Lin Hwai-Min at the Sunbeam Platform.
攝影Photo Credit: 劉振祥 Liu Chen-hsiang
Walking along the Tamsui River in Tamsui district in New Taiwan City with Lin Hwai-min, the founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, Lin comments “My wish is to retire now. It is not a matter of finding the perfect successor. Our team is really brilliant, a year has passed since the move from Bali to Tasmsui, where the Cloud Gate Theater was completed on 29 December 2014 and everyone officially started to work on 4 January 2015. Apart from chaos in the first month, everything ever since has run smoothly. I’m sixty-nine years old now, but according to the ancient Chinese calendar, it could be said that I'm seventy years old this year. I’m fully aware of my physical capacity. It is about time for me to let go and allow others to take over. Indeed, I wish this day would come sooner rather than later - even after I retire, I can continue to work as a consultant for the company - but the later I step down the less I can do.”
Cleaning and Dancing
What does Lin Hwai-min want to do most in retirement?
The founder and Artistic Director of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, as well as the soul of the Company, Lin Hwai-min comments, “To be honest, I’d like to stay home and wash dishes! Something I realized when I was thirty-five is that dishwashing is a solitary activity where you can see the results of your hard work immediately, and if that doesn’t take up all my time, I’ll mop the floor as well. Like washing dishes, polishing the floor to tip-top shape can be done alone, single-handedly. It’s different from making a dance work, which I cannot do alone – in dance it’s hard to achieve the best results alone.”
No one can deny that the name – ‘Lin Hwai-min’ could be a synonym for ‘Dance in Taiwan’. Hence, making dance must be the most important thing in Lin’s life! His utmost concern nowadays and perhaps even after his retirement, one can imagine, must be the newly inaugurated Cloud Gate Theater.
Lin gazes across to the Bali district on the opposite bank of the Tamsui where the Company previously had its home at the dim lights beginning to appear at dusk. He calmly says, “The vision of Cloud Gate Theater is to serve as a bridge to connect art and society, and I think of myself as one of the bolts of this bridge. In the early days, I realized that perhaps I could achieve the greatest success in dance by going to Europe, but once I left the soil of my hometown, I wouldn’t be able to achieve this goal.” In Lin’s view, besides aesthetic achievement, it is important for a dancer to have a wider perspective on dance, to additionally think about the function of dance in society.
Consequently, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre frequently organizes huge outdoor performances to reach out to thousands upon thousands of people. Even though most might think that organizing such large scale outdoor performances is a strategy for popularizing dance, Lin emphasizes, “To organize such performances is much more challenging and difficult than performing in the theater. Because the diverse audiences come with different expectations, their responses are more spontaneous. To capture the attention of these audiences outdoors, dancers must use a huge amount of energy to bring out their best in performance. Only because of this can the bridges of Cloud Gate connect to the society, and can Cloud Gate Theatre be possible. We received support from various sectors and many people in the society. I couldn’t have achieved such it on my own.”
In fact, the Cloud Gate Theatre development made use of the Act of Promotion of Private Participation in Infrastructure Projects (B.O.T), and signed a contract with the New Taipei City Government in 2009 that provides the right to use the public land for the running of its theater on the site for forty years with the condition that it provides its own building funds. Every year, Cloud Gate pays only a fixed amount of rent to the city government, afterward, the agreement can be renewed for another ten years. The B.O.T is designed to promote engagement in public development by private corporations; hence there are restrictive rules, evaluations, and resolutions to prevent corruption that might not be appropriate for cultural organizations. Moreover, Cloud Gate is the first cultural organization awarded this right and it is very concerned about whether it can successfully operate under these conditions since it already encountered many difficulties during the building process.
Lin recalled the background of the newly inaugurated Cloud Gate Theater Complex, “At 1am on 11 February 2008, a fire destroyed Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s iron-roofed rehearsal studio located in the Bali district. At first, I thought it would only take three or four years to rebuild, but it turned out to be longer than I thought. It took a total of seven years for completion. Thankfully, the Cloud Gate Board of Directors appointed the architect Huang Sheng-Yuan of Fieldoffice Architects to design the complex.”
In fact, it was not anticipated that it would take two years to obtain a building permit. According to the B.O.T contract, the organization is required to provide construction documents. To do so, the Cloud Gate Theater team needed to spend time to gain a thorough understanding of the regulations in order to communicate and coordinate with relevant governmental departments. Up until its official groundbreaking, there were many logistical difficulties to resolve such as building a conveyance system for water, constructing a pathway to transport all the building materials up the hill, also communicating with local residents and the historical and cultural organizations. All these consumed time. Besides the pressure of time, in building such a theater complex, financial considerations were often a major concern, but these didn’t seem to stress Lin, he gratefully commented, “The total cost of the building of NTD$660 million came from donations from various sectors of society in Taiwan and abroad.” At the entrance of the theater there is a sixteen-meter long old Taiwan Hinoki Cypress wooden plaque named the Sunbeam Platform that is engraved with the names of the 4,155 individual and corporate donors; the fragrant wood perfumes the surroundings, while the unique board acknowledges the contributions that made the theater complex possible.
An Integrated Architecture: The New Theater Merges with the Old House
Cloud Gate Theater is located on a historic site in Tamsui District, New Taipei City (No. 36, Ln. 6, Sec. 1, Zhongzheng Rd.). The southwest part of the theater complex is Hobe Fort built by Liu Mingchuan in 1886, it has four remaining forts. Behind the theater is Taiwan’s first golf course built ninety-seven years ago during the Japanese colonial period. The main building is composed of two major parts – the rehearsal studio and the main theater. The rehearsal studio is converted from the former Radio Taiwan International (Tamsui quarters) built in 1960; during the cold war, it was used as the base for Broadcasting Corporation of China and in 2007, it moved to Zhongzheng Road, Tamsui District. This old two-story house is a historic building. The clean interior without any pillars and four-meter high ceiling is a most suitable space for a rehearsal studio. Given that the old house is identified as a historic site, it is protected and any reconstruction must be done in accordance with the relevant laws. Because of this circumstance, Lin and the team of architects were forced to think of another possibility to build a new theater. As a result, the six-story new theater is built behind this historic building; there is a wide corridor with sunlight shining through a transparent glass ceiling between the two buildings. The two levels of the old house have been converted into two black box theaters for small- to medium-sized performances. The lower level, where Studio Theater 1 is located, also has a multi-functional space used as storage for costumes and props, a stage scenery workshop, a reception area, the staff entrance, and offices. The higher level where Studio Theater 2 is located also contains three dressing rooms and offices. On the first floor, there is a gallery for exhibitions and offices. The second to fourth floors house the main theater, which includes the theater stage, audience seating area, and dressing rooms. On the top floor there is a meditation room.
On the day that I visited the complex, it had an exhibition in the first floor gallery entitled In Between The Moments: Cloud Gate in a Photographer’s Memory by Liu Chen-hsing (劉振祥) displaying precious photographs of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre by Liu taken over the last twenty-seven years including, significantly, a company group photo taken right after the 2008 fire accident. Built of a large piece of wood, Sunbeam Platform located on top of the old house, connects the new and the old buildings, at the same time, it is a free-access area for the public. Another remarkable design feature is the unadorned back curtain of the main theater stage that, when unfolded, provides a view through green tinted glass windows and across the Sunbeam Platform onto the breathtaking landscape of the Tamsui riverbank and Bail - the Company’s former home of sixteen years, as well as the site of the Wushantou(烏山頭) rehearsal studio that was destroyed by fire.
Uniquely, a carved lintel in the old house, the former Broadcasting Corporation of China, reads “Respect the Homeland, Strengthen Self (莊敬自強)” - a slogan used by the Republic of China (Taiwan) Government in response to the United Nations Resolution 2758 in 1971 that during the 1970s and 1980s was commonly used to extol the spirit of private enterprise. The lintel serves as a witness for Taiwan to this unpleasant historical moment. The former fountain located in front of the building has been removed and replaced with a huge lush green lawn. In addition, the area in front of the old house has a concrete walkway, car park, and serves as a 1,500-person capacity outdoor theater. Together with the new theater, there are four performance venues in the theater complex.
Although, the main theater only has a capacity of 450-seats, surprisingly, its stage dimensions are similar to those of the Taipei National Theater, and it is fully equipped with advanced theater technology. This coherent approach aims to facilitate the production process from rehearsal to presentation. Eventually, a performance will enjoy a seamless transition to the flagship theater in Taipei without much alteration.
A Stroll Along the Garden
The statue of Lo Man-fei in the lotus pond near Flower Whispers Restaurant.
攝影Photo Credit: 劉振祥 Liu Chen-hsiang
Lin Hwai-min named Cloud Gate Theater in Tamsui, Green Theater, referring not only to the abundant greenery surrounding it but also to the organic form of the theater’s bronze roof that, from afar, resembles a green painted cloud and is supported by dark green steel A-frame with a pastel green glass curtain around it creating another poetic landscape. The extensive site area of Cloud Gate Theater complex gave Lin room for planting two hundred varieties of Taiwanese tree species, all brought from the center southern part of Taiwan, Tianwei Puli (田尾埔里). They are scattered throughout the whole complex and bring a pleasant flowery fragrance to the walkways. Lin pointed to the blooming vine at the bottom of the wall of the old house and said that he believes the surrounding fresh air enhances the plant’s growth and will enable it to cover the cold concrete wall of the old house. Eventually, his ideal Green Theater will be complete.
There is a café and a restaurant, and one of the attractions is Flower Whispers, a boutique restaurant that uses natural lighting; the restaurant is constructed mainly of glass. It serves the best xiǎo lóng bāo in Taipei, award-winning Oolong bubble tea, and other menu items. In front of it is a lotus pond and standing in the middle of the pond is a bronze sculpture by Lin Chien-cheng, in memory of the remarkable performer Lo Man-fei (1955-2006); the sculpture captures her in a well-known turning movement from Lin Hwai-min’s Requiem. At the side of the pond there is a plum tree planted by Lin’s mother Mrs. Lin Zheng Pin-pin in 1980. In 1995, it was first transplanted to the previous rehearsal studio of Cloud Gate Dance Theater in Bali and was replanted in Tamsui for the opening of the new theater.
Another attraction is Trees Bookshop located beneath a hundred-year old Jiadong tree, with a special selection of books, postcards, creative crafted objects, and Cloud Gate mementos. Visitors can take the staircase behind the bookshop up to the rooftop that has a view of Hobe Fort and the nearby National Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine. The rooftop is furnished with beach umbrellas and lounge chairs for guests to enjoy tea, coffee, or a specially brewed SunBeer commissioned by Cloud Gate, under the shade of the Jiadong tree. Unfortunately, Flower Whispers and Trees Bookshop are closed on Monday, the day of my visit. And so, I missed the opportunity to taste the food and beverages of these shops.
Passing Through, An Installation Reveals a Story
Passing Through, the installation by Tu The-yu and Lin Hwai-min
攝影Photo Credit: 周凡夫 Chou Fan-fu
Between Trees Bookshop and Flower Whispers there is another attraction – the remains of the rehearsal studio in Bali designed in 1992 by Wong Wing-Hung that have been turned into an installation. Besides containers used in the building of the Bali studio, there are several distorted I-shaped steel bars that were the original beams of the old studio. The installation, titled Passing Through, is by Tu the-yu and was made in collaboration with Lin Hwai-min. Walking inside the destroyed container, passing through an incline that ends in a sudden drop, one can see rising on the other side of Tamsui river, Guanyinshan mountain, which guarded Cloud Gate during its preceding 16 years of struggle. At the foot of the mountain is the site of the old Bali studio where Lin and his Cloud Gate Company dancers created many masterpieces that toured around the world, a place that witnessed the company’s growth and that now serves as a remembrance of its past. Unquestionably, the installation is a profound expression of the company’s history. Next to Trees Bookshop is the former outpost’s resting place now converted into public restrooms. Thoughtfully designed by the team of architects with Lin, the design of unique faucets for the hand basins are especially notable. All these details show Lin’s devotion to the new home for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and explains why he was heartbroken last year when a typhoon destroyed a large number of plants, especially the hundred-year old tree located at Trees Bookshop. Even today he complains that the bureaucrats cared more about cleaning up the chaos on the road for the sake of traffic and neglected the life of the trees. Many damaged trees were destroyed and none was saved. Lin remarks, “Even though I have spent a lot of time in the development of this place, I’m not tired. If I weren’t busy with this project, other matters would occupy me anyway. I just can’t stop working. Despite complications in dealing with the Government over the construction, still it is complete. Ultimately, it has relied on the huge support of many people. There are many things beyond our control that depend on their own destiny.”
The Growth of a Windfall from Self-financing
Cloud Gate Theater has striven to be self-financing. Details of its costs include monthly electricity expenses of around NTD$500,000, cleaning expenses of around NTD$200,000-300,000 and other expenses such as water bills, security fees, gardening fees, and so forth. It comes to an annual expense of NTD$15 million, which does not include the manpower costs for the operation or depreciations. This is coupled with the drawback of its inconvenient location - it is away from public transportation with Tamsui Metro station the nearest station and from there it’s necessary to transit by either taxi or buses to get to the theater. Moreover, even if the main theater could reach its full 450-seated capacity for every performance, it would hardly cover all expenses. Therefore, many art practitioners are concerned about how Cloud Gate Theater can find a way to generate a profitable income to survive.
Lin talks about a “sustainable operation” for the theater complex, he comments, “From the moment, I signed the B.O.T contract, I was certain that this theater would not just be home for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. Most of time, the company is away on international tours, for example, last year, the company was not in Taiwan for at least 160 days. Obviously, it could be a home for everyone. With this intention, the theater complex created a new department especially responsible for developing co-productions with other art companies. To maintain a sustainable ecology of dance in Taiwan requires collective efforts rather than a single person or an organization. I hope that this theater complex can bring a change. To remember this place is not only for performance, but also a place to appreciate nature, trees, enjoy the sunset, enjoy tea, coffee, a Sunbeer. . . at night, you can watch the stars, listen to insects and frogs sing. . .”
Cloud Gate Theater officially launched a series of guided tours starting 1 June of last year, there are four different programs whose integrated content includes the history of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, the architecture of the theater, rhythmic body workshop, and a visit to the whole compound including discount rates for special items at Flower Whispers. Surprisingly, after the introduction of these guided tours, not only fans from central and southern parts of Taiwan came for them, even enterprising and community organizations organized groups to participate, this unexpected enthusiastic response helps to generate an estimated monthly income of about NTD$400,000-500,000, which has become the most stable monthly income, but compared to the huge total amount of the complex’s expenses, it is certainly still just a drop in the bucket. At the same time, as time passes, the newness of these attractive guided tour packages will wear off and there is no guarantee that they will continue to bring in such lucrative revenue.
A Ten Million ‘Creation Fund’
My visit to Cloud Gate Theater occurred on the first working day after the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday. On that afternoon, I was accompanied by Lin’s assistant Miss Liú Fú-yīng (劉福英) on my site visit. Later on, she brought me to visit the rehearsal of Rice – one of Lin’s masterpieces that was being prepared for an America Tour at the end of January. A group of male dancers each holding a long rattan stick dances with high energy to a strong rhythm resembling fighting in this relatively high celling studio but the dancers are still not able to extend the stick fully upward, clearly, the space is still limiting. Rice was performed in Hong Kong at 2014 to celebrate Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s 40th anniversary, and is filled with an explosive fresh energy from the youthful dancers. I witnessed Lin’s extreme concentration; he actively gives corrections and comments to the dancers during the rehearsal process. Even after rehearsal, he continues his one-on-one coaching of dancers.
After lunch, he and I strolled along Tamsui riverbank, we talked about the new generation of dancers. Lin said, “I’m thoroughly cognizant of every movement detail in Rice, thus I need to refine it, even though the dancers have performed very well for the first day of work after the holidays. I have observed, by comparison, the new generation of dancers have better conditions than we did, but we shall continue to provide opportunities for them. Recently, I received an award [Tsai Wan-tsai Taiwan Contribution Award] that came with 10 million New Taiwan dollars, approximately 2.5 million Hong Kong dollars. Instead, I proposed to the organization to use this money to set up a creation fund for talented young artists, to provide them a secure environment to create.” The organization agreed to Lin’s suggestion. Therefore, Cloud Gate founded a Creation Fund Foundation to focus on encouraging and developing young creators in the areas of dance and theater. Lin added, “It is a humble amount of money [given to each artist], mainly we provide venue and technical support. We wish with such support that young artists can have time to learn from the process of creation, to develop a creative atmosphere, so they can be removed from a result-orientated mode of production. Maybe it will take ten years or more for that result.” Obviously, Lin wishes to give the best to the next generation precisely because this new group of dancers is the future of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.
Farewell to Moon Water
The dancers are in the main rehearsal studio
攝影Photo Credit: 劉振祥 Liu Chen-hsiang
As a visitor to Cloud Gate Theater, you sense its strong need to pass down its heritage. At the Sunbeam Platform entrance to the theatre is a green rectangular column with, in white, Cloud Gate Theatre in English and the Chinese characters for Cloud Gate rendered in calligraphy. Next to the entrance is a sculpture from the Living World Series by the internationally renowned sculptor Ju Ming, depicting a couple pushing a baby carriage towards the theater, symbolizing both the passing down of heritage from generation to generation, and the next generation of Cloud Gate Theater’s hopes. Further down the Sunbeam Platform, there are more sculptures from Ju’s white Living World Series - begun in 2007 and working with black and white materials, in the series Ju focusses on depicting, with a sense of humor, the daily gestures and postures of city people. The exhibition was given by the Ju Ming Museum from last April to celebrate the opening of Cloud Gate Theater and was supposed to close in October of last year, now everybody feels that these sculptures have come to inhabit the complex and they wonder if they will stay; when asked when they will return to Ju Ming Museum, Lin smiles and says, “I don’t know!”
The company is quite occupied with international touring, for example, in January until the middle of February, Rice toured to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Dallas, Austin, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, followed by another tour at the end of April to Paris and Lyon. In May, they performed the Songs of the Wanderers in London and Birmingham, followed by eight performances of White Water and Little Dusts in Russia in late May in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Ekaterinburg. For the third time this year, the Company is going on a tour to China with performances of Moon Water in late August to early September, starting in Fuzhou, then to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, with the last stop in Qingdao.
Speaking about International touring, Lin sighed, “Honestly, there are many invitations coming in from all over the world, but I insist five weeks is the maximum for each tour, if not, everyone will be exhausted by then. Home is where you gain some rest, to be away from home for over five weeks is miserable, I start to be homesick. Astonishingly to realize what was impossible to imagine in the past that Cloud Gate would be invited to perform in Russia or even have an exchange opportunity with China, these are now possible. The tour to China starts in August and September this year, at first, there were seventy-three theaters that wanted our performances, but it is not feasible! Now we have decided to perform Moon Water in five cities for this China tour instead, after the tour, the piece will have its last performance in November back at Cloud Gate Theater just as it was performed once last October on the same stage. Perhaps you might be curious as to why I have decided to put an end on this piece? The reason is simple, there are many great dance pieces in Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, how will there be space for new work if I keep performing repertory?”
A Shinning Flag of Taiwan’s Culture
Since Cloud Gate Theater has become the home for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and Cloud Gate 2, it takes two hours travelling time for some of the dancers to get to work. Likewise, Lin lives in Bali and needs to cross the Tamsui River every day for work, has he ever considered moving closer to the theater in Tamsui to avoid such tiring travel? Lin shakes his head and says in a determined tone, "No, I’m old, my body started to tell me that I wouldn’t need to travel for work daily for too much longer now.” However, even if Lin Hwai-min only takes a back seat as a consultant, I believe he will still enjoy going back to Cloud Gate Theater. The day of my visit, he took me and my wife on an elevator that arrived directly to the backstage dressing room, at the end of a long corridor there is a door, behind the door is a stairway leading directly to the top floor, which is a large iron grid above the stage, we go through from there and reach the roof of the theater. It was dusk when we arrived, although the fog shrouded the sun, there was a thin red glow in the sky and below it you see the guardian of this land – Guanyinshan, the higher we climb, the further we see the fine view of the Tamsui river and its surroundings, its seems evermore clear, wider from this perspective, I can image the beauty of this scenery on a sunny day. Instantly, I feel, where love emerges, people find it within the gate of a cloud!
In fact, while walking with Lin on the streets of Taipei, passers-by always notice him. This time, when I walked around Tamsui district with him, a restaurant owner recognized him and he simply attracts people on the street who pay their respects to him - for example, the husband of a joyful couple we met on the bus and metro exclaimed, “Such an honor to meet Master Lin twice today in person and not only on TV!” It seems like Lin Hwai-min has successfully used dance to build a bridge to connect the whole Taiwan society. How could he be merely a bolt in the bridge as he describes? For me, Lin Hwai-min is the shinning flag that symbolizes the success of Taiwan’s culture, standing strongly astride the bridge.