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Release: Immediate

Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan portrays spiritual pilgrimage in Hancher performance

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Taiwan's leading modern-dance company, will perform "Song of the Wanderers," inspired by the religious pilgrims of India, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, in Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus. The event is part of the FREEDOM Group Innovation Afoot Series.

The public is also invited to a free tai chi demonstration at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27 at Old Brick in Iowa City.

"Song of the Wanderers" was choreographed by Lin Hwai-min, the founder and artistic director of Cloud Gate. Lin received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the UI Writers' Workshop in 1971, and he received his first training in modern dance while he was at the UI.

Since founding Cloud Gate in 1973, naming the company after one of the oldest known dances in China, he has been recognized as one of the most important cultural figures in Asia. In addition to his innovations in dance, he is also a best-selling author in Taiwan.

In 1983 Jaycees International named Lin one of the 10 outstanding young people in the world, and this year Taiwan's leading magazine, "Common Wealth," designated him one of the most influential figures of the last 200 years of Taiwan's history. The South China Morning Post has called him "one of the greats of the 20th century."

The performance of "Song of the Wanderers" will be Cloud Gate's second visit to Hancher Auditorium.

Lin's unique vision combines the techniques and athleticism of western modern dance with the traditions, spirituality, art and history of Asia. Inspired by Hermann Hesse's novel "Siddhartha," he made several visits to India, following the pathway of the historical Buddha, as he developed "Song of the Wanderers."

He sat and meditated under the banyan tree where, according to tradition, the Buddha achieved enlightenment. After the death of Iowa's Paul Engle, the long-time director of the Writers' Workshop, Lin gave a leaf from that tree to Engle's widow, Hualing Nieh, who still lives in Iowa City.

In "Song of the Wanderers," his dancers enact a timeless journey of the spirit on a stage covered with golden rice grains, an Asian symbol of life. Conceiving of all religious practices as "essentially a quest for peace," Lin explores with movement what it means to seek and achieve peace.

For three years, Lin included meditational practices in the Cloud Gate training regimen, to prepare the 24-member company for the performance of "Song of the Wanderers." "Each choreography session started with one or two hours of meditation," Lin explains. "With their eyes still closed, the dancers then gradually moved into tai-chi, then into improvisation, then into movement."

In the course of the dance, the Wanderers undergo a series of ritualistic passages, recalling the rituals of Tibetan Buddhists, Hindu devotional practices, Chinese religious dances, the whirling dervishes of Turkey and yogic disciplines.

Contributing to the international flavor of the piece is the haunting, Islamic-influenced music of Georgia, where Europe meets Asia.

Rice rains down throughout the piece, so that in the end one of the dancers can painstakingly rake it into a spiral, an act reminiscent of Zen Buddhist gardens.

Sarah Brooks wrote in the Free China Review: "Although 'Song of the Wanderers' is replete with references to actual religious practices, some of them quite esoteric, the audience need not recognize these in order to respond to what is taking place . . . The audience takes part in the same journey as the Wanderers, in their quest for spiritual awakening -- which is summed up in a moment of both deep calm and celebrative joy."

The FREEDOM Group is the corporate sponsor the Hancher's Innovation Afoot Series, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Tickets for Cloud Gate's "Song of the Wanderers" are $35, $32 and $29. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20-percent discount, with Zone 3 tickets available to UI students for $10. Tickets for audience members 17 and younger are half price.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.