A Unique Opportunity with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

By Tania Kopytko

Cloud Gate Dance Theater performing ‘‘RICE.’’ Credit Gia To

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, widely regarded as Asia’s leading contemporary dance company, is regularly praised by international critics for the “miracle” of its technical achievement, with performances described as “breath-taking” or “magical”. They say; “through Lin Hwai-min’s choreographies the company transforms ancient aesthetics into thrilling modern celebration of motion.” 

What is Cloud Gate’s magical ingredient?  Ms Lee explained that the essence of their training is a fusion of East and West. Cloud Gate dancers study meditation, Qi Gong, internal martial arts, modern dance, ballet, and calligraphy.

Ms Lee says the Qi Gong and internal martial arts training is mind training. It includes stillness and very slow motion movement. It explores moving from inside the mind. She says that to go from stillness to slow motion is a process of knowing yourself thoroughly. Chinese internal martial arts’ provides wide and deep understanding of the body. Ms Lee agrees with one observer’s description; “Cloud Gate can be still like a rock, slow like melting wax, smooth like silk and can jump like a bear.” This blending of east and west movement and philosophy gives the company its unique qualities.

The masterclass, to be held as part of the Auckland Arts Festival, will be led by two senior dancers and will provide participants with an experience of this unique Cloud Gate style and philosophy which forms the basis of their repertoire.

RICE, created in 2013 for Cloud Gate’s 40th anniversary, pays reverence to the land that nurtured the company and country. It is inspired by the life cycle of the rice paddy in beautiful Chihshang, the East rift valley of Taiwan and home to the Emperors rice. Formerly tainted by chemicals the local farmers have returned to organic farming. Their traditional methods were studied by the dancers who worked alongside the farmers at harvest time. Miss Lee said this had a profound effect on the dancers because they found there was a big difference between thinking what working the soil is like and the experience. “You realise how clumsy you are because you are not a farmer.” They found the technique of harvesting with a special knife difficult, as was the very low squatting. “We learned so much, so much respect for the food we eat, for the farmers and for nature.  When you live with the farmers you know where the food is coming from, the effort involved and the preciousness of the cycle of life and the whole universe. When you cut rice you see the worms and the birds who try to eat them, you feel the wind and the sun.”

This openness to the changes in nature is expressed in the choreography. For example, in how the dancers move this way and that for the wind and the clouds. This is complemented by beautiful cinematic film of the region and the cycle of rice and farming.

RICE was very well received in Taiwan. Ms Lee said that for older people the work was easy to access because they knew about rice and it reflected what they knew in their lives. “It was in our childhood, in our hearts, an echo of our lives, satisfying for our soul and emotions.” For younger people it can be an education because some children now think rice comes in a plastic bag from a supermarket. The projections also allow the audience to look at rice in a very special way, from a wide sweep of fields, from up high or microscopically close.

Cloud Gate follows a rigorous international tour schedule. This year they will go to many cities in Europe and Russia, USA, Asia and China, plus Australia and New Zealand. Ms Lee says they are well received and supported in China because of the deep cultural connection through Qi Gong, calligraphy and martial arts. So the arts become a valuable platform for the two countries to learn about their cultural connections.

Cloud gate also have a well-established and vigorous home dance development programme, through Cloud Gate 2 which was set up in 1999. Cloud Gate 2 provides an outreach programme across Taiwan for half of the year. This is funded primarily by donations from enterprises. The aim is for movement and dance to be a part of life. The outreach programme goes to schools and communities. Programmes can be for all ages from young children through to older adults. Ms Lee said they provide regular residencies in schools and colleges, or may follow a community request to dance together with senior people, following local research. Cloud Gate 1 also engages in community and education, as the day before their city performance they provide a full pre-performance of the work for students and may attract between 300 to 1000 attendees.

It is 17 years since Cloud Gate Dance Theatre last visited New Zealand and the company is excited to be returning. Ms Lee says; “we have very beautiful memories from our last visit, when we saw Māori dance.”


Rice
 
10-12 March, Auckland ASB Theatre
Visit http://www.aucklandfestival.co.nz/events/rice-at-asb-theatre/ for information and ticketing

The Cloudgate masterclass is limited to 25 participants trained in contemporary dance.
When: 
11 March, 12:30-2pm @ Wellesley Studios
Cost: $30 + booking fee
Contact:
Email danz@danz.org.nz expressing your interest and your dance experience.

A Unique Opportunity with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

 
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