When Chinese Characters Dance…

A British friend of mine, who seldom get touched by shows, told me he was moved to tears when he watched Cloud Gate’s dance, the modern dance company from Taiwan. Wang Yuanyuan, the artistic director of Beijing Contemporary Theatre says, “Cloud Gate is the best Asian modern dancing company which exceptionally, perfectly fuses Chinese culture elements into modern dance.” It is not Cloud Gate’s first Beijing tour, however, it doesn’t reduce the enthusiasm of its followers.

The beautiful name, Cloud Gate is adopted from the name of a ritual dance, which was supposed to exist 5,000 years ago in China. Following the original expression of this ancient dance, Cloud Gate, found by Lin Hwai-min in 1973, has strikingly transforms and portrays Asian myths, folklore to dance and earns its reputation in the world. The dancers in Cloud Gate, under the lead of Lin Hwai-min, get multiple trainings from East to West, includes Tai Xhi Tao Yin (an ancient form from Chi Kung), meditation, martial arts, Chinese Opera movements, modern dance and ballet.

Studying Chinese opera movement in Taiwan, modern dance in New York, and classical court dance in Japan and Korea, choreographer Lin has unique understanding of different dance types, “Ballet dancers elevate, just like Gothic church attempts to reach the heavens, while Asian dancers’ squat and are closer to the ground from which energy is absorbed… Western dance is all about physicality and Asian dance demands the spirituality from dancers. I choreographed on the bodies of dancers”

Cursive is created in 2001, as Lin is very much intrigued by Chinese calligraphy. Lin often spends an hour on looking at one calligraphy work when he visits National Palace Museum. He say, “I was always fascinated by the way ink flows on rice paper, tender and fluid, creating rich shadings from intense black to misty white.” In Lin’s eyes, the brush in masters hands “dancing” on the white rice paper during the writing. He realized that the link between the dancer’s movement and the brush works in calligraphy is the traces of energy. He trained his dancers to feel, experience and absorb the energy and move with it. The dancers of Cloud Gate have weekly calligraphy classes.

Don’t expect Cursive is passionate dance with brisk rhythm. Oppositely, it is extremely slow flows with plentiful empty space in the music, which aims to leave the meditative quality to audiences. The energy, the power is hidden in dancers’ deliberate gestures. The music, composed by Qu Xiaosong features a cello and the percussion, and sometimes expresses the tension during the dance. Cursive creates a possibility that the dancers move their body as a bush to express the emotion, the beauty and energy. It translates the pause, the move, the rotating of the body to the basic strokes of Chinese calligraphy–“horizontal stroke”, “vertical stroke”, “dot stroke”, “right falling stroke”, and “leftfalling stroke”. The dancers regulate their breath and follow the fluid qi to dance. The qi is released naturally and gently in end of each movement. It has close-ups of calligraphy by ancient masters projected as background in the stage. In one section, the whole stage and proscenium is fully covered by hundreds of characters that start comes to live when dancers move through them.

Cursive marks the beginning of Lin’s extensive process of exploring dancer’s body succeeding his earliest works, which mainly adapted from literatures and folklores, such as The Tale of the White Serpent (1975), and The Dream of Red Chamber (1983). Instead of narrative dance, Lin started to draw into pure movements from this piece. For the reason to choose Cursive as its third Beijing visit, Lin says, “Cursive, with its source from aesthetics of calligraphy, should be able to bring forth rapport from audience in Beijing.”

It originally was published in November issue of thebeijinger, 2009.

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