Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Lin Hwai Min on Why Dance Is Still Essential
The self-taught choreographer founded the Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan and believes that dance is a ‘celebration of life’
Lin Hwai Min is often considered to be one of the most important choreographers in the world, whose beginnings in dance was sparked by seeing the film The Red Shoes at the tender age of 5. From there, his inevitable arrival in the world of dance may have been circuitous—he was initially discouraged by his parents from pursuing dance and studied journalism instead—but he did, eventually, land where he was meant to.
While in the United States to attend the International Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, Lin sought out modern-dance pioneer Martha Graham in New York and became a student in her school. Returning home to Taiwan, he established the Cloud Gate Dance Theater in 1973.
Cloud Gate became the first modern dance company in any Chinese-speaking community anywhere in the world. The company takes its name from what, according to legend, is the name of the oldest known dance in China, a ritual dance of some 5,000 years ago. As the company’s founder, choreographer, and artistic director, Lin ran Cloud Gate almost single-handedly.
In 1999, he received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts for “his revitalizing the theatrical arts in Taiwan with modern dance that is at once eloquently universal and authentically Chinese.”
Lin’s work addresses the universal themes of struggle, freedom, and spiritual enlightenment, and is proud to showcase one of his most essential works for Bravo, ASIA: Songs of the Wanderers. The work, which is inspired by a trip Lin had taken India, is all about rituals. It utilizes three-and-a-half tonnes of Taiwanese rice—one of the country’s most staple foods—and features folk songs from Georgia.
“I returned to Taiwan and started this work,” Lin says. “I used three-and-a-half tonnes of rice as the only material for the set. The rice can become a desert, a river, waterfall, and through all the performance, there is a monk standing at a corner of the stage. Over his head, rice is streaming down and hitting his head. And he stands there for ninety minutes throughout the show.”
Lin has been awarded and lauded by various foundations and award-giving bodies all over the Western world. He holds the Ramon Magsaysay Award close to his heart, saying: “I treasure the Magsaysay Award because this is the most important award from Asia. And it’s like you’re recognized at home.”
Upon accepting his award, Lin had said: “If I were given an opportunity to make one wish for the next millennium, it would be thus: At the end of the next century, despite all the new technological developments, I hope that all the beautiful folk songs and folk dances from around the world will remain intact and alive... Dance should become more important, as people need to switch off and come to the dance gatherings, to share body warmth, energy, and spirit with others.”
And up to this day, Lin still believes in the power of the dance, in its importance. “Nowadays we are exposed to so much images and films on the internet. But I don’t think they can replace the actual live performance of dance. The most beautiful thing about dance is that we are in the same space together, we share our breathing and energy, and that is a celebration of life itself.”
This weekend, tune into Bravo, ASIA!, a two-day digital arts festival that will showcase the region’s excellence in the arts, happening this Sunday and Monday, November 28 to 29, 7 to 9 p.m. PHT.
It will feature the work of six Ramon Magsaysay awardees: National Artists Nick Joaquin, Bienvenido Lumbera, and Ryan Cayabyab, as well as awardees from other countries, like Akira Kurosawa (Japan), Lin Hwai-Min (Taiwan), and T.M. Krishna (India).
Bravo, ASIA! will also screen Rashomon online via Vimeo from Nov. 28–29. Visit bravo.rmaward.asia and follow the Ramon Magsaysay Award on Facebook and YouTube for more updates and to watch the free film screening and live streaming of the shows.
Lead photo courtesy of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
Erratum: The article originally referred to the work being showcased as "Songs of the Wayfarers." It has since been corrected to "Songs of the Wanderers."