Although avant-garde Western painting and drama penetrated China quickly in
the early twentieth century, modern dance was slow to find a foothold.
Indeed, Taiwan's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, founded by Lin Hwai-min in 1973,
may well be the first such company in any Chinese community anywhere. Yet
under Lin's direction, Cloud Gate's brilliantly original dance compositions
and stunning performances now rival the best in the world.
Born in Taiwan in 1947, Lin Hwai-min first felt the seductive pull of dance
at the age of five while watching a film, The Red Shoes. Later, as a
teenager, he thrilled to his first glimpse of modern dance and was hooked.
Discouraged by his parents, however, he studied journalism instead and
published two novels by age twenty-two. While in the United States to attend
the International Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, Lin sought
out modern-dance pioneer Martha Graham in New York and became a student in
her school. Returning home, he established Cloud Gate in 1973.
In Taiwan, modern dance was little known to the public. Yet Lin's first
production filled the house, a harbinger of successes to come. For his
fledgling company, Lin created dances that reflected Graham's influence but
that also drew upon familiar acrobatic and pantomime conventions of Chinese
opera. He choreographed modern-dance versions of Chinese classics and also
created wholly original pieces such as Legacy, which depicted the trials of
Chinese pioneers in Taiwan, set to traditional Taiwanese music.
Lin trained his young dancers in Asian classical dance forms and in Tai Chi
and meditation, as well as in modern dance and ballet. Over time, he
perfected the unique fusion of styles and forms for which he is now famous,
lifting traditional dance from its indigenous roots to the full flower of
modern art. In Nine Songs, Lin combines dance techniques from India and Java
with modern dance and incorporates ancient Chinese poems, aboriginal
Taiwanese village songs, and stage lighting inspired by a trip to Bali. In
his Songs of Wanderers, Georgian folk songs accompany Lin's Zen-flavored
interpretation of Herman Hesse's novel of religious searching, Siddartha.
And in Moon Water, Lin's dancers glide in Tai Chi-like movements across the
stage to the Suites for Solo Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach.
While addressing universal themes of struggle, freedom, and spiritual
enlightenment, Lin's dance compositions often depict or allude to real
historical events, such as, in Nine Songs, the Taiwan massacres of 1947 and
the 1989 tragedy at Tiananmen.
Viewing Lin's work in the course of more than thirty-five international
tours, critics the world round have hailed its poetic vision and
breathtaking technical perfection, calling it "electrifying" and
"irresistible." In Taiwan, Cloud Gate performs to sold-out audiences in
venues as disparate as the lavish National Theater and rural high school
auditoriums. Several times a year, crowds of sixty thousand or more gather
for the company's free outdoor performances. Lin is happy to count many
young people among his fans and promotes dance among them through community
outreach programs and youth camps. For formal training, he founded the dance
department of Taiwan's National Institute of Arts in 1983 and later became
founding dean of its graduate program.
Slight and bespectacled, fifty-two-year-old Lin moves with the gait and
grace of the dancer that he is. His modern dance compositions cannot be
understood in the way stories are understood, he says. They must be
experienced. It is enough if people simply enjoy them. His true subject is
not Taiwan or Asia or myth or history, he says, but "the landscape of the
In electing Lin Hwai-min to receive the 1999 Ramon Magsaysay Award for
Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the board of
trustees recognizes his revitalizing the theatrical arts in Taiwan with
modern dance that is at once eloquently universal and authentically Chinese.