by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal
The pandemic has forced dance companies to adapt to new performance realities. Some have made dance films shot in a wide variety of locations, while others have live-streamed more traditional stage performances – as was the case with the Philadelphia dance company Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers – materializing on our home screens direct from the Annenberg Center last Thursday, April 22. The dancers wore protective face masks, and the performance movingly addressed the effects of the pandemic head-on: tackling themes of isolation and loneliness, but also promising the hope of new breathing space on the horizon.
The evening’s performance, composed of excerpts from older pieces (over more than two decades), unfolded as a unified new production. Lin’s choreography is remarkable in its eloquence. It’s as if he has translated feeling directly into movement, with a keen focus on the effects of rhythm. An emotional trajectory governs the reimagined pieces – starting out from a state of raw nervousness and finally arriving at centered peacefulness, embodied in an exquisite new solo created and danced by Lin, in his first performance since he retired from the stage in 2013.
In the opening piece, New Normal?, Evalina Carbonell, Annielille Gavino and Keila Pérez-Vega pace back and forth across the darkened stage, the relentlessly pulsing piano music by Daniel Rhode driving their anxiety. Carbonell breaks out, as if in protest, maneuvering her body hesitantly, with fits and starts. The next piece, Inside, follows immediately, buoyed by piano music, now more melodious, by Helen Jane Long. The dancer Weiwei Ma dances alone with a folding chair as her support and partner; she hides behind it, she pushes it around, but she never leaves it. Though isolated, she gradually gathers the strength to reach out for something more.
Gavino is completely covered in a glowing red fabric as the next segment, Renaissance, begins. Clanging bells and unintelligible whispers (the eerie sound score was composed by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky and Quentin Chiappetta) accompany her bouncing attempts to free herself from the shroud. She finally emerges like a baby bird arising from the glowing embers of a mythical Phoenix’s fiery demise. She wriggles her fingers like feelers encountering new stimuli, and tentatively takes her first small steps. Next comes Spring Duet, a duet for Pérez-Vega and Wangbo Zhu – a lyrical celebration of human connection. Light as air, they luxuriate in a sequence of lifts, jumps and turns, set to Vivaldi’s “Spring,” overlaid with a soundscape of rushing water and chirping birds by Cory Neale.
In The Calling, the ensemble (joined by Grace Stern) dances in unison, coalescing into a group, clapping hands and stamping feet, purposefully calling for togetherness. Twirling like dervishes, they usher in Lin’s exquisite new piece, The Wind, the evening’s final blessing. In the solo, he performs the simplest of movements: a step, an outstretched hand, a brief waltzing turn. The accompanying music is Mahler’s “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” based on the poem, “I Am Lost to the World,” by Friedrich Rückert. The words, sung in German, speak of the solitary world of the artist: “I am dead to the world’s tumult, and I rest in a quiet realm! I live alone in my heaven, in my love and in my song!” With solemn formality, Lin carries us to this mysterious, transcendent place with along with him.
The rest of the dancers rejoin Lin in the final moments, treading softly in place; their energy transformed from the nervous pacing that opened the performance. In the closing image, the camera reverses its view, looking from the stage out into the theater – reminding viewers at home that they their presence is missed in the empty seats.
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