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Published: 17:02, November 30, 2023 | Updated: 17:02, November 30, 2023
Send in a Cloud gives dance a new horizon
By Cheng Yuezhu
Published:17:02, November 30, 2023 Updated:17:02, November 30, 2023 By Cheng Yuezhu

In a unique approach, production draws extensively from the personal experiences of the performers, Cheng Yuezhu reports.

The design of the projected background is based on drawings made by the dancers. (LEE CHIA-YEH / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Each individual's state of mind is much like the clouds, says Cheng Tsunglung, a choreographer and the artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.

At times, a single one drifts across a clear sky, peaceful and carefree, and on other occasions, dense dark clouds accumulate, setting the scene for an imminent downpour.

It’s almost like that we were growing alongside the audience members born in the 1980s or ’90s. I could feel that they were getting more mature.

Lin Hwai-min, founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

With the company's production Send in a Cloud, scheduled to grace the stage of National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing from Dec 7-10, Cheng hopes that this work will bring clouds with a silver lining that will radiate through the audience.

When Cheng first started working on creating this production in 2021, the dancers faced the challenge of being unable to gather in a rehearsal room because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to prevent any decline in the dancers' physical skills, Cheng decided to conduct training and rehearsal sessions via video conferencing, an approach they had never adopted before.

"On the first day of our rehearsal, 26 dancers appeared on my computer screen. Each video tile is a small window into an individual room, an individual dancer. I could see the colors of these rooms and their different styles of homewear," Cheng says.

Lin Hwai-min, founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

He then thought of asking the dancers to tell their stories from their own rooms, be they pleasant memories or moments of solitude, and present them in the form of a dance.

"In the past, it was usually me, the creator, who exercised my imagination without inhibition, but this time, I shared this experience with all the dancers," he says.

Originally, the show was conceived with 26 stories, however, due to time constraints, the number was halved, and 13 stories are presented, meaning that there are two different versions of the same production.

While one version has been staged in Taiwan, this Chinese mainland tour, to the cities of Shanghai, Nanjing in Jiangsu province, Guangzhou in Guangdong province, and Beijing, presents a brand-new iteration of the dance, featuring the other 13 stories.

"These stories serve as prompts that draw out their movements and emotions. I hope that, in this production, through the lighting and visual effects, they will resonate with the audience and they will discover in the dance feelings that correspond to those of their own," Cheng says.

The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre's production, Send in a Cloud, is scheduled to be staged at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing from Dec 7-10, 2023. (LEE CHIA-YEH / FOR CHINA DAILY)

The dancers were also actively involved in the stage design process, as the projection designer Chou Tung-yen invited them to express their emotions and feelings through drawing on pieces of paper.

During this creative exercise, they were encouraged to approach drawing with a clear mindset, without paying attention to the subject of their drawings.

Some dancers depicted trees or clouds, while some simply drew a single line on the paper. The designers then helped to transform these drawings, adding motion to them or selecting partial elements from within.

One of the dancers, for example, drew a few clouds on the paper, and a single cloud was chosen and amplified, so that, in the production, the dancer gives a solo dance against a backdrop of this singular cloud.

"To my surprise, the designed images turned out to be beautiful and genuine, with a sort of childlike whimsy and unaffected purity," Cheng says.

The music of the production features Bach's Six Solo Cello Suites, arranged by Japanese composer and saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu, with the sound design by Grammy Award-winning artist Marcelo Anez.

"The music is very special. Instead of being performed on the cello, it is played by four saxophones. So it is produced by human breath. This kind of airflow seems to better embody the changes in one's emotional states," he adds.

The production compiles and adapts the personal stories of 13 dancers. (LEE CHIA-YEH / FOR CHINA DAILY)

Founded by veteran choreographer Lin Hwai-min in Taiwan in 1973 and named after the oldest known dance in China, Cloud Gate celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. In 2020, Cheng succeeded Lin as the new artistic director.

For Cheng, the biggest change since he took over the role of artistic director is the absence of a personal life. Over the past three years, he has been constantly working on new productions, staging three so far.

In addition to our long-term, traditional methods, rooted in Eastern body practices, we incorporated a few different elements.

Cheng Tsung-lung, artistic director of the troupe

"I actually find this quite satisfying, to not overthink and just keep on creating, and then go around sharing dance with everyone," he says.

He says that for Cloud Gate, the most important thing is to sustain diverse kinds of energies and to allow everyone to encounter dance in their lives or see dance in theaters.

Cloud Gate dancers receive daily training in ballet, modern dance, tai chi and martial arts and, three years ago, Cheng added classes in street dance into their routine.

"I believe that the dancers should engage those less-used muscles by practicing street dance. So in addition to our long-term, traditional methods, rooted in Eastern body practices, we incorporated a few different elements, which enable them to take on a somewhat different body expression," he says.

For Lin, the deepest impression on him, as the company reaches its 50th year, stems from the attention and affection received from audiences all around the world, in places extending beyond theaters, as the company also performs in the rural areas.

Cheng Tsung-lung, artistic director of the troupe. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

During an excursion to the countryside, Lin encountered an elderly woman, who held his hands and said, "Thank you for your beautiful art". For him, that moment encapsulated the most important aspect of the past 50 years.

Lin also returned to the National Centre for the Performing Arts with the troupe, a trip he eagerly arranged to meet up with some old friends at the company.

"A day without seeing each other feels like three autumns. Now, three autumns have actually passed, and it feels like it's been a lifetime," Lin says.

He recalls that, from 2009 to 2019, Cloud Gate performed 10 times at the NCPA, almost every year, which was a very pleasant experience for him.

"Because of the frequency of these performances, we could feel something special. It's almost like that we were growing alongside the audience members born in the 1980s or 1990s. I could feel that they were getting more mature," Lin adds.

Contact the writer at chengyuezhu@chinadaily.com.cn

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