Dancing Faith with Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers

by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal | Photo credit: RobLi Photography

A line of dancers faces the audience, head on, one behind the other and features obscured. One by one, they begin to raise their arms, palms outstretched, sending a ripple of energy down the line. In the hands of a less seasoned choreographer, the sequence would look like a cheap trick—a Vogue-inspired optical illusion—but under the director of Kun-Yang Lin, there is something sublime about it. We’re reminded instead of a multi-limb Hindu deity: Brahma, perhaps, the creator; or Vishnu, the preserver; or perhaps, most accurately, Shiva, the destroyer.

The fact that we don’t know for sure is the beauty of KYLD’s latest creation, Faith Project/The Door, which opens at the Prince Theater on March 22 and runs through March 24. During an open rehearsal last month, Lin explained that he wanted to explore the connection between modern dance and religion, between modern dance and spirituality, but you’ll find no praise dance histrionics, no crucifixion tableaus, no Martha Graham-style Appalachian Spring rip offs.

The religious references in Lin’s choreography are oblique and abstract, based instead upon a series of “story circle encounters” in which the dancers of KYLD partnered with members of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia to share ideas and reflections upon their experiences with religion. Participants in the story circles ranged from member of the clergy to lay people, representing religious traditions as varied as Islam and Judaism, Roman Catholicism and Quakerism, Native American beliefs and Atheism, and the dancers created improvised movement phrases in reaction to these shared conversations.

In the studio, large white curtains hang from the back of the space. The dancers warm up with a series of breathing exercises before previewing a section of the new work. They begin by simply walking across the stage but the effect is pleasing as the both the number of dancers and the tempo increases. I’ve long admired Lin’s ability to create stunning visual effects onstage from relatively simply materials: be it a huge sheet of brown paper, a pair of long sleeves extending the arc of an arm movement, or a group of bodies engaged in seemingly “pedestrian” movements. In Faith Project/The Door, he sends dancers behind the curtain, where their silhouettes are just visible. We think for a moment that perhaps we’re watching a dancer who represents Jesus this time, but again the reference is oblique, just a suggestion to make us think.

With support from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and the National Endowment of the Arts, Lin assembled a large creative team for Faith Project/The Door including Jared Mezzochi (Multimedia Design), Cory Neale (Sound Design and Composition), Alyssandra Docherty (Lighting Design), Sara Outing (Set Design), and Jill Peterson (Costume Design). The dancers also received instruction in meditation and Dr. Kimerer LaMothe, a philosopher and scholar of religion, came on board as the project’s “Thought Partner.” Early on in the creative process, she encouraged the participants to identify what they loved the most, what they feared the most, and what they considered to be their greatest strength—but with an added caveat: the answer had to be the same thing for all three queries. Audiences who attend this weekend’s concert might just happen to stumble upon a response of their own.

Faith Project / The Door
Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers
March 22 – 24
Prince Theatre, 1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia
Information & Tickets – http://princetheater.org/events/kyld-the-door/

About Kat Richter

Kat Richter is a freelance writer and professor of both dance and cultural anthropology. She is also the co-founder and Artistic Director of The Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble, Philadelphia's premiere all-female tap company. Her work has appeared in Glamour, Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher and The Journal of Research in Dance Education.

As a professional dancer, Richter began her apprenticeship with the New Jersey Tap Ensemble at the age of 9 and was promoted to Principal Dancer while still in high school. In 2005, she received a scholarship to Oxford University and returned to the UK in 2009. She holds a BA in Dance and History from Goucher College and an MA in Dance Anthropology from Roehampton University. A proud Philadelphia transplant, she blogs at www.fieldworkinstilettos.com

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