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.


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.


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

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