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.


About Cecile
Cecile Oreste is an arts marketing and public relations professional living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @cecileoreste.

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