A Breath of Fresh Air: Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers Presents inHale/exHale Performance Series

by Olivia Wood for The Dance Journal

Last night, August 25, 2021, I had the immense pleasure of attending KYL/D’s first live, in-person inHale/exHale showcase since the start of the pandemic. Over a year has passed since an audience gathered inside Chi Movement Arts Center, the company’s home on South 9th street, to watch dancers perform just an arm’s breadth away. Curator Evalina (Wally) Carbonell organized a superb lineup of international artists as well as dancers from Philadelphia and New York.

The show began with a film performance, Nocturn, choreographed by Wren Fuhrman, artistic director of the newly Philadelphia-based bungee dance company, Grounded Aerial. Performed by Alisa Mae, Nocturn is a solo that lives up to its dark name. The choreography alternates between dainty bourrées and attitude turns to violent twitching, all while the dancer soars and spins like a bat, held aloft by the bungee cord and harness. The piece ends as lugubriously as it begins: Mae hangs seemingly lifelessly from the bungee, suggesting that her battle with darkness did not leave her the victor.

The second piece continued in a similar vein. LOSS, choreographed by Chien-Ying Wang/OcampoWang Dance and performed by Kiana Fischer, was a somber piece. Slowly, Fischer walked forward, arm outstretched, as if yearning for something beyond her reach. Gradually, the piece picked up speed, as Fischer repeatedly dove and rolled to the floor, executed spiraling turns, and contracted her torso in a way that was reminiscent of Graham technique. Occasionally, she reached toward and danced around the singer who accompanied her, John Heiserman. The nature of their relationship remained a tad unclear, but I had a distinct impression that it was an important one.

Tsubasa-Wing, choreographed by Yuki Ishiguro of Yu.S.Artistry lightened the mood for me a little. Dancer Tsubasa Nishioka moved in a mesmerizing way: Tracing circles in the air, traversing the floor through deep lunges and rolls, exploding into virtuosic leaps, and sailing into smooth turns, he gave the impression of being a bird flying through a storm. The juxtaposition between stillness and action only served to strengthen the choreography.

Another film, entitled XwhY, was choreographed and performed by Karley Wasaff. The images Wasaff presented were certainly impactful. They began huddled in a tub filled with milk, red X’s over her breasts. As the piece progressed, they struggled to emerge from the tub, wobbling and jerking their body all whilst making grotesque facial expressions that brought one of the scariest moments of The Shining to mind. Just as soon as I became accustomed to the bathtub setting, the film changed locations to an art gallery of sorts, where Wasaff drew and smudged more lurid X’s all over her body and began to dance a swirling, collapsing pattern. In the background, “BLM,” “FTP,” and “Free Palestine” were written in a graffiti scribe. Suddenly, the piece changed locations again and the film showed Wasaff voguing in a park, wearing a scarlet pantsuit. These incongruous transitions confused me as a viewer. It seemed as though Wasaff wanted to address many socio-political issues in a short film, and could not settle on just one. As a whole, the piece elicited a very visceral reaction.

Jerard Palazo choreographed and performed a lovely duet, New Beginnings, which he danced with Mizuho Kappa. The two dancers showcased classical technique as they traced sweeping pathways through the space with arms and legs, passing through traditional pas de deux. It was pleasant to watch partnering after spending so long in a socially distanced environment.

Closing the first half of the show, Sophie Malin (KYL/D company artist and Education Coordinator) in collaboration with dancer Kevan Sullivan offered For M, a heartbreakingly beautiful duet that was the embodiment of grief. Malin broke a rose in half as if to lament a life cut short, and made a trail of petals along the floor. Later, she gathered those petals to her heart, shaking and crying in a crouched position on the floor. These gut-wrenching and vulnerable moments, coupled with expert partnering, extensions, and turns by both dancers made for a captivating performance.

After a brief intermission and a short video introducing Daniel Belquer, the amazing artist working the sound and lighting for the show, Human Landscape Dance performed Personal Tea Ceremony. Bathed in a green light, Alexander Short and Malcolm Shute performed a meditative duet. Gently supporting each other through a series of slow inversions and partnered rolls, the performers never actually stopped moving. Their calm pace called to mind a growing plant and served a reminder that nature takes its time.

Caminantes, choreographed and performed by Efrén Olson-Sánchez followed the duet and continued the slower pace. He entered the stage wearing a long skirt made of black trash bags and a pair of black gloves. For several minutes, he gently bobbed and undulated his torso and arms, slightly rustling the skirt as a video of desert landscapes played behind him on the wall. I must confess, there were moments in which I became more interested in the videography and music than I was in the movement. When the piece ended, I wondered about its meaning. The posture that Olson-Sánchez maintained throughout reminded me of a vulture. This idea was strengthened when he grabbed the sides of the skirt and stretched his arms wide like wings. Could he seek to warn the audience against the abuse of nature? Is death the eventual punishment for waste? Does he fear all landscapes will become desert-like due to global warming? My concern for the planet was not lessened by this piece.

Sydney Donovan created a solo, Phase 1: in, with, through Maeve. Wearing a short-sleeved black dress, Donovan set up her own incandescent lamp, the only lighting for the piece. She stayed within the bounds of the light, performing a clear, gestural dance in which she gathered and wrung her hands and arms. As she turned and traced, Donovan leaned forward with her chest as if offering her heart. The gestures and the use of music by Chopin evoked a vintage tone. I wondered if Donovan used someone’s cursive handwriting as a template/inspiration. I would like to learn in future works who Maeve is.

The closing piece, Milk Memory, brought tears to my eyes. It was a dance set to live cello music (played and composed by Ajibola Rivers) choreographed by the show’s curator, Evalina (Wally) Carbonell. Milk Memory is a dance created by a mother, for mothers. Grace Stern, KYL/D company artist, is a mother of two children, and Asya Zlatina is an expecting mother. The costume showcased her baby bump: a black bra with a long, white, billowy skirt. She and Stern repeated similar movements, dancing together in different stages of motherhood. The choreography reflected these different stages by juxtaposing the kinds of movements the two dancers performed. Stern rushed, scuttled, kicked, pirouetted, and rolled to the floor in an athletic manner, while Zlatina traveled more slowly. After one deep plié, and one quick turn, she gestured softly with her arms and torso. This dance served to remind the audience that the body is a vessel both for life and for art; it was a celebration of creativity in all its forms, as was the entire evening of beautiful dancing.

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