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Kun-Yang Lin’s quest: Connecting body to soulBY: Merilyn Jackson 09.04.2010
The innovative choreographer Kun-Yang Lin has launched a daring dance workshop that seeks to transcend mere movement by getting inside dancers’ souls as well. It’s a fresh approach with the potential to galvanize today’s sometimes forgettable world of dance.
Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers: Body and soul workshops. Through December 5, 2010 at Chi Movement Arts Center, 1316 S. Ninth St. (267) 687-3739 or www.kunyanglin.org.
Now to connect the body to the soulMERILYN JACKSON
I’m a secular humanist with spiritual and sometimes even mystical tendencies. As a dance writer, I yearn for performances that will leave a deep impression on my memory.
This is no easy feat when you’ve been writing about dance for nearly 20 years, as I have. Traveling in the U.S. and abroad, I average around 60 dance concerts a year, in every imaginable itinerary. In some years, when at dance festivals where you can see a dozen or more concerts in a week, I have taken in 80.
With all that blur of movement, what stays with me? Mostly I crave movement that seems to spring organically from the dancers, not choreography that has been “mounted” on them— movement that a dancer inhabits rather than wears.
When I am sitting in an audience and dancers draw me into that inner journey with them, that’s when I sink in my seat and smile. I know I’ll have as near a mystical experience writing about them as I’m having watching them.
Is it the self-effacing neck-bending or the shoulders that imperceptibly curve forward as if to protect the spirit within? Is it the eyes reverentially downcast, or the so-careful placement of each step? Could it be fleet feet shuffling across the floor in a V formation or the eerie shush the seven dancers make that stands your neck hairs on end?
Surely it’s the articulation of all of those dance postures, as well as training, technique, discipline and devotion. But director Kun-Yang Lin, who seeks all this from his dancers, says he wants them to also master integrating technique with their inner spiritual development— a unity not easily achieved.
To that end he has set his dancers on a five-month comprehensive training program, led by guest artists in a variety of fields. The guest faculty includes the Tai Chi Dao Yin master, Chik Qadir Mason, the master puppet artist Hua Hua Zhang, and Losang Samten, who served as the Ritual Dance Master at the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India. The project, funded by Dance Advance, takes place at the Chi Movement Arts Center, Lin’s studio on South Ninth Street. It’s open to other dancers (and non-dancers, too).
This is an unusual project in the sense that training for dancers is thought to be all about movement. This program, on the other hand, is about mind and spirit beyond shape and form. Yet it’s not slow and self-indulgent, but rather technically demanding.
Shoulds, woulds and coulds
Hsu-Hui Huang, from Taiwan’s famed Cloud Gate Dance Theater, conducted the first sessions last month. Huang, who is 43, was a classmate of Lin at National Institute of the Arts in Taipei. Dance training is compulsory in Taiwan even if you don’t intend to dance professionally; Cloud Gate serves more than 10,000 students in its network of 22 schools.
As I watched more than 20 people each day take Huang’s two-hour sessions, I realized he was leading them into a place some of them have never experienced. It felt like a relaxation of all the shoulds and coulds of the past and the woulds of the future. It’s a stillness of the body and mind that opens you to a nowness– an intense awareness of self in the self— not merely as self in the space or the community or the world.
The week prior to the workshops, Huang conferred with Lin and assessed each of the company members’ needs. Having concurred that executing Lin’s choreography requires more than perfect technique, Huang asked, “How can they go farther? We ask them to look into themselves. Who is inside? Where would you like to go?”
Laughter as meditation
Each day Huang introduced different “meditations”: Laughing, roaring, gibberish, whirling, and a cleaning meditation where they washed the studio floor in silence. Huang moved between the participants with the agility and easy grace of an ocelot while his eyes roamed over their bodies, looking for adjustments to make.
“Always have a softness in the torso,” says Huang, his hand on a dancer’s ribcage. “Always have a spiral passing through the center point.”
“Melting, melting,” Huang says melodiously to the movers, whose angled arms immediately soften as they swirl in place.
A model for the future?
To be sure, few dancers can afford to take the intensive daily classes necessary to maintain even an adequate a level of expertise, much less sessions aimed at merging their bodies and souls. Lately I’ve seen too much sloppy dancing around Philadelphia, often with ill-conceived concepts. Variations of Kun-Yang Lin’s project might help other dance companies to use their time and their bodies more artistically and effectively. On the basis of what I’ve seen so far, I hope Kun-Yang Lin’s project becomes a pilot program that other dance troupes can emulate.♦
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