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Review – ONE Gifts from Afar

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photo by Bill Hebert

by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal

As I’ve gotten to know the Philadelphia dance community over the past few years, I’ve always been a bit mystified by Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers.  Between the hyphen, the forward slash, the abbreviation of the company’s CHI MAC studio in South Philly and the spelling of its performance series (“InHale”) I’m always afraid I’m going to get something wrong.  And besides, what sort of company opens shop just down the block from Pat’s and Geno’s?  Cheese steaks are made here, not great art.

And yet, as I took my seat at Drexel’s Mendell Theater on Saturday night, I suddenly began to understand what all the fuss was about.  ONE Gifts from Afar was a true gift: smart choreography and an impassioned, athletic execution by a truly talented group of dancers.

Dancers Jessica Warchal-King and Liu Mo sat in front of the curtain opposite one another on a pair of gray cubes.  Between them sat a third monochromatic box, representing a table and an imaginary chess board.  The dancers swept their arms across the box, taking turns as if moving invisible pieces but their movements were abstract rather than mimetic.  Mo’s hands gestured so quickly that they seemed to be made of silk and not muscles and bone and the duet ended as the pair began shouting their moves in perfect counterpoint.

The curtain rose to reveal a white grid.  I got a bit worried for a moment—was this going to turn into one of those Renaissance Fair human chess games?—but the lighting, designed by Stephen Petrilli, and the music, written by Cory Neale, endowed ONE-Immoral Game with just the right amount of weight.  In gray tunics and tights, the dancers whirled, jumped and lunged across the board, almost always but never actually colliding.  Mo sprung into the air, shooting up like a rocket, and Shaness Kemp ran into a breathtaking lift-turned-cartwheel.

The work meandered through a series of trios and duets with dancers representing additional chess players and the forces of Yin and Yang.  Duane Holland Jr. shook things up with a seamless transition from Lin’s classical technique into more contemporary locking and the work took a surprising turn when the dancers formed a clump in the center of the grid.  Facing upstage, they clapped the outside of their hands together and stamped their feet, adding their own sounds to the minimalist score.  It was unexpected and beautiful, just like a perfect game of chess.

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photo by Bill Hebert

The company also performed Mandala Project, which premiered in 2011.   Inspired by the notion of the circle, the work began with the company of dancers wrapped in oversize, papery shrouds.  Slowly, they shuffled across the stage like an amoeba, their bodies just barely visible.  Despite the simplicity of the choreography, the audience was held rapt with attention, almost as if they’d been drawn into a meditative state by the apparent lack of movement.

Solos by Lin and Jennifer Rose broke through the stillness.  Lin was solid and charismatic in a deep rust-colored robe and Rose was both athletic and fluid.  Running in circles, her shadow grew and then shrank with each revolution.  Like a serpent, she melted to the floor and rolled over her shoulders, and when the rest of company returned to the stage, they too seemed to embody the angular square within a circle and the round, interconnected circle within a square.

Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist.  She holds an MA in Dance Anthropology and is also the co-founder of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia’s only all-female tap company.  Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.

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