Hsiao Wenhua, MFA, Graduate Institute of Theatre Arts and Playwriting, Taipei National University of the Arts
The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre performance Songs of the Wanderers is based on Siddhartha, a novel by Nobel Prize winner Herman Hesse which uses an account of the origins of Buddhist scriptures to portray devotion and longing for the way to enlightenment. In the hands of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre founder Lin Hwai-min, the story is transformed into a breathtaking and profound dance performance.
Since its 1994 debut, this production has been performed several hundred times and has become Cloud Gate’s signature dance performance. Lin Hwai-min stresses the importance to the creative process of “wandering.” Before composing this work, Lin had just been on a trip to Bodh Gaya in East India, where he saw firsthand the ardor of the religious believers’ quests for enlightenment, and also had the opportunity to sit in quiet contemplation in the very spot where Buddha himself found enlightenment. These experiences made him go back and carefully re-read Siddhartha, after which he used his thoughts on the impermanent and the eternal to create a dance production.
Thus was born Songs of the Wanderers, a story combining ancient Indian Buddhism with German literature, Georgian folk songs, golden Taiwanese rice, and the agile bodies of Cloud Gate dancers.
The story tells of a pilgrimage that takes place on a golden river of rice through which the dancers slowly crawl or leap and bound, spraying rice in all directions. The rice is not a merely visual component. It has a fragrance and a feel, and the sound it makes is part of the dance itself. The incredible, coiled energy of the dancers’ bodies expresses the ecstasy, the anxiety, the madness, and the despair of the quest for enlightenment. This energy can be seen in the staid and unhurried boatman who rakes the rice in a huge spiral that spreads across the whole stage. It can be seen in the solo dancer who leaps into the air as almost a ton of rice rains down from above. In between the bouts of furious movement, Lin Hwai-min brings peace and calm.
Throughout the performance, the seeker of enlightenment stands in one corner of the stage. The rice pours down onto his head and forms mounds beside him, but still he stands motionless with his palms pressed together in prayer and his eyes closed in serene meditation. Despite the dance and the drama of this piece, it is not so much pure dance as a living Buddhist tableau trying to approach the eternal.
The most fitting footnote for this dance production can be found in the words of choreographer Lin Hwai-min himself: “If I could only leave a single work behind me when I pass on, I would want it to be Songs of the Wanderers. I hope that it will continue to bring peace and comfort to the people of this noisy world, like a ray of light slanting down through the leaves of the Bodhi tree.”
|Related Literary Themes：||Religious Literature|