There was a bitter chill in the air as my companion and I entered the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University to see the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s performance of Lin Hwai-min’s Songs of the Wanderers. When we left, we had experienced a spiritual journey, we were warmed and even the outside air was warmer.
This is the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s 40th anniversary year, which they are celebrating by performing this spectacular work around the globe. Chicagoans were able to see this company due to the following support. Alphawood Foundation is the lead sponsor of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan’s Chicago presentation of Songs of the Wanderers, which is a co-presentation of The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and The Joffrey Ballet with additional funding provided by the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation. In addition, at the post-performance conversation, Lin Hwai-min described the new dance facility in Taiwan that was made possible by an Alphawood Foundation grant.
“Cloud Gate has made five tours to Chicago, three presented by The Dance Center and two by the Auditorium Theatre Council,” said Lin Hwai-min. “Among many cities we have visited around the world, Chicago is remembered as one of many friends.”
According to legend, Cloud Gate is the name of the oldest known dance in China, a ritual dance of some 5,000 years ago. In 1973, internationally renowned choreographer Lin Hwai-min adopted this classical name for the first contemporary dance company in any Chinese-speaking community: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Cloud Gate's rich repertoire has its roots in Asian myths, folklore and aesthetics, but it brings to these age-old beliefs and stories a contemporary and universal perspective. The 24 dancers of the company receive training from the West and the East, including Tai Chi Tao Yin(an ancient form of Chi Kung), meditation, martial arts, modern dance, ballet and calligraphy. With frequent appearances at international arts festivals, including the Next Wave Festival, Cloud Gate has received high acclaim throughout the world.
This is the first time that I have seen this company. As I read the words above in the program, I tried to envision just how this translated into the performance-and then I found out. On a bare stage, a monk stepped out and rice rained on him during the entire performance of ninety minutes. And then the dancers began. As I watched them, the words of my strength-training instructor entered my head, “slow and controlled”. This was the essence of this spiritual journey leading to a higher place. The work was inspired by the wealth of religious practices throughout Asia and Herman Hesse’s account of Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment. It was set to soulful Georgian folk songs.
I have seen some amazing blends of various dance forms presented by other companies, but it was the spiritual core around which the dance movements were constructed that distinguished this for me. The costuming enhanced the movement and the staging and lighting were spectacular. The use of rice was at once, surprising, mesmerizing and beautiful. I agreed with comments at the end that reflected the feeling of being a part of this experience rather than only a spectator. It was clearly a spiritual experience and very impactful. The scenic design that included three and a half tons of shimmering golden grains of rice that shower down on the stage throughout the piece was astonishing and aside from the delight of watching all of this, I could only wonder about the was this could be done, technically. The skill of the dancers was most amazing. If you were not one of those lucky enough to see this group, watch for their return and run to see them.
Photos unless otherwise noted are by YU Hui-hung
Alphawood Foundation is a Chicago-based grant making private foundation working for an equitable, just and humane society. It awards grants to more than 200 organizations annually, primarily in the areas of the arts and arts education, advocacy, architecture and preservation, domestic violence prevention, the environment, promotion and protection of the rights of LGBT citizens and people living with HIV/AIDS, and other human and civil rights.