Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, Philadelphia

BE/LONGING: Light/Shadow

Kun-Yang Lin, Choreographer

Company Website

Mandell Theater, Philadelphia

March 21-22

In November 2013 choreographer Kun-Yang Lin presented a retrospective concert with excerpts representing Lin’s 20 years as a dancer-choreographer and so far unseen in Philadelphia many featuring different styles by the choreographer. Since Lin and his husband, Ken Metzner and company executive director, moved KYL/D to Philly they have built an avid fan base at the Painted Bride Arts Center, with programs pieces often with metaphysical themes.

Lin’s premiered BE/LONGING: Light/Shadow for three performances this month in the company’s second production at the Mandell Theater at Drexel University. Last spring, the company performed ONE, also a longer work by Lin, but conceptually more suited to the Painted Bride stage, the new piece is scaled for the larger stage at the Mandell.

Lin often conceives multiple narrative threads and their evocations and that is certainly present here,

But at seventy minutes long, Be/Longing is a dizzying mosaic of several concepts at once. The idea of contrasts, the light/shadow motif – is something that fits into Lin’s aesthetic.  After a static opening of dancers wind milling their arms, then scrambling, the piece takes shape with Lin’s tight ensemble geometrics that would freeze or move the dancers into slow motion body drops.

The ensemble- Jessica Warchal-King, Eiren Shuman, Liu Mo, Vuthy Ou, Evalina Carbonell, Rachael Hart, Brian Cordova, Brandi Ou, Wei Wei Ma, burst into running circles- chasing or pursuing- in whirlpools patterns, at several points they cling to each other or break away in distress. A pervasive aura of fear and loathing pervades; one’s personal reckoning with a hostile world is the subtext.

The full ensemble sections bristle with the company’s synergy and technique. Things get sketchier as Lin seems to set up solo sections, that might reveal personalities of the dancers – Liu Mo, so lithe with flawless control in a counter-clockwise pirouette, then seconds later in an explosive aerial. Warchal-King, also hypnotically lyrical, but always with fiery attack. Lin signatures- expressive body phrases, cultural gesture and blended technique flash on some of the dancers in fluid phrasing.  He also seemed to set up solo sections for each dancer, but only a few had a solo moments and this seemed unbalanced, as it related to the humanist themes. Meanwhile, dynamic duos, and particularly a potent trio, are too brief. Lin signatures, expressive body phrases, cultural gesture and blended technique flash on some of the dancers in fluid phrasing.

When guest artist Hua Hua Zhang performs alone onstage with a voluminous brown silk shroud that allowed her to manipulate a mask and fabric into several bodies shapes, the mask darting out lovingly, comically and menacing, showed Zhang’s artistry, but a little went a long way in the context of this piece. Titania Hassan performed ’I Am Light’ with LED lighted fingertips that changed colors as she did a hand dance. Hassan is invisible behind the light show; there is voiceover about the allegories of light. This also struck as filler, but both artists received wonderful receptions at the curtain call, so, like so many things in the theater, depends on your taste.

Lin’s finale is a stylized yoga session and invocation of Ohm, with the dancers coming to the front of the stage, in meditative affirmation, sitting in lotus inviting audience participation of yogic gesture and breathing exercises. Breaking the proscenium between performer and audience is risky and however well intended. Meanwhile, after the session was over, the group’s yogic unison work with Lin’s dramatic variations, using regimented sharpness ala flamenco is Bikram sauna hot.

BE/LONGING: Light/Shadow has the feel of a middle draft, without doubt the performance level displays this company‘s versatility and theatricality. Another edit in the guest soloist sections and definitely the yoga session, this has the potential to be a KYL/Dancers signature piece.

Philadelphia, PA
Lewis Whittington writes about the performing and film arts for many publications. He is a renegade dance, theater and opera queen, a jazz-head and a civil activist.