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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers

%d bloggers like this: