Kun-Yang Lin Dancers and the creation of ONE

by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers are premiering ONE: Gifts from Afar by choreographer Kun-Yang Lin at the Mandell Theater this week on the same bill as Lin’s 2011 piece, The Mandala Project. Twice this month, Lin, his dancers and Ken Metzner, executive director of the company, opened their rehearsals for their ongoing ‘open dialog’ series. The choreographic process is most often done in studio isolation, but Metzner and Lin, life and creative partners, have nurtured a welcoming and completely open environment for an exchange of ideas while they develop work.

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Metzner introduces the Mandala

Last weekend, Metzner greeted almost every one of the 40 visitors individually the company studios in the Chi Movement Arts Center on 9th St. for a sneak peak at ONE. Metzner, standing in front of an art book print of an ancient Mandala map, said that Lin started to formulate the program’s themes in the late 90s.

Mandala, Metzner explains, means circle, but through many cultures, it also symbolizes “unity, community, connection, wholeness.“  These words can all be applied to the Chi center, which was established by Lin and Metzner, has become a magnet dance collective, but a space that reflects the very diverse community at large.

ONE is a companion piece to the Mandala Project, also developed from visits and research Lin conducted at ancient temples in China. Mandala can be counted as a company classic and frames a hypnotic solo section by Lin, which he will dance at the Mandell. The choreographer was also developing after visiting ancient temples in China. Lin has a reputation for being a meticulous artist and to realize the intent, concept, or object that could figure into his choreography. Lin invited the audience to ask him about any aspect of his work and invited their reaction to what they were seeing. This approach, without question, is unique. Lin off-handedly admits that he can drive Ken “crazy” while mulling over a particular idea anytime of the day or night, but Metzner assures that he considers it a privilege to witness and be part of the choreographer’s creative process.

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l-r- Composer Cory Neale, lighting designer Stephen Petrilli and costume designer Heidi Barr talk with Kun Yang Lin and dancers

Also joining the talk was the creative team of ONE- composer Cory Neale, lighting designer Stephen Petrilli and costume designer Heidi Barr- who described working with the choreographer as being completely collaborative from beginning to end.

The opening tableau of One starts with Liu Mo sitting across from each other playing chess Evalina Carbonell calls out the Chinese names of the pieces and moves, countered by Carbonell doing the same with the western version of king, queen,  knight, bishop, etc.  “I’m not political. But I make sense of the world with dance.” Lin explains. He was equally fascinated that the game of chess as a spectator sport with broad intellectual appeal by people of disparate backgrounds.

This scene illustrates how ancient the game is and how it had been adapted by many cultures and how it was played. “How the dancers embody the material that Kun-Yang has researched,” Metzner observes.   The conflict of chess is that of adversaries, but Kun Yang said that he was very taken by the fact, that he spoke to many chess masters and a common theme among them was that winning was not their goal.

The piece almost immediately moves away from the literalness of the game and chess becomes “a point of departure” Lin says. He introduces the rest of the cast-  Jennifer Rose, Olive Prince, Jessica C. Warchal-King, Shaness Kemp, Duane Lee Holland, Vuthy Ou, Brian Cordova, Brandi Ou and Rachael Hart. Lin sets up the next excerpt which he describes as taking place at an imaginary ‘river’, with enemies on each side, but the battle, is meant to bring them together, not tear them down.

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A rehearsal moment from ONE

The group segments are choreographic hybrids using martial arts idioms, hip-hop phrasing and kinetic meditation. Ensemble clusters slow up and speed up, igniting energy fields, the Lin dance alchemy that emerges from the troupe‘s most successful work. Lin gives the dancers clear parameters, spatial points, but wants them to put their personalities on the work.

Lin speaks to the idea of individual and collective sensibility. For one he gives the dancers clear parameters, spatial points, but wants them to put their accents on the work. Vuthy Ou moves in with danced martial arts variations, for instance and Holland. mixes his distinct adagio hip-hop in.  Each dancer bringing their own character to the pieces.  Lin typically, refines and makes changes up until performance time, but the segments he previewed at Chi studios, otherwise, looked not only ready, but, like the best chess masters, thinking several moves ahead.

After this segment,  Shaness describes her experience working on the piece “You still feel like you are an artist, without loosing the intention of the piece, but you are not limited by what you are good at. There is a fine line where we’re still being challenged to move past what we’re comfortable, but we still feel our own artistic voice,”  she said.

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers – One/Gifts from Afar
Friday, March 22, 2013 @ 8pm – NOW SOLD OUT

Saturday, March 23, 2013 @ 3pm + Artists Q&A after this show – TICKETS AVAILABLE
Saturday, March 23, 2013 @ 8pm TICKETS AVAILABLE
Mandell Theater, 33rd and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Tickets on Dance Box Officehttp://danceboxoffice.com/product_details.php?item_id=54

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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