Dance is a language. Is it also a religion? Kun-Yang Lin, artistic director of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers (KYL/D), believes so. How fitting, then, that KYL/D celebrated its 10th anniversary with Faith Project/The Door, a world premiere that explores the relationship between dance and spirituality.
Before the performance, Lin explained to the audience that Dedication, a solo he created in 2002, would precede Faith Project/The Door. Dedication responds to the sudden death of Lin’s father and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It is personal and cathartic, a means of processing grief.
Until now, only Lin had danced Dedication. He paired the premiere with this earlier work because they fit together thematically and because the time was right to pass its torch to other dancers.
Dedication’s varying tempo and seeming hesitation of movement suggested the nonlinear progress of grief. There are good and bad days, and backward steps come just when things start to get better. Liu Mo performed the solo, lifting one leg as if to step forward and pausing as if frozen, later following a slow arabesque with frenetic turns. He crawled across the floor and pawed it, then brought his hands to his head and chest in gestures of pain. If grieving is a dance, it is a solo, this short, moving work seems to say.
Faith gives and takes
Between dances, author Kimerer LaMothe spoke about her work as “scholar and thought partner” for Faith Project/The Door. The show’s program notes include lines from poet and Sufi mystic Rumi (“Knock, and He’ll open the door”), and LaMothe explained that dance offers ways in and through doors that appear to separate different religious traditions and the people who practice them.
A short video about the making of Faith Project/The Door demonstrated that this was a big endeavor. It was supported by grants, a research team, and “story circles” in which representatives from local faith communities shared with dancers.
Faith Project/The Door portrays how faith and divinity blend love with fear, strength with weakness, and certainty with doubt. It began with dancers entering individually, walking at different paces and in different directions, occasionally stopping to gaze at something arresting yet unseen. Having just watched Dedication, I thought of the personal: people may worship in groups, but they connect individually to the divine.
Jill Peterson’s flowing costumes in shades of white and gray reinforced this sense of individuality as they varied in design from dancer to dancer. One flailed her arms, suddenly collapsing and rolling across the stage. Was she afflicted with pain or the Holy Spirit?
This scene repeated at the end of the dance, but the second time, another dancer reached for the prone woman and embraced her. The sequence recurred with other “afflicted” dancers, who also seemed to receive help and healing.
Abstract dance tends to raise more questions than it answers, and this is true for Faith Project/The Door. Yet it effectively uses movement to explore seeking, questioning, and worshipping.
The work’s strongest sections incorporate multimedia (designed by Jared Mezzochi) with Alyssandra Docherty’s lighting and Sara Outing’s altarlike set, in which white panels divided the stage horizontally and drape at the sides. Dancers behind the panel were in shadow, rendering them silhouettes. Later, the lighting changed and the screen became transparent. Dancers moved through the curtain, suggesting that a barrier was now permeable. On the screen behind them bricks appeared, forming a wall. That wall began to give as soon as it went up, with sand trickling down followed by tumbling rocks. Images of the dancers were projected live onto both curtain and screen, and visual effects alternately changed the bodies into smoke, fire, and indistinct forms evocative of ghosts or angels.
Faith may heal the afflicted, and perhaps dance can too. Some faith traditions incorporate movement into worship. Meanwhile, KYL/D’s mission includes exploring mystery and reinterpreting ancient traditions. Faith Project/The Door fulfills those goals and offers the potential to bring people together through a shared experience of dance.
What, When, Where
Faith Project/The Door. Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers. March 22-24, 2018, at the at the Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. (215) 422-4580 or kyld.org.