KYL/Dances of the sacred spirit

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | Photo by Rob Li

In development for a year, KYL/Dancers Faith Project/THE DOOR had its premiere run at the Prince Theater last week. It is the latest production of choreographer Kun-Yang Lin’s long form dance pieces that doesn’t back away from tackling complex social themes.  In 2015’s HOME, Lin explored the many experiences of immigrants trying to navigate life in an increasingly xenophobic country and last year’s stunning Santuario was his artistic response to the massacre at PULSE Nightclub. This newest work explores issues of faith in today’s world – its power to bring people together in a collective faith in humanity and a higher purpose, as well as the forces of religion and opposing beliefs that can tear families, communities, and cultures apart.

Lin, his husband Rev. Ken Metzner (executive director of KYL/D) as well as the dancers engaged in a series of dialogues in collaboration with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia to bring together people of many beliefs to share ideas, issues, and experiences about religion and spirituality.  Such engagement is very much a part of KYL/D’s ongoing mission of community interaction and outreach through dance art.

Many of those voices are incorporated into the dance score and soundscape by the composer, Cory Neale, offering a gripping, sometimes cinematic narrative of acoustical, electronica and sonic design. And what cannot be said in word and music, Lin says eloquently in dance.

The opening is a visual dreamscape of eleven dancers moving through set designer, Sara Outing’s ingenious maze of scrims. The dancers seem disconnected and in their own zones like they are punched through another realm of consciousness as they embark on a shared journey in dance.

Their inner journeys emerge when Evalina Carbonell convulses in spasms that eventually have her crumbled on the floor, with Frank Leone menacingly hovering over her ready to strike. A phrase that is revisited, and resolved in the coda. Anger and confusion roil, as people of different faiths challenge each other’s belief systems.

As he did with Santuario, Lin had each dancer build a phrase or step that would be an expression of what they believed (or didn’t believe) regarding religious faith. These individual, dance fingerprints were part of Lin’s choreographic template.

At one point the dancers line up behind a milky scrim and look like ghost images pounding at the symbolic ‘Door’ to break through to a universal truth.  Evocations of spiritual chaos gather in Lin’s choreographic storms.  His configurations, particularly in the ensemble transitions tap a whole different choreographic vein at key moments. The full ensemble swarming together at points with precision, stomping out dialogic rhythms, in cryptic formations, sometimes pulsing to the stage edge or breaking apart in movement chaos.

More personal expressions come in a series of duets. Carbonell and Nikolai McKenzie perform the ‘Earth Door’ duet with McKenzie soaring through the air with his legs pulled up under his body then dropping down to fevered, trance-like dance spells. ‘Left Door/Right Door’ danced by Frank Leone and Wei Wei Ma in flowing martial variations that keep evolving. Keila Pérez-Vega and Francis Markocki dance the ‘Evolving Door’ duet, punctuated with intricate fast moving lifts.

The climactic ‘Ritual’ begins as a communal circle, with the ensemble in unison deep plies as soloist Annielille Gavino, arms and one leg reaching for the sky at a perilous angle in the center, swirls around the circle, locking into precarious positions then trembling as if imbued. Meanwhile, the ensemble, now crawling on all fours, conjures a ritualized ring of fire. Concussive, dense orchestral soundscape recedes as the dancers disperse in sacred Sufi spinning and then dissolve into meditative poses and postures.

Throughout the ballet, there is seamless film projected on the scrims by multimedia designer, Jared Mezzocchi, and Videographer, Bob Finkelstein. It is so well integrated that their dazzle doesn’t distract from the dancing especially in tandem with Alyssandra Docherty’s sculpted lighting designs.  Jill Peterson’s costumes are flowy and clingy to show full bodies in motion.

Aside from the weighty narrative content, Lin essays, in its breadth, are an ever expansive and inspired choreographic journey.

Lin and Metzner introduced the work and noted that “Faith Project/The Door” marks their ten year company anniversary in Philadelphia. The performance opened with Lin’s Dedication scored to Ingram Marshall’s elegiac music, which Lin cited as a fitting prologue piece. It is a solo that only Lin has danced until now.  He created in 2002 in the aftermath of 9/11, when his company was based in New York and also in memoriam for his father. The solo was performed by Liu Mo who conveyed Lin’s minimalist phrases of a grieving heart and mind with intense lyrical precision.

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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