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As part of the 2015 Next Wave Festival, the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan had its US premiere of the piece Rice on September 16-19 at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House. The company's founder and Artistic Director, Lin Hwai-min, s a recent recipient of the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement, putting him in the same category as other notable choreographers such as Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe. Cloud Gate is the first contemporary dance company in the greater Chinese-speaking community and was founded in 1973 with its name drawn from the oldest-known Chinese dance. Lin, a writer-turned-choreographer, often draws inspiration from Asian cultures and aesthetics in his work.

Rice, the beautiful story of life, death, and rebirth, was inspired by the story of Chihshang in the East Rift Valley of Taiwan. Previously, this land was tainted with chemical fertilizer. Today, this farming village has now regained its title as the Land of the Emperor's Rice by adopting organic farming and now exports its rice to many European countries. This piece was done through a collaborative effort. Lin brought his dancers to Chihshang, where they joined the farmers while they were harvesting the rice. Also, a cinematographer spent two years at the farm to capture the full rice cultivation: flooding, sprouting, harvesting, and burning of the rice fields. Through this experience, Lin has created this wonderful piece for 24 dancers to showcase the images of farmers, rice stalks, pollination, water, wind, fire, and the pain and joy of new life.

Lin's distinct style is a fusion of Qi Gong (an ancient breathing exercise), martial arts, modern dance, and ballet; you can see all of those influences in his choreography. The ability to have slow and sustained movements, to quick and sharp motions, to then be graceful and effortless shows just how talented these dancers are. Some highlights of the evening included a lovely duet that features the dancers strength and flexibility as they represented pollination with sensual contact and beautiful lifts and poses. There was also the amazing jaw-dropping all-men scene to represent fire as they tossed, jumped, spun, twirled, and flipped with very long bamboo sticks, making it seem as they can just fly through the air.

The relationship of the projections and the choreography went together hand-in-hand. The images on the screen showed which element of the earth the dancers were portraying as they transformed the stage into the organic rice fields of southeastern Taiwan. They definitely captured that natural beauty of nature which is very calming and relaxing to watch. The music was an interesting mix of folkloric songs performed in Hakka, the oldest existing Chinese dialects and operatic arias and drumming.

What an exciting, yet moving and inspirational piece. The forcefulness in the choreography and the effortless athleticism of the dancers is quite a sight. It is absolutely a crowd-pleaser as the audience gave the dancers a standing ovation.

Lin created this piece in 2013 in honor of the company's 40th anniversary, where it was premiered on November 22 at the National Theater in Taipei, Taiwan to pay homage to his country.

Photo Credit: Courtesy

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