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Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers marked its first in-person appearance since the pandemic began with another first—its Suzanne Roberts Theatre debut. The company also announced the promotion of business director Katie Moore-Derkits to executive director. Founder and artistic director Lin’s recent work has focused on aging, so the announcement that this concert would be the last to exclusively feature Lin’s choreography was no real surprise. Part of succession planning is opening up to new works that carry on the legacy of the founder, but for now, we took an evening to appreciate the scope of Lin’s own work.
The sky and the spring
Fish and Girl was my favorite piece of the evening. Lin was inspired by a poem of the same name by Pan Cheng Lui, a contemporary Singaporean poet. The piece opened with dancer Weiwei Ma reciting the poem in Mandarin at a microphone: a village girl has a dream in which the sky seems to be the ocean, and a fish is flying through it. In the morning she stops at a spring and says good morning to the fish, who returns the greeting. The poem is mostly about loss—the fish’s loss of the girl and the loss of the village, and the spring itself, to urban development, but with a promise that the girl holds them in her heart as a memory.
The piece expresses the relationship in two recurring pairs of dancers. At the left of the stage, Ma and Evalina Carbonell twined around each other, passing the microphone back and forth, reciting “good morning,” first in Mandarin and then in English. On a platform at the right of the stage, Shiyu Wang was the "fish" in a glorious golden circle of a skirt marked by glittering scales (costumes by Jill Peterson), and Keila Perez-Vega was the girl, reaching out to the fish from the floor but surrounded by the forces keeping them apart. Alyssandra Docherty’s lighting and the blue costumes gave a sense at times of the sea of the girl’s dream, and at other moments a sky, against which the ensemble seemed to march in tight formation, knees bent and arms angled in a martial style.
Dancers like waves
Lin’s aesthetic is often marked by a wistful dreaminess, full of loss and acceptance. Fish and Girl continued that tradition, as did the second piece of the evening. The program notes described OceanWaves, which followed the first intermission, as arising out of the pandemic: the waves of tension in the world and reflection on the joy of dancing together, both like the waves of the ocean. The dancers marched across the stage, with their knees lifted high, and stamped their feet as they beat their tension into the stage. A trio of Ma, Sophie Malin, and Perez-Vega appeared in blocks of light on a darkened stage, dancing the isolation of the pandemic while distanced each in their own light.
But this was a piece about connection, and my strongest impression was the ensemble grouped tightly together as they surged across the stage, lifting their arms in waves of movement, so that they seemed to rise and fall like combers falling on the shore. Patterson’s white costumes reflected the lighting to again gave the illusion of water.
The return of spring
Last year I commented that the duet from Spring 101 was nice enough, but seemed out of place in that program. I am happy to report that the full piece we saw on opening night was a pure delight. It began with sound designer Cory Neale’s thunder and rain. Then the curtain opened to the ensemble, in bright colors—pink and blue and gold and red—striking poses, some already in low lifts. Soon enough the dancers darted about the stage to baroque music that ranged from Bach to Purcell to Vivaldi, and more. Baroque can seem surprisingly modern with its quick, danceable tempos, so the juxtaposition with the flirty, deliciously silly movement felt more piquant than jarring. The ever-changing bright colors of the backdrop added to the sense of springtime.
The ensemble work was fun—dancers rested their chins on their hands in a move that can only be described as saucy. But the piece really highlighted the individuality of each dancer. Malin, in pink with little pigtails high on her head, was a giddy joy whether mugging for the audience until dragged off stage or in a flirty duet with Jamaal Bowman. Ma is a beautiful dancer and her romantic duet with Marcel Santiago Marcelino was a welcome change of pace. And I’ll be watching for Dominick Brown in the future. He has the most flexible back and effortless extensions, but I was most caught by the purposeful way he seemed to flow across the stage, giving meaning to every movement.
What, When, Where
Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers Spring Home Season. Choreography by Kung-Yang Lin. Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers. $35-$45 April 8 and 9, 2022 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia; with a livestream available through April 10. www.kyld.org.
The Suzanne Roberts Theatre requires proof of Covid vaccination and masks inside the building.
The Suzanne Roberts Theatre is a wheelchair-accessible venue with assisted listening devices available for all performances. Learn more on the venue’s accessibility page.
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