The practice of martial arts is a way of life. Each form has its own philosophy with different methods of training to develop the mind and body. For many, the psychological benefit of studying kung fu or karate far outweighs the physical. For the dancers of Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan, qi gong and Chinese martial arts training allow for a sense of intensity and freedom when in the studio and on stage.
The company will make their way to Israel next week for four performances at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. While in Israel, CGDT will perform Water Stains on the Wall, an eveninglength piece by founder and artistic director Lin Hwai-Min.
For Hwai-Min, choreography is an extension of his first passion, literature. During a trip to New York, where he participated in a literature course, he first stumbled into a dance class. Intrigued by the possibilities that movement presented, Hwai-Min devoted the rest of his trip to further exploring dance.
“I only spent one summer doing those classes,” said Hwai-Min in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “They initiated my body when I was 24 years old, but I’m not heavily trained.”
Though New York offered him many opportunities, Hwai-Min returned to the then isolated Taiwan. “I had to look into myself to find a way to move. I stayed in Taiwan, far away from everything.”
In Taiwan, Hwai-Min continued to study the capabilities of his body. In 1973 he founded CGDT.
It was the first contemporary dance company of its kind in the region and officially placed Taiwan on the international dance map.
“When I was younger, Taiwan saw its first professional Swan Lake.
A lady in the lobby said we would never be able to perform ballet because our legs are too short. I said, ‘Wait and see. It’s not a matter of legs.’ A few years after I started the company. I said, ‘My god, she was right.’ Classical ballet is about lines, and long limbs have better lines. If we have short legs, we should find a way to use them.
So we went to martial arts. We aren’t doing martial art routines on stage; I take them and distort and twist them. I apply them to create my own thing,” he says.
In Water Stains on the Wall, the dancers jump, twirl and tumble on a tilted stage. Video projection illuminates the stage, creating wafting clouds and calligraphy.
While the vantage point provided by the unusual floor allows for the entire audience to see each movement clearly, it presents a major challenge for the dancers.
“Performing on this stage, the weight is different. One leg is downstage and another is upstage.
The female dancers told me that I made them dance with one foot in Adidas and the other in high heels,” laughs Hwai-Min.
Their training allows them to take on this physical challenge while maintaining a cool, calm concentration.
Their intensity on stage is one of the major assets of CGDT’s 24 dancers and stems from what Hwai-Min considers an Eastern approach to performance.
“We don’t dance for an audience; we simply invite an audience to watch us perform,” he says. “It’s very different from Western dance, classical ballet, where the dancers push energy out into the auditorium. In Water Stains on the Wall, we internalize everything, and the movement comes out and comes back to the core of the bodies of the dancers.
The audience is drawn into what they are doing on stage. Breath is the key. The dancers are breathing together, and the audience breathes with them.”
Cloud Gate Dance Theater will perform at TAPAC on June 13, 14, 15 & 16. For more information and tickets, visit www.israel-opera.co.il.