The Annenberg debut of Philadelphia’s Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers (KYL/D) celebrated spring and an artistic milestone, all in the company’s signature style. Executive artistic director and choreographer Kun-Yang Lin draws upon philosophies like Buddhism and practices such as martial arts and Chinese opera. These influences were clear in each of the program’s five distinct dances, all of which bore Lin’s artistic fingerprint. This made for a compelling debut, one that captured the dancers’ prowess, the company’s range, and the coherence of its artistic vision.
A life source in dance
The program opened with CHI (2002), a dance inspired by its namesake life source. We can feel and see the results of the movement of chi, but we can’t see chi itself. The dance suggested the power and mystery of breath and energy with flowing formations of dancers and projections of cloud-like shapes on a blue-lit background. Dancers formed pairs and trios, pulling one another by the hand and spinning energetically. They came together as a group to slowly lift one body above the others like a wave rising and cresting. A repeated thigh-slapping gesture reflected exuberance, while hands held near the torso and swept vertically in front of the body resembled movements in the meditative practice of tai chi. Matthew F. Lewandowski II’s lighting design here and throughout the program transformed dancers into beautiful moving sculptures.
Chi, faith, and humankind
Next, Liu Mo performed the stunning solo Moon (1993), set to nature sounds and music by Dead Can Dance. This piece combined natural images with echoes of Martha Graham’s modern-dance technique, which Lin has studied. I saw birds in Mo’s fluttering hands and salmon fighting their way upstream in his leaps. Meanwhile, his body rolls and slow balances embodied Graham’s fluid rootedness. Effective solo dances need interesting choreography and powerful performances, and Moon brought strengths in both areas.
It was followed by a full-company dance, From the Land of Lost Content (2000). Like Moon, this built upon the themes CHI introduced, now adding humankind and faith to the program’s exploration of life and nature. After a single dancer rang a bell, others entered, looking like disciples in a religious ceremony as they clasped their palms in a gesture of prayer. Praying hands were lifted overhead and drawn to the chest, and dancers prostrated themselves as if in supplication.
From the Land of Lost Content had five sections: "Pilgrimage," "Compassion," "Our Land," "Hope," and "Faith." These concepts fit its attention to belief and holiness, but the sections did not seem distinct. Several features appeared again and again, such as the dinging bell and a procession of dancers taking slow, exaggerated steps as if practicing walking meditation. As a result, the piece felt a little too long and a bit repetitive.
Following intermission, Dreamscape (2016) took things in a different direction. However, it began and ended in a way that now felt familiar: each of Lin’s dances had begun in silence, with slow movement often performed by a single dancer. Sound and music would enter the piece later, but silence returned at the end. The industrial sounds of Daniel Rhode’s music enhanced the otherworldly quality of Dreamscape, which fused the natural with the unnatural. Dancers’ synchronized breath, for instance, made the unconscious act of respiration into a percussive performance. When dancers formed lines and bent their elbows, with hands like claws, I thought of the iconic zombie dance in the “Thriller” video. Creative lighting projected larger-than-life shadows onto a screen as dancers performed a duet, raising questions about reality and illusion.
The joy of springtime
Spring 101, the world premiere, signaled a return to the rhythm of the natural world. Jill Peterson’s costumes in the warm and cool shades of sun, flowers, leaves, and water combined with musical selections such as “Spring” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to convey the joy of springtime. This dance also celebrates a milestone for Lin: it is his 101st choreographic work.
Fittingly, it began with an image of germination as Nikolai McKenzie emerged from beneath a curtain, looking like a creature being born or a sprout pushing through soil. McKenzie sunk into a split and bent his knees at an impossible-looking angle before scurrying back under the curtain, as if sucked back to his origin. The curtain rose to the sound of thunder, showing a tableau of dancers in several groups. They began to move in acrobatic postures with partners and on their own. One dancer balanced on forearms; another rested on one shoulder in a semicollapsed headstand. Annielille “Ani” Gavino and McKenzie shone during a duet of leaping advances. Sounds of insects and rain alternated with classical music, suggesting the vibrant symphony of the cycle of life. At the same time, the varying tempos of Lin’s choreography resembled the waxing and waning of energy during rapid development as well as fallow periods.
KYL/D’s Annenberg debut offered a welcome tribute to spring in a program that affirmed life. It also celebrated a significant artistic milestone for its choreographer, Kun-Yang Lin, along with the company’s signature use of elements from Eastern and Western cultures to engage with natural and spiritual themes.
What, When, Where
Spring 101 and other selections. Choreography by Kun-Yang Lin. Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers; presented by the Annenberg Center Live and NextMove Dance. April 12 and 13, 2019, at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. (215) 422-4580 or annenbergcenter.org.
The Annenberg Center accommodates the needs of individuals with physical disabilities. Find details on accessibility here. The Annenberg has a gender-neutral restroom.