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Choreographer | Lin Hwai-min

  • Date:2015-08-19
Choreographer | Lin Hwai-min

  • Chinese Name: 林懷民
  • Date of Birth: February 19, 1947
  • Birthplace: Singkang Township, Chiayi County (Southern Taiwan)
  • Did You Know That…?
  • The Cloud Gate founder does not limit the definition of "books” to just those in printed form; he describes natural scenery as "the book of great outdoors” and CDs and films as "other forms of books.”

Moving between genres and eras when he reads, world-renowned choreographer Lin Hwai-min takes what he experiences as a reader, and uses it to create masterpieces on stage.

Patriarch of Cloud Gate

As the patriarch of the Cloud Gate family, Lin believes that reading and literature provide the troupe with a firm cultural grounding. When Cloud Gate dancers are on tour, they are encouraged to carry a book with them and sit down quietly to read whenever they have a spare moment.

When dancers who are not accustomed to reading join the company, Lin will coax them into reading. For instance, if he sees a new member of the company after a performance with nothing to do, Lin will give them a book and then ask a couple of days later: 'How is that book? Is it well written?' Since the dancers know that the master will ask, over time they just naturally settle down and start to read.

An impulsive reader

All manner of books can be found on Lin's shelves. Not picky about what he reads, he describes himself as a 'reading garbage can.'

Yet Lin will also read books related to the various themes of his creation. For instance, in recent years he has read numerous books on calligraphy while he choreographed Cursive, Cursive II, and Wild Cursive for Cloud Gate. For a collaboration with New York-based artist Cai Guo-qiang (蔡國強) that required a understanding of black holes and cosmology, Lin was reading the Scientific American magazine and books on science; and to choreograph for French ballerina Sylvie Guillem, he reread books about India.

Although extensive reading doesn't necessarily yield immediate inspiration, he believes that a book always leaves something behind. After settling for a few years, it will begin to call to him, to pull at him. He waits until what moves and inspires him in a book gets into his blood. Only then can he create something meaningful with it.

Apart from reading to fuel his creativity, Lin reads even more just to pass the time. There are quite a few books he never finishes. Smiling, he jokes that he is 'an impulsive reader.' Nevertheless, if one day he wants a clearer understanding of a book or has a use for its content, he will diligently reread it.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Among all his many books, Lin's favorite remains Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Describing how Marquez and his wife pawned household possessions to sustain the Columbian novelist's writing for 14 months, Lin noted how 'that's the kind of attitude that creators ought to have.”

When he talks about surrendering himself to what he reads, Lin points out that he prefers books that give the reader the feeling that stopping here is good enough for now. It's like fine food that is worth savoring. He feels that slowly appreciating the works is a better approach.

Avoiding linguistic traps

Is there a direct relationship between reading and choreography? Lin believes that falling into linguistic traps doesn't help his dance. He recalls that in his early days as a choreographer he discovered that verbal dialectics prevented choreographic discovery and were in fact bad for his dance.

Consequently, since the 1990s, he has tried to stop applying the logic of language to organize his dances. That's because the absence of language enables the audience to grasp the ambiguity of dance and allows for a greater range of interpretation, thus enriching the vocabulary of dance. Lin used to tackle problems by using reason or logic, but now he feels that these constitute burdens.

Unlike in the 1970s and 1980s, when he remembered whatever he read, he now intentionally loosens his grip on the storyline. He now believes that dance involves imaginatively broadening one's vision, sense of space, and sense of movement.

He stresses that his persistence is no special gift, but rather stems from the courage and thick skin he gained as a 14-year-old when his fiction was continually rejected for publication: 'There are no shortcuts.'