By Donald Hutera
Whether they are on the road or at home in Taipei, Lin encourages his dancers to attend lectures, visit museums and galleries and expose themselves to other art forms and cultures. ‘You need to become illiterate in order to be a good dancer,’ he says. Example: last summer, during a seven-week tour that included a string of performances in Germany, the company carted along more than 200 books in boxes. ‘The books traveled with the cargo. The dancers could always pick one up, read it and by the next station or port come backstage to exchange it for a new one. I try to make their minds work this way. It brings up the whole level of what they do. Otherwise they sit in the hotel, or backstage.
‘Of course the most successful product of Cloud Gate is JJ,’ says Lin, employing the Westernised nickname of the brilliant dancer turned rehearsal director Lee Ching-Chun. Having joined the company in 1983, she has since evolved into being Lin’s associate artistic director and the chief consultant for the company’s dance school.
Watching Lee conduct company class, as I did last year in Wiesbaden, you begin to understand his complete confidence in her. The room is pin-drop quiet as she puts the dancers through their paces — a concentrated, eclectic 90-minute mixture of meditative yoga-like positions, balletic balances and floor-based movement a la Martha Graham, plus livelier, sometimes stamping steps that suggest martial arts, folk dance and hopping, jazz-based shuffles.
Asked about how he selects new dancers for Cloud Gate, Lin reveals that he generally defers to Lee. ‘She chooses and I will say yes, or no. Sometimes I get a stubborn bone in my body and I’ll say, “I want this girl or that boy.” But mostly she tells me what to do. Basically I let her run the company. She will rehearse the dancers perfectly to keep the correct discipline. I just step in to make it stay alive by changing or twisting things here and there, or encouraging them to break the mould. I try to destroy what we may have done last night so that they are different – so that it’s maybe more entertaining to me. I have to do this because I am watching every night, and I want to see something different.’
‘There are dancers who are so good with their bodies,’ Lin continues, ‘that they make things faster. You have to slow them down. When they get more confident with their material I add more things, more details for them to do within each phrase of movement. It’s always very subtle. If you just insert a breath in and out, it can change the whole texture of their dancing.’