A masked, loin-clothed cloud god danced on the shoulders of his two black-suited bearers, as a river goddess moved and quivered with nuanced emotions.
These two divine characters from Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s Nine Songs (九歌) descended on an outdoor square in front of the Eslite Bookstore in Xinyi District (信義) yesterday afternoon, drawing a large crowd of curious onlookers who busily snapped photographs of the unusual sight.
The performance was part of an event heralding the restoration of Nine Songs and the show’s worldwide tour, which opens in Greater Tainan on Sept. 7.
“The reason we are bringing the performers to the street is that Mr Lin [Cloud Gate founder and artistic director Lin Hwai-min (林懷民)] believes that the work belongs to the city and should be seen by citizens in everyday life, rather than being limited to the stage,” Cloud Gate media coordiantor Amy Liang (梁越美) said.
Premiering in 1993 to mark the company’s 20th anniversary, Nine Songs had what was supposed to be its last run in 2007, but one month after the final show, a fire broke out at the troupe’s rehearsal studio and warehouse complex in Bali Township (八里), New Taipei City (新北市), on Feb. 11, 2008, destroying the majority of the facility and reducing most of the company’s props, scenery, costumes and production archives to ashes.
However, the masks worn by the divine characters in Nine Songs miraculously survived the blaze. Buoyed by the discovery of the masks, the troupe’s members decided to revive the piece and keep it alive, Lin said at a press conference in May.
Inspired by a collection of poems written by Qu Yuan (屈原) during China’s Warring States period, as well as the modern political conflict surrounding the Taiwan Strait, Nine Songs is considered to be one of Cloud Gate’s most elaborate and iconic works and is outfitted with an award-winning set design that includes a lotus pond and a river of flickering candles.
Equally ambitious is the score, which includes songs from Taiwan’s Tsou and Puyuma tribes, Tibetan Buddhist chants, traditional Javanese music and the Ju Percussion Group.
To recreate the piece, all the costumes, props and sets had to be re-made and since the master tape recording of the score was lost in the fire, the music was pieced together using restored surviving copies.
It also took a lot of time to train young dancers, because the work demanded highly skilled performances, said the troupe’s deputy artistic director Lee Ching-chun (李靜君), a former lead dancer herself.
“To perfect an eight-minute performance, the dancers have to prepare and practice for two years,” Lee said. “Each role in the work is a deity and such roles require mature performers to succeed.”
The company will take the new production on an eight-city tour around the nation, including Taipei in September, before hitting the road for shows in Hong Kong, Macau and China as well as Moscow, London and other European cities.