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contemporary I feature dance in the city

Songs Of The Wanderers, The Quietness That Touches Malaysians A spiritual performance by Cloudgate Dance Theatre offers audiences tranquillity in the midst of the chaos of life. TEXT: RICHARD CHUA PHOTOGRAPHS: YU HUI-HUNG



t is worth the effort to reflect upon quietness in this world of chaos and noise, in which politics makes the loudest sound. In this country, especially when everybody is fighting for attention, in all its myriad colours, the timely arrival of world renowned Taiwanese dance Cloudgate Dance Theatre to Malaysia might be able to inject some quietness and reflection to balance out the noise and chaos. Songs of the Wanderers was created in 1995 after artistic director Lin Hwai Min’s sojourn to Bodhgaya (where Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree), India. A classic in Chinese contemporary dance, the presentation in Malaysia is in its full splendour: a monk standing under the hail of golden grains; dancers as “wanderers” shaping rice grains into hills, rivers and crop circles. All of them climbing, cavorting, splashing, and praying to the fire god. Rather than idolise the company, local audiences and dancers alike might want to reflect upon the quietness brought about by it. The performance was mesmerising. The juxtaposition of raw emotions in motion gave the dance piece the necessary texture of ups and downs in the theatre-watching experience.

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All these did not come about in a short period of time. After all, Cloudgate Dance Theatre, named after a 5000-years-old, already-extinct dance form, is already 39 years old. Founder Lin Hwai Min has been training his dancers in Chinese opera movement, martial arts, meditation, Tai-Chi and recently, calligraphy. These Chinese cultural elements are appropriated to work with foreign musical compositions and theatrical elements to create a universal language of humanity. To Lin Hwai Min, humanity seems to be about contemplating life, albeit quietly. Loosely based on Herman Hesse’s interpretation of Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment, Lin Hwai Min created the piece with 3.5 tonnes of saffron yellow rice grains, under the backdrop of soulful sounds of the Rustavi Choir. The quietness and serenity Lin Hwai Min was aiming for is like the quiet flow of a river, the quiet tilling of farmlands, the quiet meditation for rain. His experiences in India is referenced here. The life he has come to realise -- on his trips to India -- is one that encourages him to seize the present moment, and to take life in its entirety, where all good and bad are in fact a facet of one big entity called life. Life and death co-exist together. There isn’t a difference. Lin Hwai Min’s realisation gave him strength to pursue the state of quietness in this world. In creating Songs of the Wanderers, he harnessed the sense of creative freedom derived from the above philosophy. The present became his creative impulse. In doing so, he is able to live freely and happily, not having to worry about creating the “best dance work”. For many of us, to create or achieve something seems to be the single most important objective in life. But we never realise that life is just an illusion. Having this insight, we would be able to create meaningful artworks. Lin Hwai Min has done just that with Songs of the Wanderers: the rice grains become rivers, giving juxtaposition between the flow of time and the flow of river waters; dancers treading on the grains and cleansing themselves; people praying for spiritual strength – all are representations of one’s search for

spiritual peacefulness and quietness, flowing from one bank in life to another. Perhaps, the monk in the dance piece could give us an idea or two about quietness and serenity too. Performed by Taiwanese artist Wang Rong-Yu, the role of the monk standing under the cascading rice grains not only demands physical endurance, especially having to maintain the posture for two hours, it also provides the audience a spiritual destination. It is like the image of Siddartha, where his enlightenment in the state of nirvana has allowed him to observe what’s happening in life, realising that life is in fact, emptiness. All of us are wanderers in life. As we search for the ultimate destination, are we be able to reach the state the dancers in Lin Hwai Min’s Songs of the Wanderers achieved, where the final destination is just like the Buddhist mandala, a reflection of life and spiritual strength? Perhaps Taiwanese cultural critic and academician Jiang Xun could assist us in getting started on this journey. In his words (translated from Mandarin into English), “As my friends reached middle-age, they would recall having studied Songs of the Wanderers. It would be like walking out the second time, walking out from noise, walking out from angst, walking out from love and hate, walking from contortions towards peace and compassion. The journey of the wanderers starts with the realisation of one’s own personal restrictions, where life and death are not just items we are fearful of, but also of them being inevitable which haunts us.” The journey towards peace and tranquility starts with ourselves. Judging from the applause and the standing ovation in response to the performance, Malaysian audiences have indeed commenced on this spiritual journey. JD

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Songs of the Wanderers, the quietness that touches Malaysians  

This is an article of mine assined by Malaysian dance magazine Just Dance.

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