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'Nine Songs' swan song

By Liao Danlin (Global Times)

10:51, January 24, 2013


Cloud Gate founder to close the lid on epic dance piece

It is hard to tell a story if every part of it can be a climax. For choreographer Lin Hwai-min and his Cloud Gate Dance Theater, that's just how it was for their show Nine Songs.

"Nine Songs is a heavy show," Lin said during the press conference at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) on Monday. Twenty years ago, when the Cloud Gate team was rushing day-by-day from city to city to perform, Lin made the decision to create something "heavy" so that they could stay in one place for a whole week. It led to the creation of Nine Songs in 1993 with the most complex sets and largest number of performers of any show in his repertoire.

Lin brought in world-renowned set designer Ming Cho Lee to design the stage. A pond of water decorated with real lotus flowers has become one of the hallmarks of the show. Lin said they would spend weeks performing at one theater in Europe, dancers would sometimes put little fish in the pond. But after a few rounds of performances, Lin found the show too time-consuming to prepare: he eventually excluded it from the company's play list.

During Spring Festival 2008, Cloud Gate's headquarters in Taipei was damaged in a fire. Almost all the props and costumes were destroyed. In the ruins, Lin discovered the damaged boxes containing masks from Nine Songs. Miraculously, the masks made of natural materials like grass and mud for characters playing gods all survived.

At a press conference after the fire Lin promised in tears that the ribbon on top of the mask would fly again.

Last year in Taipei, to mark Could Gate's 2000th performance, Nine Songs finally met the audience again. Now, it is the mainland's turn to enjoy the piece as it will be staged at the NCPA from February 28 to March 2 and later in cities like Guangzhou and Chongqing.

Anthropology and worship

The name Nine Songs comes from a masterpiece of literature written by Qu Yuan of the Warring States Period (475BC-221BC). It was said to be an adaptation of a song of worship. Having grown up very close to a temple, Lin developed an interest in all kinds of worship.

In 1986, when he was traveling in Malaysia, he witnessed a local worship service. Through singing and dancing, he saw the struggles of mankind. Though the people worshipped endlessly, the gods never arrived. Thus inspired, Lin took Qu Yuan's Nine Songs as a basis to represent ancient Chinese people's religious rituals.

Instead of recreating the scene of an ancient religious festival, Lin has some actors in modern suits and carrying suitcases. As they walk across the stage, a connection is formed between the traditional content and the modern audience.

"Nine Songs worships Chinese culture," said Zhao Ruheng, art director of the NCPA. For Lin, it is about love, religion, politics, nature and everything else involved in the process. "A ceremony is not a single event but carries tons of information behind it. It is everything. Dance itself is a ceremony," he said.

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