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November 18, 2023

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‘Send In A Cloud’ offers authentic portrayal of Cloud Gate dancers

TAIWAN-BASED Cloud Gate Theater returns to Shanghai after four years, staging “Send In A Cloud” at the Shanghai International Dance Center this week.

Choreographed by artistic director Cheng Tsung-lung, the dance intertwines Cloud Gate’s distinctive corporeal esthetics with the sensibilities of a new generation, shedding light on a panorama of changing colors in life.

Cheng is the successor of Cloud Gate founder and former artistic director Lin Hwai-min, who established the theater — China’s first contemporary dance company — in Taiwan in 1973.

“Cloud Gate has never been so nimble and kaleidoscopic,” Lin said, when commenting on “Send In A Cloud.”

“I belong to the old generation,” Lin said. “Some of my works are very slow and are energy-consuming for both dancers and audiences. But ‘Send In A Cloud’ is light and quick. It belongs to the new generation.”

Compared with the relatively reserved colors that often appeared in Cloud Gate’s works during Lin’s era, “Send In A Cloud” features extremely colorful costumes and stage visuals.

As the new artistic director of a dance group that is acclaimed as Asia’s leading contemporary dance theater for its blending of modern stylizations of Asian mythology, folklore and ancient esthetics, Cheng hopes to maintain Cloud Gate’s half-a-century tradition, but also infuse it with his own character and spirit.

“Send In A Cloud” has been described as an authentic portrayal of the Cloud Gate dancers in celebration of the troupe’s 50th anniversary.

“The idea came in 2020 when all dancers were forced to stay at home, train and communicate from a distance,” Cheng said. “The online communication often involved personal stories, and enhanced our understanding about each other well. So we decided to make this collection of stories into a dance work that includes everyone’s loneliness, sorrow, dreams, desires and other life moments.”

Taking Japanese composer and saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu’s rendition of Bach’s Cello Suites as the show’s backbone, Cheng invited four-time Grammy Award-winning artist Marcelo Álvarez to craft the sound design.

The bass notes of four saxophones resonate like deep sighs — enduring and melancholic. Echoing these “sighs,” the dancers, through prolonged solitude, become attuned to the undulating emotions that are mounting inside.

After moments of joy, fear, despair and tranquility that burst forth on stage, the dancers gracefully arrive at the depths of their own souls as the music notes gradually fade away.

“What’s special about this dance is that ‘Send In A Cloud’ actually consists of 26 stories by 26 dancers, but only 13 of them are performing in each show,” Cheng said. “Therefore, each version will be different depending on the dancers involved. There will be adjustments in structural arrangement also.”

Cheng started developing a choreography career after suffering a spinal injury as a dancer. His earlier creations were mostly about himself, while “Send In A Cloud” is about all the Cloud Gate dancers.

“Lin said that he didn’t want Cloud Gate to become a museum after his retirement. So it is my and other dancers’ responsibility to bring out new flowers from the profound root of this troupe,” Cheng said.

“Individuals are like the cloud, reflecting varied colors in sunlight,” he explained the name of the dance. “To present Bach’s music with four saxophones instead of a cello is another way to add more color to the work. I hope to involve more ideas from the dancers into future creations.”

Cheng has matured from a street hawker selling slippers to a dancer and now the successor to Lin, who was a writer before founding Cloud Gate. Lin’s skills as a storyteller often influenced his choreography. Cheng’s earlier works were often inspired by the street life and folk elements that were part of his upbringing in Taipei.

His recent creations included “13 Tongues” (2016), “Lunar Halo” (2019) and “Sounding Light” (2020) which reflected on the relationship between people and nature during the COVID pandemic.

“I moved into the mountains to live since 2019, which sharpened my sensibility toward nature,” said Cheng, who has put insect and bird sounds into “Sounding Light.”

“I have invited the dancers for mountain climbing, which inspired some of them to develop new foot movements.”

Cheng said his relationship with the Cloud Gate dancers is that of friends. After taking over from Lin, Cheng had to conquer his social anxiety to face the public and media. As the new artistic director, he maintained the troupe’s daily training methods for dancers that involve kung fu, ballet and tai chi classes, and added street dance and popping courses.

“I like street dance,” he said. “Popping trains the movements in the joints, and I myself am influenced by it.”

Other new explorations Cheng has committed include the capture of dancers’ movements by artificial intelligence. The movements were developed into abstract videos, which were used as background for the dance “Waves.”

“I haven’t set a future direction for Cloud Gate yet,” Cheng said. “We welcome and are willing to try new things and technologies.”

“There is a 30-year age gap between me and Lin, and I still have a lot to learn,” he said. “I’m different from Lin in many ways, but we have things in common — the persistence and passion for things we love, and the obsession with details.”


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