Kun-Yang Lin’s journey as a dancer, choreographer, and teacher began in his native country of Taiwan over 25 years ago, where he was a celebrated young dancer, who was already creating works of his own. For the last two decades, he has been artistic director-choreographer of KYL/Dancers, which Lin established in New York, then relocated the company to Philadelphia, where it has emerged as one of the city’s most artistically successful dance companies.
To mark his 10th year in Philly, Lin is about to premiere his 101st contemporary ballet, titled aptly enough Spring 101, at the Annenberg Center on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia. It is the centerpiece of a concert retrospective of Lin’s extensive repertory. In addition to the new piece, the company will perform Lin’s signature dance works Moon (1993), From The Land of Lost Content (2000), Dreamscape (2016) and his new production of CHI, first created in 2002 for five dancers and now expanded to full company work.
Lin’s is a master of Asian tradition dance and theater. The scope of Kun-Yang’s work encompasses a wide range of styles, both classical and contemporary idioms and informed by Eastern arts including tai chi, chi gong, calligraphy, meditation, and Chinese opera movement. When Lin emigrating the New York City in 1994, he danced everything from NYC urban contemporary to neoclassical to authentic tango.
He founded his KYL/Dancers in New York in the 90s and Lin and his partner (now husband) Ken Metzner, decided to relocate to Philadelphia in 2009. Together they established the CHI Mac Movement Center near the Italian Market district in South Philadelphia. The Center is the company’s studio and has also become an epicenter for the Philly dance community.
Leading up to his milestone year, Lin last three major dance-theater works, Lin has addressed a myriad social justice issues, issues of the real-life experience of immigrants in HOME/ S. 9th St (2015), his searing dance elegy ‘Santuario’ (2017) in memoriam to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shootings and his last long-form ballet The Faith Project, (2018) inspired by a year-long community interfaith dialogue and symposium that convened at CHI Mac studios over the course of the previous year.
All critically acclaimed works that also was the platform for audience engagement and community dialogue and Lin wanted to dance to reflect complex social issues about the struggles of immigrants, racism, homophobia, and questions of spirituality in a perilous time.
As important as it is for dance to express issues of our time, it was his milestone of making over 100 contemporary ballets to meditate on what flourishes even during turbulent times, “I wanted to create a piece about joy.” He said.
As he puts the finishing touches on ‘Spring 101. The ballet has an environmental soundscape that mixes music from the baroque era, “You feel that the desire for joy inside baroque music. I listen to music give you a sense of your relationship with the universe.” And in this case the musical universe of J. S. Bach and other masters including Telemann, Purcell and Vivaldi.
Those universal meditations were on Lin’s mind and in his heart over the last year as he was being dealing with a life-threatening illness. “Suddenly, joy becomes very important. A quest for who you are. in all of its interconnectedness with nature,” Lin observes as he puts the finishing touches on ‘Spring 101’ at his studio earlier this year, in preparation for the Annenberg concerts.
His dancers- Liu Mo, Weiwei Ma, Evalina Carbonell, Grace Stern, Annielille Gavino, Nikolai McKenzie, Keila Perez-Vega, Francis Markocki, Kyan Namazi, Barbara Craig Liu- run through the choreography first without the music, then with, They dance in intricate, pulsing configurations at breakneck speed, just as suddenly in riveting freeze motion sequences, clustered together in morphing sculptures that keep evolving, they are human animals, that can morph into other creatures convincingly. Lin mostly circling the dancers and making single word suggestions to the dancers.
In revisiting his repertory for the Annenberg Concerts, Lin taps his photographic movement memories and is exacting, but most vitally, how it connects with his dancers, many of whom have never performed the older work. So the detailing and intensity in transferring a ‘Moon’ that only Lin has danced so far, onto dancer Liu Mo, is more than just teaching the steps, Lin transfers that unnamable X factor that brings transcendence in the dance moment.