Interview with Lin Hwai-min, Artistic Director, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.
Cloud Gate Theatre, Tamshui, New Taipei City – November 14, 2017
Formosa is Lin Hwai-min’s latest work for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. Lin has said that it will likely be his last full-length work before he retires as artistic director of the company at the end of 2019. His successor will be Cheng Tsung-lung, current artistic director of Cloud Gate 2. Lin formed Cloud Gate in 1973 and has created over 90 works for the company.
Here are excerpts from my interview with Lin the week before Formosa made its world premiere at the National Theatre in Taipei. An essay titled Identity created, not defined, with further content from the interview, will be published in the summer 2018 edition of Dance International magazine.
Chinese characters are a prominent image in Formosa. How do they contribute to the themes of this piece?
I started with excerpts from poems and essays by Taiwanese writer Chiang Hsun, who writes about the landscape and the people. Those excerpts are recited as a voiceover and projected in the print form of Chinese characters onto a white backdrop. The characters begin as subtitles for the voiceover; then, we project names of cities, mountains, flowers and other geographical and cultural references of Taiwan. The characters are taken out of their original context, broken down and scattered. They become features of a landscape, such as rivers, mountains and landslides, and images that evoke memories in the minds of the audience. The dance has nothing to do with the characters. The last characters to come out are ‘yung yun’ – eternity. Suddenly, there are white waves and the ocean washes everything off, except the ocean itself. I think Formosa is a metaphor for the human situation, universally, and the chaos that pervades societies around the world. It also comments on the passage of time – that time is the only winner.
Why are words significant?
Words are everywhere nowadays. We use words on the phone and the computer; there are endless characters flying around. Most of them say nothing, and then they are trashed. In our office, people sitting across a desk have stopped talking to one another and are communicating by computer.
Words are so powerful; words convey meanings and communicate. Words record and document. But with the passage of time, words get blurred, and many a time, history is erased or rewritten by other words, or by other people.
Before you formed Cloud Gate, you were a writer. Do you ever find it difficult to express your ideas in dance?
I always choreograph differently from others, because I didn’t start out as a dancer. I don’t have academic training in dance, so I have no syllabus in my mind and body. In a way, I’m lucky because I’m free from the shadows of the giants. On the other hand, I’m always in trouble. I’ve had to figure out how to do it in my own way.
It’s always difficult to say what you want to say in dance. There is no guarantee of success. But, choreographing is a journey, an adventure. It’s as if you sense a certain fragrance, somewhere on the other end of the jungle, and you try to find the path. Most of my works are just a map of the path I wind through.
Are dancers today different from when you first formed Cloud Gate?
Dancers today are different. They are dancers, but they are also contemporary young people who are glued to their phones, and constantly on Facebook and Line. They are more professional than dancers in the early days. Most of the dancers in the company now had started their training at the age of four, the latest by ten, and they are all top students from dance schools. In the early years, there were all kinds of bodies and different kinds of training. But, the number one thing about being a dancer is the hunger for movement. The rest is not so important.
Formosa is currently on tour. Dates and cities are listed on Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s website.