Lin Hwai-min, choreographer and founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan. Provided to China Daily
China Daily (CD): Would you ever consider creating a dance piece based on your life?
Lin Hwai-min (LHM): I don't think my story is important. Everyone has a life that is unique.
CD: But you have the talent to express it.
LHM: Then I'd rather turn it into a novel. I started with writing, so I tend to tell a story with analogies. But I've realized that dance is about the human body, which has a rich vocabulary of its own and can be interpreted in endless ways ... But because of my background in writing, I have always wanted to know why a person is dancing and that is woven through my earlier work up to Nine Songs. Now I feel the text can be constraining. So I want to liberate myself. It used to be that I choreographed to say something, and now I do it to create an environment where dancers can give full play to their bodies.
CD: How much space do you give your dancers for their own interpretation?
LHM: A great deal. We are partners in creation. I give them a direction and a strategy and they start from their bodies and use them as fabric, for which I do the trimming and adjusting. What comes naturally from them is most powerful.
CD: You learned modern dance from Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, and you are also immersed in tai chi, martial arts, Peking Opera and other Chinese art forms. Are there conflicts in the East and West influences?
LHM: They are very different. Take architecture. Gothic buildings go skyward while the Forbidden City and the Great Wall are like the spines of Earth. Ballet goes upward, and Chinese boxing or qigong, is about bending. Ballet uses straight lines for your body, but tai chi is round. I never intended to blend the two influences.
I invited a teacher of tai chi to instruct our dancers. He was 80 years old. He came to me after the premiere of Water Moon and said, 'The audience loved it, but Hwai-min, did you know the dancers did it all wrong?' He meant they did not comply with the strict rules of tai chi. But I did not want tai chi exactly as it should be done.
CD: You have a passion for protecting traditional Chinese performing arts. But their inflexible conventions are criticized as stifling creativity. What should be preserved and what could be reinvented?
LHM: The classics should be preserved, just like Japan's kabuki. But you can start from there and add new things, even write new operas from scratch.
CD: Just like the "model operas" of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76)?
LHM: Exactly. The steps taken by the "model operas" should go further, not just by having new costumes and new lighting design, but also by reducing the restrictions and creating everything new. You can say Cloud Gate is a distant by-product of the "cultural revolution".