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Trinity Laban Celebrates Dance Legend Lin Hwai-Min

Tue 25 February 2020

On Thursday 20 February Trinity Laban and Ministry of Culture, Taiwan co-hosted a celebratory event for Lin Hwai-Min, Founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan in conversation with dance writer Judith Mackrell.

Considered one of the world’s most pre-eminent choreographers, Lin Hwai-min was first known to the Taiwan public as a fiction writer, with two books published by the time he was 22. He started his modern dance training at the age of 23, while working on his MFA degree at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, before founding the award-winning Taiwanese dance company Cloud Gate in Taipei in 1973.

Trinity Laban and Ministry of Culture, Taiwan co-hosted a special In conversation event led by prominent dance writer Judith Mackrell at the Conservatoire’s Faculty of Dance where Lin Hwai-min reflected on his life as a maker of dance. Both Lin Hwai-min and Judith Mackrell (pictured above L-R) are Honorary Fellows of Trinity Laban.

On the stage of the Laban Theatre, he shared insights into his some of his seminal works, the history of Cloud Gate and its global impact on contemporary dance.

“It is incredible to be here as a dancer and choreographer. My life didn’t prepare me for this.” 

Speaking of his motivation to found the company, Lin Hwai-min explained that he did not set out to be an artist but was instead inspired to discover what Taiwanese modern dance could be.

“It’s not about aesthetics,” clarified Master Lin, “From day one we set out to serve the community. To do something that was our own, to form a culture, not a copy. We went wherever we wanted. We built our own theatre in gymnasiums and we attracted 6000 in one show. We wanted to give people the chance to see it who would not be able to go to the theatre in Taipei. We wanted to perform to the grassroots. To me that’s the most fantastic hours of the company.”

Lin Hwai-min also explained that creating employment opportunities for Taiwanese dancers has always been a motivator for the company and a reason why they have grown to a company of 25 –

“For a long time we were the only professional company in Taiwan to pay a salary for dancers. If we didn’t take dancers, then what did the students have to look forward to?”

Lin Hwai-Min, Founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan in conversation with dance writer Judith Mackrell.

Encouraged by the historic words from President John F Kennedy’s inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”, community engagement has been an intrinsic part of Cloud Gate’s identity.

“We set up Cloud Gate 2 in order to do more community outreach and engagement. We do big outdoor performances in Taiwanese cities and villages. Our shows are not just a show. It’s how you influence the fabric of a community. It’s a very rewarding journey. I feel so grateful that we could stick to this dream.” 

Speaking about how their work inspires the younger generations Li Hwai-min is positive about encouraging them to feel confidence and pride –

“Young people could and should make a difference.”

Lin Hwai-Min, Founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan in conversation on stage with dance writer Judith Mackrell

Founding a company wasn’t without its struggles–

“When you’re young you’re hot blooded. I started a company without having had any professional experience of dance. I made it up as we went along. We sold out more than 3000 tickets for first show of the first season. After that I almost had a nervous breakdown because I didn’t know what I was doing! I thought I’d better learn to choreograph.” 

The works that Lin Hwai-min has produced with Cloud Gate are imbued with a distinctive movement style and are routed in the landscape, language and culture of Taiwan. Early narrative works such as White Serpent (1975) are reinterpretations of traditional literature and opera a contemporary dance lens, whilst Cursive II and Wild Cursive draw inspiration from calligraphy.

“In our traditional aesthetic everything is about roundness and grounding. The company started doing calligraphy to get a sense of soft spiral movement.”

Legacy and Portrait of a Family tell sagas of our ancestors” and have played a transformative role in helping the country reclaim its identity.

“In the process of choreographing Legacy I realised it was the first theatrical work to deal with the history of Taiwan. I moved the premiere to my home town in the south to be away from censorship. It’s nothing political. It’s a family saga. It’s for my own cleansing of the heaving shadow over our childhood.”

Lin Hwai-min noted how the response to his works has changed over time –

“For the revival of Portrait of a Family I had people say ‘it’s so different’, when in fact I hadn’t changed a step. It was the society that had changed. Opening up politically creates opportunity and challenges.”

The talk was followed by a Q&A in which a Taiwanese audience member explained how intrinsically important Cloud Gate to its home country – “It’s more than just a company, it’s a culture”. This was illustrated most poignantly when over four thousand people donated to help build a new space for the company after a devastating fire destroyed their original premises in 2008. And their impact has been internationally recognised, with the company recently being awarded the Stef Stefanou Award for Outstanding Company from 2018/19 at the UK’s National Dance Awards.

Lin Hwai-min stepped down as the Artistic Director of Cloud Gate at the end of 2019 but remains committed to the continuing development of dance as an art form in contemporary culture.

When asked about the future he responded –

“I don’t want Cloud Gate to become a museum. I want new works to reflect audience experience. We have a wonderful choreographer as the new director. Everything will be the same and better.” 

Trinity Laban awarded Lin Hwai-min an Honorary Fellowship in 2018 as a tribute to his remarkable life as an artist and educator. The award was presented at a special reception at Sadler’s Wells following the UK premiere of Formosa, his final creation as Artistic Director of Cloud Gate.

The unique event was co-hosted by the Ministry of Culture, Taiwan. In his speech at the post-event reception, the Taipei Representative Ambassador in the UK David Yung-Lo Lin (pictured with Lin Hwai-Min, Judith Mackrell and Anthony Bowne L-R) said –

“Lin hwai min is a legendary choreographer who has played such an important part in elevating and promoting contemporary dance. I salute him for his life accomplishment and hope that he will continue to combine traditional form and modern dance, and unite East and West. He has done such a wonderful job to bring all of us to a wonderful world of dance.

“We are honoured to be a sponsor of this very special evening and this is a wonderful experience for all of us.”

Following the evening’s events, Associate Artistic Director of Cloud Gate Ching-Chun Lee and veteran Cloud Gate dancer Su I-ping returned to lead masterclasses with Trinity Laban dance students. Lee is an alum of Trinity Laban, having studied both her BA(hons) in Dance Theatre and MA at the Conservatoire.

“My time at Trinity Laban (then called the Laban Centre) has been an inspiration. It helped me become a better dancer and greatly expanded my understanding of the theoretical framework over and above being a practitioner. I am grateful for what I have learnt.”

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre are in London for the premiere of their new double bill at Sadler’s Wells (26 – 29 February 2020) which feature’s Lin Hwai-min’s Dust alongside 13 Tongues by Cloud Gate’s new artistic director Cheng Tsung-Lung.


Images credit: Maja Smiekowska, courtesy of Ministry of Culture, Taiwan

About Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

Cloud Gate is the name of the oldest known dance in China. In 1973, choreographer Lin Hwai-min adopted this classical name and founded the first contemporary dance company in the greater Chinese-speaking community: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, also known worldwide as Cloud Gate. From 2020, Cheng Tsung-lung succeeded Lin as the artistic director of Cloud Gate.

Cloud Gate dancers are trained in meditation, Qi Gong, internal martial arts, modern dance and ballet. Through Lin Hwai-min’s innovative choreographies, the company transforms ancient aesthetics into a thrilling modern celebration of motion.

Acclaimed as “Asia’s leading contemporary dance theater” (The Times), and “One of the finest dance companies in the world” (The Globe and Mail), Cloud Gate won the award for “Outstanding Company” in the 2018 National Dance Awards. Cloud Gate tours extensively. At home, in addition to regular seasons in theaters, Cloud Gate stages annual free outdoor performances in cities and villages of Taiwan, drawing an average of 30,000 people per performance.

About Lin Hwai-min

Lin Hwai-min was first known to the Taiwan public as a fiction writer. He started his modern dance training at the age of 23, while working on his MFA degree at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. He founded Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan in Taipei in 1973.

A self-taught choreographer, Lin often draws from Asian cultures and aesthetics to create works with contemporary resonance. Under his direction, Cloud Gate tours extensively to international acclaims.

Among the honours Lin Hwai-min has received are the Samuel H. Scripts / American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement, the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Award, the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the Ministry of Culture of France, the Honorary Fellow Trinity Laban, London, and honorary doctorates from six universities in Taiwan and Hong Kong. He was also celebrated by the Time Magazine as one of “Asia’s Heroes.”

About Judith Mackrell

Dance writer and critic Judith Mackrell studied a degree in English Literature at university before writing for The Observer and subsequently the Guardian. She is a successful author of biographical non-fiction titles including Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova, Imperial Dancer and Mrs John Maynard Keynes, which was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award, and Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation, which combines the biographies of six women whose lives together encapsulated the history of the flapper era.