In Conversation with Cloud Gate Theatre: Legends and Legacies

By Donald Hutera

‘He bears a deep responsibility towards his nation,’ Lee says of Lin. ‘It started 35 years ago with Cloud Gate’s slogan: “A company which can serve the society.” It’s the reason I’ve worked for him for such a long time. He’s a guy who doesn’t care about himself. You feel like you want to take care of him, but he doesn’t want that. We’ve gone through so many difficult times. You see him crying, depressed, so disappointed. He works hard because he wants so much for others. When he was younger he made his voice loud because he wanted to be heard. Now that he is older he thinks the only way to make society peaceful is to calm people, not to shout loudly. It’s still the same concern, only in a different way.’

‘My work is a reaction to the crazy society of Taiwan,’ says Lin. ‘I don’t want it to imitate that craziness.’ In truth, Cloud Gate’s productions function like a balm for troubled modern souls everywhere. Providing people with a source of stress-relieving beauty seems to be an inherent part of the company’s mission. ‘In the early days we went out into the villages and danced on small, rough stages,’ Lin recalls. ‘Nowadays we’re touring so much, but we still have free, outdoor performances every year in four cities. It’s a big deal. They attract 60 thousand people per show. 30 thousand, even when it rains. It’s a beautiful scene with all the yellow raincoats spread out. They will sit in the water for two hours. Sometimes we have to stop and say, “Go home! We do it tomorrow instead.” They say, “No!” So when the storm comes up we stop the show, mop the floor and then we continue.

Under Lin’s vigilant guidance Cloud Gate has developed in three directions: as one main company that has garnered plaudits internationally; a junior company that mainly performs in schools and local communities; and a school the ethos of which has reached thousands of Taiwanese of all ages. Lee says that Lin’s ultimate goal is to establish 200 dance schools throughout the country. This, she believes, is more important than being able to train more Cloud Gate dancers. Lin agrees. ‘In the schools we try to teach people to be friends with their bodies, and to respect others’ bodies. I think that’s going to be the legacy of Cloud Gate, so I can do something that is lasting.’

This generosity of spirit has helped turn the company, and Lin himself, into a national treasure. It’s a reason, too, for the intense media attention and strong public support just a few months ago when a nocturnal fire on the Chinese New Year devastated the company headquarters in Taipei. Costumes, sets and archives but, thankfully, no lives were lost. ‘The second day after the fire, the first day after the New Year, rehearsals went on as scheduled,’ Lin reports. ‘Yes, the costumes burnt, so we started making new ones. Everything moved fast, as if nothing happened. Now I think I took all that trauma in my body. It might be the material for a new work. I should say that in three years I will choreograph a piece called Firebird.’ He is joking, but humour is doubtless the flipside of untold distress. And yet this lamentable incendiary incident has a phoenix-like positive side: an increased percentage of government money has been pledged to Cloud Gate, coinciding with the huge amount of donations sent in by ordinary citizens. Furthermore, these unexpected funds can be applied to the construction of a complex of buildings that will enable Cloud Gate to continue to implement its programme of artistic and educational activities with a greater degree of resources and security.

‘Dance is life itself,’ Lin has said. Based upon his history with Cloud Gate, you believe him. It’s a history that keeps evolving. ‘In recent years we revived some gigantic, full-length works that are adaptations from classical literature,’ Lin says, ‘with elaborate sets and things like that. We revived them and closed them down, one after another.’ Why? ‘Because the dancers are so wonderful, and I’m getting old, and we’d like to climb a few more mountains together. So we’re not going to let those things drag us back.’

Moon Water was a significant step in the company’s aesthetic development. After unveiling this masterpiece in 1998, Lin says, ‘we no longer needed to serve a story or a message. We were free of the past. It’s been a long process of rediscovery. Now I just concentrate on the bodies, and the dancers just do whatever they can. That’s what happens onstage. We make something out of nothing. Basically I’m having a long love affair with my dancers and the whole company. That’s my world. It’s their fire that keeps me going. And my creations are how I feed them, and how we challenge each other. And how they feed me back. After 35 years we take pride in the sense that we didn’t betray the commitment we had when we started, which is to serve the people.’

See also:
Tour(s): Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan 2008