A Blossom that Never Fades
“Of all the forms of art, dance is the oldest and the hardest to understand; it is also the most fragile, for it exists with the person, and disappears when the person is gone.”
This is a story of nostalgia, and an elegy to a life; it is about reuniting, and about saying a proper goodbye. Director Chen Hwai-eng, a poet of images, spent three years to complete this love poem to Lo Man-fei. “I will simply go on spinning like this,” Lo once said, “and then I will be free.” Her life was just like her solo performance in Requiem, in which she maintained a spin for ten minutes: seemingly aimless, yet all pre-destined. She just kept turning in a whirl of emotions and artistic talent, leaving behind a beautiful vision that we wistfully look back on today.
“She was born to dance,” says her mentor and founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre Lin Hwai-min. “Dance was tailored for her,” says the poet Luo Zhi-cheng of his dear friend. Lo Man-fei started taking dance lessons at the age of five. She decided to make dancing her life’s career while in college, twice traveling to America to study modern dance. A restless yet sensitive soul, she created her own art history through her dance. Her greatest artistic achievement was to give modern dance a stronger sense of story-telling and social concern. In plainer words, she made modern dance more familiar, approachable and resonant. Just as her courage and openness could always touch people, her dancing struck a chord with the audience. People who shied away from modern dance with the idea that it was difficult and abstract fell in love with these stories told through the body.
She was always generous in giving young dancers opportunities and sought cross-disciplinary collaboration. Dancers or choreographers now famous in their own right, such as Bularuiyang, Chou Shu-yi, Yu Tsai-chin, Chien Pei-ju, Liu I-ling and Huang Yi, all received a helping hand from her, and see her as a mentor, even as a mother, who was essential to their careers. She did not just leave a deep mark in her studenets’ lives. Generous and forthright, she had friends everywhere, and many people will remember her fondly.
She left us ten years ago. Ten years later, we say: Hello. It’s been a while.
“Before college, I knew little about life and philosophy. It was through interacting with my body that I gained some insight about life. Take Requiem; when I kept turning in the same spot, it was so painful that at one point I almost collapsed, but I grit my teeth and held on, and suddenly I was free, I was spinning freely and happily in another world. So after each performance of Requiem, I would gain a little more confidence, and I found that it turns out you can keep building and pushing your limit. It gave me a joy and satisfaction beyond words.”——Man Fei
Director Chen Hwai-eng spent three years making the documentary about Lo Man-fei.
“She did not hide from the world when she was sick. With characteristic energy, she put her feelings about life into her work to record this last stretch of her life,” says Chen Hwai-eng. “She displayed real courage and determination as an artist. As a choreographer, and with her creative passion, she gave us a wonderful testimony of the ‘it’s good to be alive’ attitude.” As a legendary dancer and as a person, an important reason that Lo Mai-fei is deeply impressed in people’s memories is the strength and resilience she showed after being diagnosed with cancer.
“Before I started making this film, I didn’t know Man-fei or much about dance. Perhaps the only connection that I can claim between us was that we grew up at around the same time,” Chen Hwai-eng notes. “During filming, however, I got to understand dance through Man-fei, and understand Man-fei through her dance. It was this wonderful intersection that gave shape to its movie.”
Lin Hwai-min, the founder of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, once commented that “dance is akin to poetry”: it is about vague things that cannot be clearly verbalized. The poet Ya Hsien repeatedly reminded Chen Hwai-eng that poems are best left uninterpreted. Life is a mystery. Man-fei’s life seemed full and complete, and on its path she was always turning and spinning, creating ripples and rich colors for the world. “Instead of telling you what I learned about her that I want to present in the film, let me be honest and say that after this journey, I wish more to examine myself,” says Chen Hwai-eng. “Because in the past my two legs were only used for walking!”
“I didn’t choose dance; dance chose me.”——Man Fei
Lo Man-fei was born in 1955 in Wuchieh Township, Yilan County. She was the youngest child, with three sisters and a brother. Her eldest sister Lo Yi-fei said the birth of this little sister was “earth shaking”. With her large, vivid eyes, delicate face and long and slender limbs, the little girl had the physical qualities of a dancer and was already the center of attention. A lively child, Lo Man-fei started taking dance lessons at five. One minute she would be lifting her leg to her head, the next minute she would be doing leg splits on the sofa, then she would be twisting her body. These moves would be part of her life until the very end.
Lo Man-fei did not study dance in college, opting instead to attend the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature (DFLL) of National Taiwan University. This gave her a different perspective from classically trained dancers. Instead of focusing only on technique, she was able to convey the emotions and thoughts that underlie the dance movements with more subtlety, which resonated with the audience. In college, through a friend’s recommendation, Lo Man-fei went to study dance at the Neo-Classic Dance Group under Dr. Liu Feng-shueh. This marked a turning point in her life. Later, thanks to the introduction of Yang Mu, who was a professor at the DFLL at that time, she began working with the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in a relationship that would last more than two decades. From then on, dance became her life’s career and was no longer something she did just for fun.
She is greatly missed today in large part because of her devotion to dance education. After returning from abroad, she taught at the Dance Department of the National Taipei University of the Arts, where she served as department chair and director of the graduate institute, and inaugurated the school’s seven-year preparatory undergraduate program and B.F.A. program. In 1999, she was appointed as artistic director of Cloud Gate 2, where she provided a stage for young dancers to shine, and which came to be seen as essential to the transformation of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.
She choreographed major dances for her students and also performed a number of important works throughout her career, including Tale of the White Serpent and the solo dance in Requiem with Cloud Gate, Legend, Loose Pages from a Woman’s Diary and Eileen Says with Hong Kong choreographer Helen Lai. Her choreographic works include Cocoon, City of the Sky, The Place Where the Heart Is, The Dark Side of the Moon, Reed Field and All about Love. Among them, Reed Field was choreographed after her cancer diagnosis and represents her interpretation of the vicissitudes of life. Through dance, she confronted and transcended life and death, calming her own inner struggles and bringing a sense of serenity and quietude to the audience.
Chen Hwai-eng graduated from the printing and photography department of Shih Hsin University. He joined the movie industry in 1983, just as the first movies of the Taiwanese New Wave Cinema were being made. Starting from The Sandwich Man, he has worked in the film industry for more than 20 years, working his way up from script supervisor, movie photographer, assistant director, to cinematographer, collaborating along the way with renowned Taiwanese directors such as Yang De-chang and Hou Hsiao-hsien. Over the years, he has shot more than one hundred films, shorts and commercials in collaboration with directors both at home and abroad. In the 2007 film Island Etude, he was responsible for screenplay, directing, and cinematography. The movie, which featured a hearing-impaired youth on a week-long cycling trip around Taiwan, was a blockbuster beloved by audiences, launching a trend of cycling around Taiwan that continues to this day.
“Lo Man-fei is the most beautiful dancer of our generation, both on the inside and out.”——Ang Lee
Language│Mandarin Chinese Subtitles │Traditional Chinese
Screen Format │16:9 Duration│120 Mins.
Paperback / 248 pages / 14.8 x 21 cm / Some full color pages / First edition
Appendix I Chapter title page captions + Appendix II Lo Man-fei’s major performances and choreographic work