Tonight begins the final chapter of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre's (雲門舞集) The Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢) and the start of a new era for the nation's premier dance troupe.
For years, Cloud Gate has marked the seasons by performing one of the pieces in its repertoire in February or March and then unveiling a new work in its fall season. Late spring, early summer was reserved for overseas tours and festival appearances, which often consisted of a mix of the old and new pieces.
No more. A spinal injury last year made Cloud Gate's founder, artistic director and primary choreographer Lin Hwai-min (林懷民) re-evaluate his priorities. Not that time was running out exactly, but he decided he needed to make the best use of his energy while he still had plenty of it.
"Most of our energy and focus has to be on new things," Lin said yesterday after a dress rehearsal of Dream.
So he wants the company to perform only new pieces.
"We were keeping the repertoire for society. Without repeating these pieces, like Legacy, some of our history is gone," he said.
For Lin, it's important that young people are exposed to, and develop and interest in, their literary and cultural heritage. The younger generation has to get in touch with the past, he said.
His first works -- such as the Legend of White Snake in 1975 -- were inspired by Beijing Opera. Dream, created by Lin in 1983, was one of a series of pieces based on traditional Chinese literature and folklore.
His next works could be seen as sweeping epics, describing the history and hopes of the people of Taiwan. Among the most famous is Legacy, the story of people coming to Taiwan. Its premier, ironically, took place on the same day the US broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Dec. 16, 1978.
In the 1990s, Lin's choreography became more abstract. One of the highlights was the 1994 Song of the Wanderers, based on Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha. This was followed by Moonwater, Bamboo Dream, Cursive I and Cursive II, among others.
But now the company is going to retire some of these pieces.
Basically the epics, Lin said.
"It's such a burden," he said, referring to the effort of keeping all of his older works in the repertoire.
When asked what exactly he had in mind to do next, whether he would continue to focus on abstract, full-length pieces, or create new epics, Lin was succinct: "No plans."
Which is a little hard to believe from a man who has, over the years, juggled running a dance company, creating new works, overseeing the dance department at the National Taipei University of the Arts, trying his hand at directing opera and serving as artistic director of the "Novel Hall New Dance Series."
It will be hard to say goodbye to Dream, which is loosely based on the Chinese classic of the same name from the mid-1700s by Tsao Hsueh-ching (曹雪芹). The book told the story of the gradual decline of an aristocratic family through a dizzying array of characters and their friendships, love affairs, betrayals and deaths.
Dream follows the book by being divided into six sections: Prologue, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Epilogue. Lin has pared down characters to the story's hero, Chao Pao-yu -- here known as the Youth in the Garden -- his parents, 12 main women and then an assortment of monks, young maids and some male dancers.
The Youth in the Garden is clad only in jade-green briefs to represent the book's description of Chao being born with a piece of jade in his mouth. The dancer who plays the monk that Chao eventually becomes -- after the death of his beloved -- is robed in crimson red.
The costumes for the 12 women are breathtaking. Each one wears a full-length cape of a different color, with an elaborate flower or bamboo design embroidered on it. Underneath is a simple gauze gown of the same color, set off by a contrasting ribbon. The capes are reversible -- for the last scene, the women turn them over so that the white silk linings create the image of a snowy winter.
The sumptuous costumes designed by Lin Jing-ru (林璟如) are set off by the beautifully spare set design by Chinese-American Ming Cho Lee (李名覺) -- backdrops of varying trios of gauze strips that resemble unrolled scrolls. The changing seasons are represented by the changing colors of the gauze.
Now for the bad news. The Taipei performances are sold out. There are still some tickets left, however, for the performances in Taichung, Kaohsiung and Chiayi in the next few weeks. The company will also be performing Dream at its outdoor performances this summer and in Shanghai in October.
The exact dates of the later performances weren't available yesterday. The director of Cloud Gate's marketing department, Kathy Hong (洪家琪), said the company's outdoor performance season will be held as usual in late July, and early August. There will be one performance each in Kinmen, Kaohsiung and then Taipei (in the plaza at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial).
However, if you miss the current tour and won't be around over the summer for the outdoor performances, don't despair.
Many of Cloud Gate's productions have been filmed while the company was performing abroad and are available on video or DVD. Lin said Dream will be filmed during this run of performances. Hong said the recording will be available for sale before the end of the year.
For your information :
What: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan
Where: CKS Cultural Center, National Theatre (
When: Tonight through April 2 at 7:45pm. Saturday March 27 and April 3 at 2:45 pm.
Tickets: Sold out.
Additional info: The company will be performing at the Taichung City Cultural Center Chunshan Hall on April 8 and 9 at 7:30pm and April 9 at 2:30pm. In Kaohsiung the troupe will be at the Kaoshiung City Cultural Center Chih-Der Hall on April 15 at 7:30pm and April 16 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm. The performances in Chiayi, Lin's hometown, are at the Chiayi Performing Arts Center on April 22 and 23 at 7:30pm.
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