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Re:moving with Cheng Tsung-lung

Expressing thoughts through the body.

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Published: 17 Jul 2020


Time taken : ~10mins

Choreographer and dancer Cheng Tsung-lung never dreamt of being a dancer.

Growing up, Cheng spent a lot of his childhood and adolescence hawking slippers to pedestrians in the busy streets of Taipei. His childhood whims—not dreams, he mused in an interview with one of Esplanade's producers—ranged from being a doctor to the owner of an Internet cafe in the heyday of those geeky enclaves. For as long as he remembers, he has danced, choreographed and expressed his thoughts through the body.

Cheng graduated from the Dance Department of Taipei National University of the Arts and had performed with the acclaimed Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan ever since. From 2006, he was the Resident Choreographer for the main ensemble's sister company Cloud Gate 2 and in 2014, he served as its Artistic Director. Cheng is now the new Artistic Director and choreographer of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, succeeding revered founder and choreographer Lin Hwai-min who stepped down in 2019. In the same year, Cheng's Lunar Halo premiered at the Taiwan International Festival of Arts to much anticipation. Screened online on 18 July, Lunar Halo is a bold piece that questions the need for our physical existence if we only need our eyes and fingertips, featuring music by Sigur Rós and Kjartan Holm.

We speak to one of the leading voices of the contemporary dance scene in Taiwan about the pandemic's impact on movement and his artistic practice.

Cover photo by Lee Chia-yeh

A glimpse of Lunar Halo (2019)

What is the biggest contrast in your routine between the pre-COVID period and these uncertain days?

We wash our hands more often than ever after the outbreak of COVID-19. It is said that washing hands enables our brains to rest temporarily, making it easier for us to come up with new ideas.

One fall-out of this pandemic has been the limits to an individual's mobility: restrictions on travel and being confined to one's home. What are your thoughts on this for the medium of dance?

I can put up with restrictions on travel and being confined at home at this stage for the everyone's safety. When we came back home in March after a two-month tour in Europe earlier this year, we were asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. Life was endurable, however, my body yearned to go out, meet people, and to embrace the nature.

Loneliness – does that feeling terrify or endear itself to you? Why?

Am I considered lonely as I am often alone? In fact, I kind of enjoy being alone.

What, to your knowledge, is the biggest socioeconomic issue facing your country right now? How do you think that trickles down to you and your work?

Under the rage of the pandemic, we all face the same problems globally. How can we adopt more sustainable ways of living and develop eco-friendly habits? How do we keep everything in balance between human and nature? I will try to find the answer through my choreography.

How are you rethinking your practice as a dancer/ choreographer, whether in big or small ways?

I've been thinking about the Chinese proverb, 台上一分鐘,台下十年功, which translates to: a minute on stage takes ten years of practice off stage. That to me speaks of our sense of the flow of time, as human beings. And that all things need time, we especially need time to learn and to accumulate experience. But I'll let my work speak on my behalf! Let me present my thoughts through my actions.

Extracts from 13 Tongues (2016)

Fascinated by the legend of a street artist called "Thirteen Tongues" who could portray people of all walks of life, Cheng transforms his childhood memory of Taoist rites and the street life of Bangka into a fantastical world where deities, spirits and humans coexist. 13 Tongues premiered in 2016 in Taipei and the full-length work has also toured internationally to the United Kingdom, France, Germany and China.

What keeps you hopeful? What keeps you moving?

Moving forward is the only way. Whether going quickly or slowly, there is only one direction from life to death. That is the law of nature.

Tell us what your next work or creative project is about.

My new piece Sounding Light 《定光》 premieres on 1 October 2020. It will explore how the body synchronises with voice and sound, and how we can bring more warmth and radiance to life.

One word or a phrase to sum up your life/practice right now.

Spinning forward.

Acknowledgement by:

Cheng Tsung-lung

Cheng Tsung-lung is the Artistic Director of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, succeeding internationally renowned choreographer and founder Lin Hwai-min. While touring extensively worldwide, Cloud Gate is acclaimed as “Asia's leading contemporary dance theater” (The Times), which holds regular seasons in theatres in Taiwan, and stages annual free outdoor performances in cities and villages of Taiwan, drawing an average of 30,000 people per performance.


Re:moving

As things around us move beyond our control, artists around the world revisit movement and redefine what it means to move.
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