Kun-Yang Lin’s baroque rites of Spring 101

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Rob Li

In recent years, Choreographer Kun-Yang Lin has created a number of long-form dance pieces for his company KYL/Dancers addressing the many social issues of our perilous times with such works as HOME/S. 9th St, Santuario, and The Faith Project/The Door. By contrast, on the occasion of Lin’s tenth anniversary season as a Philadelphia-based company, and to also celebrate his 101st  dance piece, he has offered up Spring 101 along with the revival of four repertory works. The premiere of  Spring 101 was also the company’s first performances in the Zellerbach Theater at the Annenberg Center.

The company’s avid fans showed up in full force for opening night, to the near capacity of the theater on what was a very rainy Friday. The stage is larger than KYL/Dancers are used to and they filled it with energy, precision and his range of styles.

The opening piece, CHI was created in 2000 for five dancers and now expanded by Lin to nine dancers. Lin’s choreography is an exemplar of his consummate East-West choreographic fusion. Dancer, Weiwei Ma affirms the theme in an opening solo as the other dancers suddenly appear in a tight geometric cluster.  CHI showcases Lin’s clarity of a panorama of Asian dance artistry laced with western balletic vocabulary.

Next was Lin’s stunning signature solo, Moon from 1993, set to music by Dead Can Dance, that until this night was only danced by others in the company. A virtuosic work, Liu Mo brings just as much power and precision. The dancer appears in bare to the waist, white samurai-esque skirt, the dramatic spotlight illuminating the sinewy movement in his back. Lin’s recurring motif of avian moves from minimalist precision movements of the hand or the majestic ‘wingspan’ of his shoulders and arms. Lin’s inventive adagio arts move in the explosive aerial work. Lin’s shimmering choreographic lyricism is fully realized by Liu Mo and brought bravos from the audience.

The ‘Land of Lost Content’’ from 2000 was accompanied with a mixed world music soundtrack, from chants and mystical gongs of Lama Gyurmes to the propulsive rhythmic drive of Philip Glass. The full company appeared dressed in sacred Tibetan red-orange robes designed by Tami Kawano, Sarah McCorriston and Lin. The company swarms in ceremonial kneeling prayers, their arms arced in a series of traditionally sacred postures as they advance in communal formations over four dance sequences- Pilgrimage, Compassion, Our Land, Hope, Faith. All unfold in a meditative, but tight theatrical arc.

Kyan Namazi and Weiwei Ma bringing intimate dramatic chemistry in their central duet that features hypnotic lift sequences.   Evalina Carbonell, in the last segment against the projected landscape backdrop of temples and mountains, writhes and spasms in seeming fear as the other dancers enter with blessed candles and place them at the edge of the stage and the sacred bells ring out. The tableau suggests political turmoil intruding.  But entrancing mystical devotion prevails through the sacred temple dances from antiquity.

In ‘Dreamscape’’(2016) set to the music of David Rhode, Lin creates a dance world of distorted conscious and jagged movement fragments.  Annielillie Gavino hypnotizes us with morphing body lines in reverse slow motion that keeps evolving. Other phrases alternate with convulsive clusters. The music shifts from darkly atmospheric to a pointillist rhythm and the dancers speed up with a fury of cryptic, surreal formulations, this side of Salvador Dali.

The four repertory works represent a panorama of Lin’s expansive choreographic template and always evolving aesthetics. The premiere of ‘Spring 101′ burst forth like a gushing choreographic stream. Nikolai McKenzie slowly wrests himself from under the Annenberg curtain, in a fetal position and performs an arresting solo. Then, a Baroque Suite from George Telemann floods the theater as the curtain is up and a phalanx of dancer creatures in profile advances far upstage in a tight quirky processional.  Costume designer. Jill Peterson has the dancers in vibrant colors, velvety singlets with satin corsets – sharp greens, cool blues, gay fuchsia and livid reds – the colors of a vibrant tropical Spring.

Evocations of flora and fauna accompany pure movement mayhem – from flash twerking feral style, some millennial vogueing, or characterizations of avian, reptilian and mammalian physicality. Then, there are some human feats that also surprise, such as Liu Mo’s saber-leg layouts, the spontaneous vocalizing by the ensemble, and of course the mach-speed attack in the ensemble sections.  All are equally fertile choreographic ground for Lin.

There are interludes of earthy ambiance, created by frequent KYL/D composer & sound designer Cory Neale. in between the baroque music of Vivaldi, Purcell, and Samaratini.  For the finale section, what else, but the cathartic universe of J.S. Bach.  The lusty applause for each of these works and the extended reception for ‘Spring 101′ capped off a substantive KYL/Dancers anniversary season!

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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