Information Services Office   19.10.2011

385

 
Newsletter No. 385 > Feature > Artist Lin Hwai-min: Moving People, Moved by People

Artist Lin Hwai-min: Moving People, Moved by People

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The University Lecture on Civility, a major component of CUHK’s I•CARE programme, debuted on 4 October with Lin Hwai-min, founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, as its first guest speaker. The 600 tickets were gone in no time and fans spilt out onto the corridors of Lee Hysan Concert Hall to hear him speak about his life of dance in the last 38 years.

Lin Hwai-min was born to an established household in Chiayi, Taiwan, the only child in his family who ‘didn’t get into National Taiwan University and so had to settle for the law department of Taiwan’s Chengchi University’. He had dreamt of a literati’s life infused with music, books and tea, but guided by his father’s spirit of altruism, he sailed from law through journalism, to literature, finally landing on dance, the reason for the entire latter part of his life.


‘Back in those days, there were predecessors you could watch and feel. But now these figures for emulation have been crowded out by commercial culture.’ Lin related the incidents that had influenced him as a young man: the Peace Corps set up by US President John 
F. Kennedy in 1961; the student movements in New York, Paris, Tokyo, etc., in 1968; the barefoot doctors who served in rural villages during the Cultural Revolution — they all showed the young that change was possible. In 1973, upon returning to Taiwan, he set up the first contemporary dance company in Chinese society. Named ‘Cloud Gate’ (yun men) after China’s most ancient dance, it strove to present dance choreographed by Chinese for Chinese. The status of dancers in Taiwan at the time was lowly, comparable to a beggar’s, and some even likened the company’s survival to that of flowers grown in cement.


Bringing Art to the People


When asked if he started Cloud Gate to fulfil a creative dream, Lin replied, ‘No, it was a tactic, a means through which I hoped to get involved in and interact with society.’ He believes in elevating society’s spiritual life. Many in this world, he says, are not aware that besides popular culture, there’s also art. And those who have never seen a performance at a cultural venue, he thinks, should at least be given the opportunity to hear Beethoven and to decide if they like his music. ‘Cloud Gate was not founded for my need to express my creativity, but to bring art to ordinary lives.’ And not only has the troupe performed in iconic venues in Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, Europe and the US, it has also spawned Cloud Gate 2 in 1999, which has as its mission performance education. The younger ensemble stations itself in far-flung counties and schools, and gives free performances in hospitals, disaster areas, villages, and town squares.

Whether it’s New York, Paris, Moscow, London, or a tribal village in Taiwan, Cloud Gate runs the same programme. Lin thinks that aesthetics do not necessarily have any links to one’s education and upbringing. ‘Many among our audiences are peasants and a great number have told me, “Teacher Lin, I didn’t understand a thing, but I was deeply moved from start to finish.” We are a word-oriented nation, but watching a dance is not about reading for content. We’re also a utilitarian nation. We’re the product of exams; we don’t think freely so we’re always anxious about the meaning of what we see on stage and that anxiety kills appreciation. I think art should liberate your thinking and let your imagination soar.’


Cloud Gate’s free outdoor performances attract thousands and up to tens of thousands of viewers. To quote him, ‘Today when the world is in our neighbourhood and our neighbourhood is worlds away, when people no longer interact with people, every time thousands of folks switch off their computers and television sets, and get out of their homes to watch something alive and breathing, it’s amazing.’


Lin and his dancers’ experience with the audience has been a journey of self-reacquaintance. In the talk at CUHK, he reviewed how his brainchild treaded a creative path through Taiwan’s martial law era and beyond its abolishment. The Tale of the White Serpent, Nine Songs, The Dream of the Red Chamber, Songs of the Wanderers, Legacy, Moon Water, and Cursive testified to how Cloud Gate evolved from expression through textual characters, taking inspiration from classics, to a departure from words marked by full body-led expression; from infusing Western dance movements into fundamentals derived from Peking opera, to relinquishing the pursuit of vertical height in Western dance in favour of harmony of the yin and the yang. Lin seeks innovation in all his endeavours. ‘Basically I have no boundaries. Every dance is a new baby and all babies are different.’ His standards for picking dancers are the same, preferring those who love to dance and imbue movement with personality over uniformity of body shapes.

Dreams and Passion


When asked how dreams become reality, he says, ‘Don’t just keep thinking or talking. Venture out, explore the world when you’re young. Dreams don’t come true in your imagination. We think too much. We calculate too much.’ And despite over 30 years of growing daisies in cement, he makes light of the challenges which have included a fatigue-induced breakdown in 1977, a debt-induced hiatus in 1988, and losing a rehearsal studio to fire in 2008. ‘The synonym of youth is courage,’ he quipped. Now in his 60s, this same passion fuels his efforts at bringing dance to the people, sharing his experiences with the young so they will concern themselves with society and the world. 


Persistence amid Changes


‘In an age when change is the only convention, storms leave Taiwan for New York, the iPad becomes the last nail in the coffin of the electronic industry; there are calls to levy a “Buffett tax” on millionaires in Europe and the US. The times, the world and our standards are changing. We can count on nothing. Does anything stay the same?’ Lin then went on to reaffirm us, yes, and that includes love for people, love for the land, the pursuit of beauty. There are still people needing help, and so much injustice and unfairness in the world — things that can do with a hand from the young. ‘Between cradle and grave, what do you want to achieve? Can you still dream?’ Lin has shown us with his life the meaning of persistence and on the afternoon of 4 October 2011, he showed the students of CUHK how to take on the impossible.

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