He is known as one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th Century. His Cloud Gate Dance Theater is considered by many to be “Taiwan’s most important cultural export over the past two decades.” In Taiwan, he has become the cultural icon of a generation. The story of his establishment of Cloud Gate has even been written into Taiwan’s elementary school textbooks.
From late February to early March of this year, 66-year-old Lin Hwai-min brought Cloud Gate to Beijing to perform at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) for the third time. This time, he presented the classic, Nine Songs.
Divided into eight chapters, the dance drama Nine Songs is inspired by a series of classical Chinese poems written by Qu Yuan some 2,300 years ago. However, Lin emphasizes that the dance is not meant to interpret Qu Yuan’s poetry. The first image on stage is a modern man dressed in a suit, carrying luggage and an umbrella.
The appearance of characters such as this is meant to remind spectators that Nine Songs is not about ancient times, but the contemporary world. The performance is certainly not Nine Songs by Qu Yuan, but Cloud Gate’s original production.
A glistening lotus pond complemented by masked shamans highlights the set designed by Lee Ming-cho, one of the most celebrated designers in the United States. Music from India, China’s Tibet, Indonesia, Japan and the indigenous people of Taiwan make Nine Songs a kaleidoscope of Asian cultures and aesthetics.
Nine Songs premiered in 1993 to mark Cloud Gate’s 20th anniversary. This year marks the theater’s 40th anniversary. After the Chinese mainland tour kicked off at Beijing’s NCPA, it visited four more Chinese cities. Lin plans on taking the dance drama to London in 2014, but will probably stuff Nine Songs in a drawer afterwards.
Two major factors contributed to his decision to shelf the show: Nine Songs’ complex sets and massive cast bring myriad headaches to the road when touring. Secondly, Lin believes that young dancers have a hard time grasping the situational imagination required to perform the dance.