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Dancing their way across communities (Amended)
WHILE most dance companies spin off a second one to groom young talents, Taiwan's Cloud Gate launched its secondary company for a more magnanimous reason.
It's just to spread the joy and love of dance, and to enable aspiring dancers and young choreographers in Taiwan to embark on a dance career, explains Cheng Tsung-lung, Cloud Gate 2's artistic director.
"It's established for young artists, and is here to share the beauty of dance. These young people believe that the body is made the way it is, and through dance, through breathing, we will get to know ourselves better. And through working with different young choreographers, we will get to know that dance has even more possibilities."
Making its mark
Cloud Gate 2 was established by the premier dance company's founder Lin Hwai-min in 1999 to bring dance to various cities and towns in Taiwan. "The company has since left its mark in schools, communities, mountain tribes and at central squares next to the fishing ports," Cheng says.
To encourage choreography, the company seldom performs Lin's works. When Cheng took over as artistic director, he was inspired by their enthusiasm in sharing dance: "Not just in classical and grand theatres or contemporary and avant-garde spaces, but mostly, their stage is in school assembly halls, and on cement floors in the community central squares under the hot sun."
Audiences come up close to them, and the reward is direct and reactions immediate.
"These reactions encourage us and enable us to see more possibilities. In addition, every young choreographer brings with them their unique dance style or characteristic ways. By working with them, we learn things that we have never thought of, and dance in ways we have never tried before."
Often, the company will dance a variety of works in one performance "so we don't have a fixed DNA per se, as we work with so many different choreographers. But what doesn't change is our enthusiasm".
He joined Cloud Gate in 2001 through an audition. "I remember during our first basic tai chi class when 70-year-old Master Hsiung Wei demonstrated tai chi moves, every dancer in the company breathed in and out in sync with the movements, and when we went into the position where our feet were aligned with our shoulders, and our hands outstretched in front of our body with elbows pointing downwards, Master Hsiung stopped and did not utter a word thereafter.
"I remember all the dancers in the company looked very peaceful and stayed in this position for an hour and a half. To me, that was a stunning way to start, and from that day on, I confronted the frustrations and fluctuating thoughts that were in my mind, and started to learn how to calm down."
He describes how this type of training was so unforgettable that he constantly goes back to it when he feels anxious during his choreography process.
When he started working with Cloud Gate 2 in 2014, he didn't have much experience in choreography, he says. The dancers in fact had a better understanding of how to choreograph as they had worked with other choreographers.
"The young dancers were always able to give me more feedback and thoughts than I expected."
The company will perform two works by Cheng and one by choreographer and dancer Huang Yi in their triple bill debut performance at the Hua Yi Festival next month.
Huang Yi's Wicked Fish has been described as "fast-paced, exciting and fluid" by dance magazine Dance Europe, with dancers mimicking a shoal of fish in a puzzle-like choreography of twists, turns and lifts.
The Wall is Cheng recalling the time he built an invisible wall around him, to stay isolated from friends and family.
"When I heard Weather One by Michael Gordon, I felt that it was very similar to how I was feeling, so I found the music score and started to choreograph a dance.
"I gradually walked out of the wall that I built as I completed the work step by step. And I wanted to share this experience, as there may be many people who, like me, were trapped in a wall."
In Beckoning, Cheng was inspired by Taiwan's cultural festivals and ceremonies which he often participated in as a child. "During the birthdays of these deities, there will be processions along the streets in Taiwan, like carnivals."
As both Taoism and folk beliefs are polytheistic, there are deities in charge of different things, from agriculture, weather and commerce, to life and death. "There are legends and myths surrounding these things, giving people a direction to pray and face their own fears."
Recalling some processions with shaman-like mediums, Cheng was curious about the moment during the changeover of consciousness and the change in people's state of being.
"For the dance, the bright colours of the costumes during the ceremony, the statues in the temples, and the large and exaggerated movements of participants in the procession, will feed the work," he explains.
Not that the dance is about faith or religion, he says, quoting a Joseph Campbell story The Power of Myth where a Shinto priest declares they do not have ideology or theology, but dance. "This inspired me to choreograph this work."
- Cloud Gate 2 - A Triple Bill will be held on Feb 7 and 8, 8pm at the Esplanade Theatre. Tickets from S$38 at www.esplanade.com/huayi
Amendment note: An earlier version of this article stated that prices start from $35. It is in fact $38 and the article above has been revised to reflect this.