April for Asian Dance
IMAGE ABOVE: Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan in Songs of the Wanderers. Photo by Yu Hui-Hung.
A shimmering stream of rice pours down on a monk during the entire 90 minutes of Songs of the Wanderers, which will be performed here in Houston when Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan makes a Society for Performing Arts stop on April 5 at Jones Hall.
April offers a chance to see some outstanding Asian dance with Cloud Gate’s Houston debut, and Beijing Dance/LDTX, and Contemporary Dragon KungFu Dance Company from Beijing coming to Houston as part of the Dance Salad Festival, April 17-19 at Wortham Center.
Cloud Gate Dance Theatre
Ancient rites, along with Herman Hesse’s account of Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment, inspired Songs of the Wanderers, created by Cloud Gate founder and artistic director Lin Hwai-min and assistant artistic director Lee Ching-chun.
Songs of the Wanderers has been performed in more than 20 countries, including the Internationales Tanzfestival NRW, the Next Wave Festival in New York, the American Dance Festival, Paris quartier d’été, the Bergen International Festival, Lucerne Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and more.
Named for the oldest known dance in China, Cloud Gate was founded in 1973 by Lin Hwai-min as the first contemporary dance company in any Chinese speaking community. Cloud Gate’s versatile dancers are trained in meditation, Qi Gong, martial arts, modern dance, ballet and calligraphy.
Lin Hwai-min’s own pilgrimage to Bodhgaya brought Song of the Wanderers into being. He writes, “I sat quietly under the bodhi tree, shoulder to shoulder with the monks. I opened my eyes, and saw sunlight coming from the top of the stupa through the branches to land directly on my forehead. My heart became full of joy; I felt a quietude that I had never experienced.
Back in Taipei, I often remembered the cool bodhi tree, and the Neranjra River that ran quietly through time. Every day the dancers of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan meditated. I created Songs of the Wanderers with great ease, a work about practising asceticism, the river’s mildness, and the quest for quietude.”
In 2013, Lin Hwai-min took his place among Martha Graham, Merce Cunnigham and Pina Bausch when he received the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Life Time Achievement.
June Christensen, SPA’s executive director, has been a leader in bringing Asian arts to Houston. “I have known about Cloud Gate for years. I was finally able to see the company a few years ago for a special performance in San Antonio, then again later in Duseeldorf,” says Christensen. “The performers reminded me a bit of those in Sanki Juku, which SPA presented in 1993. The dancers endurance levels are beyond impressive, as is their skill and theatrics. The company is poignantly beautiful. It was time for Cloud Gate to come to Houston.”
Dance Salad founder and artistic director Nancy Henderek has traveled to China many times through the years, and has become steeped in the history of contemporary dance in China. Cloud Gate has been on her radar for a long time. “We are very lucky to be seeing this company in Houston through SPA,” says Henderek. “I have seen the piece Songs of the Wanderers several times. Each time was a gift. For sheer beauty and peacefulness, this is a dance piece no one should miss.”
During the time she lived in Hong Kong, she was able to see Chinese dance take hold. “Wherever I have lived, I have sought out the nearby dance companies,” says Henderek. “I have loved to see how different companies reflect their own cultures and countries where they are nurtured. The Chinese groups, in particular, reflect the massive changes that have been developing in China over the last 15-20 years.”
In Hong Kong, she met Willy Tsao and his company, City Contemporary Dance Company, the first Asian group invited to Dance Salad. “Willy became a lifeline into China for me, along with becoming a real friend,” recalls Henderek. “He was already developing ties with China in Beijing for another company, which he founded, now called Beijing Dance/LDTX.” Tsao also had a connection to Guangdong Modern Dance Company, another Salad favorite.
“There is a blooming of dance in China now that reflects a burst of wanting to say what a choreographer or dancer feels about their own life and ideas,” she says. “Freedom of expression is alive and well in Contemporary Chinese dance. Certainly Willy Tsao has helped many dance creators realize their potential to reflect their point of view through dance. I have been to many dance festivals in Guangdong and Beijing that show the spontaneity and drive for dancers to say what is in their minds through movement.”
Henderek makes a habit of bringing popular companies back, which is the case with Beijing Dance/LDTX making its 4th Salad appearance in this year’s festival. The company will perform a curated version of Treading on Grass and Sorrowful Song. Dance Salad audiences enjoyed All River Red and The Cold Dagger in earlier festivals.
Treading on Grass, created for the opening performance of the Beijing Dance Festival 2013, was inspired by the piano version of Stravinsky’s 1910 Fire Bird. Sorrowful Song, created by co-founder and executive artistic director of the company Li Hanzhong and his wife Ma Bo, is a poignant tribute to the iconic Polish composer, Henryk Gorecki, drawing from the intense power of his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.
Dance Salad offers also offers a spectacular twist presenting the dance/martial arts hybrid troupe, Contemporary Dragon KungFu Company, which makes their Dance Salad debut this year. Established in 2006 by the KungFu star Jackie Chan, the company will perform Gateway, choreographed by Liu Lu, who trained the KungFu artists in contemporary dance for a year. Inspired by Christopher Morley’s essay On Doors, Gateway examines the potency of opening to the unknown, making a perfect entry into the evolving world of Eastern dance.