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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Tsai Ming-yuan of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

Rice's Tsai Ming-yuan. Photo: Liu Chen-hsiang
You've seen him in photos—in BAM's season brochures, website, in posters, or postcards. He is the face of Rice, a dance made by Lin Hwai-min for Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, which opens the 2015 Next Wave Festival on Wednesday, September 16. The dancer in the photo is Tsai Ming-yuan. Bare-chested and barefoot, in indigo pants, holding a bamboo stick curved like a new moon, he is part of the landscape, as strong and as flexible as the golden hued rice stalks behind him. Before you finally see him in person, let’s hear from him.

When did you join Cloud Gate? What are your responsibilities there? Is this your first visit to BAM?

I was one of the original members of Cloud Gate 2 when I joined in 1999. I became a Cloud Gate dancer in 2001. My prior performances at BAM include Water Moon (2003), Wild Cursive (2007), and Water Stains on the Wall (2011). Besides dancing, I also serve as a rehearsal assistant for the company.

What do you like about dancing?

To me, dancing is sharing—sharing the experience and joy of my life. I find that I see myself clearer through dance. This is particular true with Mr. Lin’s work, with its underlining philosophy. It is very challenging but also rewarding in the end.

What else do you enjoy besides dancing? 

I like to cook, which I find has a lot of similarities to creating. Mixing different ingredients and using different methods, you come up with different dishes. Good food always makes people happy, the way that good arts do.

What affinity do you have with rice, the grain? 

I was born in Hualien county and grew up in Chiayi county, which is like the “bread basket” of Taiwan. My grandfather owned some rice paddies and grew his own rice. After the harvest, the rice was spread out in the yard to dry. That image and the golden rice swaying in the wind are some of my precious childhood memories. Because the rice I ate as a kid came from the hard labor of my grandfather, it tasted particularly good. I also learned not to waste any food by not finishing it.

Part of the training of dancing Rice involves working in the field of Chihshang, where the video is shot. Can you tell us what you learned from it?

Tsai Ming-yuan and Huang Pei-hua in Pollination.
Photo: Liu Chen-hsiang
The open space, the unobstructed sight lines, and the fresh air of Chihshang increased our reverence for the mother nature. Walking on the soil makes you contemplate life—the soil is soft but full of energy; it is plain but all living beings come out of it. The beginning of Rice—the stomping of the ground—reflects what we learned in the field: to put the root into the ground.

You have an intimate duet with Huang Pei-hua in the section called Pollination. How do you interpret it?

From the start Mr. Lin wanted us to be like “two snails in the soil intertwined.” It turned out to be quite difficult because if we’re not careful, we could hurt our necks and shoulders. But I trust my partner completely, as she trusts me. She is an excellent dancer. This mutual trust is what makes this duet possible. 

Cloud Gate has a busy touring schedule in Taiwan and around the world. What is one thing essential in your luggage? 

Aside from my massage ball, one thing I always have is something to cook food with. Some of us got food poisoning when we traveled to Prague in 2002. We were so sick that we could not eat or drink anything locally for three days. The magical medicine was a bowl of self-made vegetable soup. From then on I learned that if I don’t feel well or I get home-sick when travel, the best remedy is to cook something I like. Good food makes you happy and replenishes energy like nothing else!

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre's Rice comes to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House September 16—19.

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