Attack with Fluidity – Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company Celebrates 20 Years of Dance-Making

 

"Becoming American" Photo Credit: Zain Shah

Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company attacks choreography with poise and fluidity. They celebrated their 20 year anniversary April 5th and 6th at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre at George Washington University, the same theatre where they first began their artistic journey. In a four-piece concert, part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Burgess uses his contemporary style fused with multimedia art to frame the societal and cultural themes of identity, constriction and betrayal. A celebrated DC artist, Burgess makes each element of the theatre – lighting, music, costume, space and movement – work together towards clear concept.

The solo work “Khaybet,” performed by dancer Connie Lin Fink, is a beautiful and desperate elegy of a woman in restricted surroundings, told from beneath her rust-colored veil. Bathed in a path of orange light, only her arms are visible. The Gregorian Chant-like song of male voices is the impetus for each caressing and maternal motion dotted with militaristic and warrior stances. Never stepping beyond the boundary of her pool, she finally lifts her veil and walks beyond the stage into the light.

A hyphen is a connector and a separator. In “Hyphen,” dancers are outfitted in deep gray with a black line dividing the chest. It opens with the dancers using choppy hand motions that cup around the face to hide their identity beneath. Burgess captures the uncertainties of being identified as an Asian-American, latching on to two cultures simultaneously, as well as portraying a struggle between the surface identity versus the internal identity. A formal bow before moving in spurts of disengaged combat – a moment of Tai Chi broken by folding in on oneself – all the while, the dissonant tones of heartbeats and echoes blend uncomfortably. A 1950s-esque TV set is rearranged periodically, as if to find a better signal. The black and white fuzzy images of buttoning a shirt or a face spliced into two images capture identity confusion. Much like a skipping DVD, the dancers stop, go, pause and play – in an endless monotony, finishing with the filming of a dancer’s face, de-hyphenated.

Playing into a more accessible theme, “Fractures” is a love-triangle played out in angular movements and desperate reaches, in which each of the three dancers is a broken piece of the puzzle. As the husband divides his heart and gives a piece to his wife and the other to his lover, all that is left is the question of whether a fracture is really enough. The emotional turmoil is a believable portrayal, both facially and physically.

Closing with their new work “Becoming American,” Burgess elopes with the piece on a Dorothy in Oz tale, where the female dancer descends from her cloudy Geisha screen into Americana. There is no yellow-brick road in this portrait, but Burgess uses white-washed stools, dishes, suitcases and boxes, as well as a masked Greek chorus and Kabuki-like shuffling to show the disorienting path of this Asian girl’s journey towards fulfilling the Pleasantville couple’s expectations to conform. The most disturbing sequence is the ESL class, when a lesson on learning the “S” consonant has all the hissing qualities of landing in a snake pit. Each episode is spun together by a phrase from the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Clinging to her identity, she sweeps across her heart, grabs a piece of what’s inside and folds it into her lap, just as a projected picture frame captures the picturesque American family, generously opening their arms to their Asian-adoptee, but never adjusting the seesaw of understanding. For more information about Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company, please visit their website.

danceDC Weekend Event Guide 12/11-12/12

Culture ShockI’m finally back in DC after a couple weeks of traveling and ready to start dancing again. Tomorrow, I’m hopefully catching a ride to Baltimore for Baltimore Dance Crews Project Community Workshop Dance 4 B’more. Anna Jung of GnC Crew, Andrew Ton and Chris Munar will be teaching class. Only $3 for the day! Sunday, I’ll be checking out the scene at the Culture Shock DC Season 9 Auditions at the CityDance Center in Strathmore. I’m excited to see what the process is like, but bummed that it’s all day so can’t make it to any of Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company’s performances at the Corcoran. If you’re able to go, let me know how amazing it was. Apparently Paul McCartney was there last week to see them. Also I’ll be posting a note about where you can see The Nutcracker in the DMV so look out for that soon. Keep dancing!

Saturday, December 11th

Sunday, December 12th

Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love & Island at Dance Place

Friday, October 22nd was the opening night of Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company’s Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love at Dance Place. Not only was this my first time seeing a full length production from the contemporary dance company, but it was also my first time at the venue which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. To get to Dance Place, I hopped on the Red Line from Farragut North and made my way to Brookland-CUA. The walk to Dance Place from the Metro was a short distance, but it was a desolate walk despite being in the middle of the Catholic University campus. Upon entering Dance Place, the first thing that caught my attention was the sign above the ticket office that said ‘Tonight’s performance is sold out.’ Later I found out from Dana that all three nights were sold out as well.

photo credit: Zain Shah

Carla Perlo, Founding Director of Dance Place, greeted the crowd before the performance. She did a brief introduction about the performing arts center and also conducted a quick poll to see how many audience members had been to Dance Place before. I was surprised to see how many people were new comers like myself, but also happy to see how many people have been attending performances for 10, 20 plus years. One comment that Carla made that stood out in my mind was how the company has performed all over the world, but Dana still wants to come back to Dance Place to share his work and “reach an audience in a unique and intimate way.” The venue was intimate just as she described with the audience sitting in rafter seats and the stage at ground level steps from the front row.

The first piece Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company presented was Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love. The piece discussed finding a sense of belonging and was very much rooted in fantasy as Dana had described when we met earlier this month. The multimedia backdrop and beautiful score of classic songs from Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong did a great job of transporting you into another world. It was also very moving to experience such a personal story of unrequited love with the male protagonist falling in love with a man only to be snubbed at the end when his love returns to his girlfriend. The ending voice over said it all. “In love, mystery is reality.”

photo credit: Mary Noble Ours

Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company completely switched gears by performing a previous piece from its repertoire in the second act. Island also explored the theme of belonging but through the story of detainees at the Angel Island Immigration Station near San Francisco. The piece was much darker than Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love and the influence of Dana’s martial arts background was much more prevalent. Although the video montages in the first piece were impressive, I was completely blown away by the use of multimedia images in Island. In particular, the projections of photographs on a white sheet that covered the still body of dancer Connie Lin Fink. The visual created from the images and the three dimensional component of Connie was haunting and stunning.

After the performance, audience members were invited to participate in a question and answer section with Dana, as well as Ricardo Alvarez (Video Designer and Dancer), Sarah Brown (Scenic Design), Connie Lin Fink (Associate Director and Dancer), Judy Hansen (Costume Designer), Laura McDonald (Multimedia and Sound Design) and Kelly Southall (Technical Director and Dancer). Here I learned that the voice overs from Island were the verbal translation of the Chinese calligraphy projections and that Dana considers the multimedia elements in his pieces as another dancer – two interesting points that spoke to the thoughtfulness of his work.

If you’re interested in learning more about Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company, visit their website. You will also have the opportunity to experience Dana’s work this December. The company will be performing a site specific piece at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

danceDC Weekend Event Guide 10/22-10/24

Tomorrow is the opening night of Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company’s Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love at Dance Place. I’ve only seen the company once before at VelocityDC so am looking forward to seeing them again in their full length production. It will also be the first time I’ve been to Dance Place. Saturday is another day of firsts. I’ll be attending KODACHROME’s dance workshop at Heartbeats Studio in Springfield, Va. This event is four hours of classes for only $5. Teachers include Lauren De Vera of GnC Crew and Andrew Ton of the Baltimore Dance Crews Project. Ailey II will also be performing a few times this weekend – Saturday at BlackRock Center for the Arts and Sunday at Prince George’s Publick Playhouse. Check out the events below and support the local dance community!

Friday, October 22nd

Saturday, October 23rd

Sunday, October 24th

Dana Tai Soon Burgess: Finding a Sense of Belonging

Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company is a contemporary dance company based in DC. In addition to directing the company, Dana is associate professor of dance at George Washington University, teaches modern dance at Joy of Motion/Bethesda and runs an Asian-American dance outreach and mentorship program for high school students in DC. Currently, he and the company are preparing for their upcoming production at Dance Place which runs October 22nd through October 24th. The show will feature his latest piece, as well as his previous production Island.

photo credit: Lawrence Luk

Dana’s newest work Charlie Chan and The Mystery of Love explores the issues of straddling two worlds and finding a sense of belonging. Throughout the production, Charlie Chan, a fictional Chinese-American detective created in the 1920s, acts as a filter to reality. The main character pictures himself in the fantasy world of Charlie Chan to escape his real life situation of not fitting in. According to Dana, this is an autobiographical and very personal piece that discusses his memories of growing up as an Asian-American in New Mexico.

Inspiration

According to Dana, he is always looking for inspiration and it comes from a variety of ways. In this case, he was inspired by a fictional character he grew up with and thought about how Charlie Chan influenced his own life. Once he came up with the idea, he conducted research, thought about potential collaborators and experimented with movement concepts and music choices.

Choreography and Movement

In regards to choreography, Dana likes to construct dances that make people think. He will often try movements backwards and then forward or mix up various sections. “I know I’m choreographing well when it just flows,” he said. “Often times I’m not quite sure where it is going, but then it will clarify itself.” That would probably be difficult for me as a dancer, but Dana has been lucky enough to work with many of the same dancers throughout the years.

One advantage of working with dancers on a long-term basis is that they have the ability to learn your style. In Dana’s case, the style is contemporary dance that incorporates nuances of emotion through gesture and posture. Spectators often notice a martial arts element in Dana’s style, as well as his unique usage of time. His productions are created to reflect the fact that people don’t think in a linear fashion. Often there is not necessarily an exact story line, but the overall piece still tells a narrative.

In addition to Charlie Chan and The Mystery of Love, Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company is scheduled to perform a site specific piece at the Corcoran in November. The dance company will also travel to Mongolia next year to teach master classes and perform pieces from its repertoire. For more information about Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company, please visit www.dtsbco.com.

VelocityDC Dance Festival 2010 at Sidney Harman Hall

VelocityDC Dance Festival was this past weekend at the Harman Center for the Arts. Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington Performing Arts Society and Dance/MetroDC presented the event which featured fourteen dance companies from the DC area. I attended the performances on Thursday, October 7th and Friday, October 8th, which were also presented in two performances on Saturday, October 9th.

Both nights, attendees were greeted by dancers in the lobby area of Sidney Harman Hall. Jane Franklin Dance climbed and danced on a metal contraption that spun around and could be reconfigured in different ways. Andile Ndlovu of the Washington Ballet performed a beautiful solo piece titled ‘Wording’ while people milled around before the performance. When you walked into the auditorium, you had to breakdance battle with Urban Artistry to get to your seat and groove to the music blasting from DJ BaronhawkPoitier and DJ Obeyah.

On Thursday and Friday night, Urban Artistry opened the show with ‘Funk In Focus.’ I’m not well versed in the bboy world, but it looked like a strutting combination that also featured popping and locking solos by the two performers. The piece was followed by flamenco both nights with Furia Flamenca taking a more traditional approach on Thursday with colorful shawls and dresses for costumes and Edwin Aparicio bringing a modern take on Friday with his dancers dressed in sharp black suits. Both were huge crowd pleasers generating a roaring applause from the audience.

The Washington Ballet also performed the same routine both nights but with different casts. ‘High Lonesome’ choreographed by Trey McIntyre featured music from Beck’s album Odelay and according to Trey McIntyre Project’s website is an autobiographical piece that premiered back in 2001 by Ballet Memphis. The white streamers hanging from ceiling to floor created a playful set that allowed the five performers to enter and exit the stage in unexpected ways. The juxtaposition between traditional ballet movements and modern hip hop moves also made for a unique twist that captivated the audience.

CityDance Ensemble performed both nights as well, but presented two different works. Thursday night they closed the show with Paul Taylor’s ‘Esplanade’ which they also performed at the DC Arts on Foot Festival. Friday night they performed Christopher K. Morgan’s ‘+1/-1′ before Suzanne Farrell Ballet closed out the show with George Balanchine’s ‘Tzigane.’ ‘Esplanade’ had a much warmer reception from the audience than ‘+1/-1′ but I thought the Morgan piece showcased their talent and athleticism more.

One of my favorite pieces on Thursday night was ClancyWorks Dance Company’s ‘Driven [by the female heartbeat].’ This piece, which featured four female dancers, started with spotlighted solos – one of which included a crazy headstand balance that generated an audible gasp from the audience. Unique use of lighting and a blend of both individual movements and group choreography created a cohesive modern dance piece. Friday night, Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company’s ‘Khaybet’ performed by Connie Lin Fink stood out in my mind. The soloist danced within a sepia tone diagonal light on stage with her face covered by a veil. The haunting image of the dancer and majestic music created a moving piece about death and mourning.

Overall, my favorite piece was Liz Lerman Dance Exchange’s ‘Still Crossing,’ performed on Friday night. All ages, races and body types were represented in this piece which featured dancers dressed in different shades of blue. The ethereal lighting and music had somewhat of a sci-fi quality to it, but created a somber setting for choreography that literally moved me to tears. I don’t usually cry in public, but the sight of everyone dancing in unison – including a man with a cane and a man who did not have full movement of his arms – really spoke to me. I hope you’ll get a chance to see this piece sometime.

Did you attend the VelocityDC Dance Festival? Which performances did you like best and why? What other dance styles would you like to have seen represented in the show?

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