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.