Cheng Tsung-lung is the first Asian choreographer to create a new work for Sydney Dance Company. Born in Teipai, his family owns a factory making slippers and as a child he hawked them on the streets. The dynamics of street life would later become a source of inspiration for his choreography. After graduating from the Dance Department of Taipei National University of the Arts, he undertook compulsory military service.

Cheng Tsung-lee Sydney Dance CompanyCheng Tsung-lung at Full Moon rehearsals. Photograph © Pedro Greig

Later, after finishing his degree, Cheng performed internationally with the world-renowned Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan from 2002 to 2004. The 40-year old is now one of Taiwan’s leading contemporary choreographers and the Artistic Director of Cloud Gate 2 – Cloud Gate’s development arm.

Cheng has created a new work called Full Moon for Sydney Dance Company’s latest double bill Orb, which also features a new work by SDC Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela called Ocho. Cheng spoke to Limelight about working with SDC and about the work he has created for them.

What do you think about the group of dancers that you are working with?

Sydney Dance Company is a very professional and international group. The eight dancers I work with all grew up in different environments and have various dance backgrounds. Their powerful energy has inspired my desire to choreograph … which has pushed me to create my piece in a way I’ve never thought I would try before. Each one of them has his/her own movement texture and personality. Even though we are vastly different in cultural background and language, when we create the dance piece and move our bodies together, there is no boundary or difference between us.

Are their movement qualities different to the dancers that you are used to working with at Cloud Gate 2?

I think everyone is a unique individual, it’s not about cultural or ethnic background. But if I have to point out the difference between Sydney Dance Company dancers and Cloud Gate 2 dancers, I would say it’s the training they’ve received. Cloud Gate 2 dancers are trained daily with internal martial arts and Taichi so there is some kind of similarity among them – being grounded to the earth and having the ability to internalise the energy. This might be the only difference in comparison with other dance companies in the world.

Has it taken you time to get to know the SDC dancers?

Before we met, I relied on the dancers’ portraits and bios to make assumptions of what they might be like. After we met, I’ve added everyone’s Instagram to observe the different temperatures and colors from the photos they posted. During our rehearsals, there are conversations about one another’s life. Rehearsals are not just for work; rehearsals are for souls trying to understand what one another wants to express through the touch of skins, which verbal language can’t deliver: trying to bring our spirits closer at all times, I would say.

I believe you have been working one-on-one with the eight dancers. Could you tell me a bit about your process?

I’ve provided some [ideas] inspired by the myths about the moon. And I’ve tried to discuss the content and characters with each dancer. For most of the time, we work one-on-one. Sometimes I would follow their movement developments. But if I see the possibilities, I would express my thoughts and expectations and try to change the set rules. Everything is changing all the time and finding its balance. It’s the sweetest part and the most dangerous part in creating new work. Just like life.

Full Moon, Sydney Dance CompanyFull Moon. Photograph © Pedro Greig

I believe your work is about humans’ relationship to the moon. Could you tell us about it?

When I knew I was about to fly thousands of miles, across the difference between cultures and countries, to collaborate a new piece with SDC, in my head there was the flash of a sense of warmth and roundedness. In my culture, on the 15th of August in the lunar calendar, the day of the fullest full moon, families, friends and couples will get together, surrounding a round table, tasting round-shaped desserts. I want to express that image and feeling through the dance piece.

At the same time, I found that there are very similar descriptions about the moon in many countries. In Australia, [there are stories about] men living on the moon; in Japan, the god of the moon is male; in India, China and American countries, [people] believe that there is a moon rabbit. The moon affects human beings’ emotions. Countless ancient Chinese poets used the moon to express their thoughts and feelings; Scandinavian witches dance under the moonlight to gain the energy to rebirth. I try to put together these myths and legends to create a dance party where the moon gods and goddesses gather, to communicate the common emotions among mankind.

Also can you please tell us a little about the music and costumes?

Music composer Lim Giong has won a lot of international awards with original soundtracks for movies. The latest is his music for Hou Hsiao-hsien’s [martial arts film] Assassin [which won] the Cannes Soundtrack Award at the Cannes Film Festival. While working on Full Moon, I’ve delivered my ideas for the dance piece, and Lim Giong chose to use the changes of four seasons to [respond] to my thoughts. We’ve chosen a combination of musical instruments and electronic music to try to build a music wonderland that carries the myths and moonlights.

Costume designer Fan Huai-chih has designed eight different outfits for the eight dancers. Her inspirations for these eight individual characters in Full Moon come from Japanese rock gardens, the feather changes of birds during mating, the shadows of the moon, and the imaginations of the moon gods/goddesses.

Orb plays at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney until May 13, then in Melbourne, May 17 – 20, and Canberra, May 25 – 27