心至德堂), 67 Wufu 1st Rd (高雄市五福一路67號); in Taitung on Jan. 11 at 7:30pm and Jan. 12 at 2:30pm at the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taitung (台東文化局演藝廳), 25, Nanjing Rd (台東市南京路25號); and in Hualien on Jan. 18 at 7:30pm and Jan. 19 at 2:30pm at the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Hualien County (花蓮縣文化局演藝廳), 6 Wenfu Rd, Hualien City (花蓮市文復路6號)
Admission: NT$300 to 1,200 for Taitung and Hualien, NT$300 to 2,000 for all other performances; available online at www.artsticket.com.tw or through through 7-Eleven ibon kiosks