Monday, April 7, 2014

Kun Yang Lin / Dancers. Be / Longing: Light / Shadow

Photo by Bill Herbert
With so many dance troupes, both local and touring, appearing in the Philadelphia area, what sets Kun Yang Lin/Dancers apart is their emphasis on humanity and connection to the audience.  

Before there is the dance, there is the sound. Entering the theater, one is instantly enveloped by the sound of waves. There is no way to escape, it fills the room, chattering subsides, and we are lulled into silence.

A questionnaire on bright red paper challenges us to identify who we think we are. Not just our professions, but all the labels we and others have placed on us – cat lover, poet, Eagles fan, philosopher. We toss it off with a laugh, but it lingers. Who do I think I am? Who is this me that has come to watch the dance?

A droning noise brings us into the performance. Mist fills the stage and it’s hard to get a sense of space, top and bottom, floor and ceiling, until the dancers arrive in brightly colored tops and show us where we are. Mist and colors blend. There are no program notes to tell us what we are watching. No titles for the dances, just the slashed lines between this and that, light and shadow. We depend on the dancers to be our guides, to draw us into the experience and then out again. Their forms mix and mingle, enter the stage and leave.

The dancers, some of whom began their training at age three and others who came to dance later in life, are all classically trained but in a variety of disciplines. Together they study Lin’s Chi awareness technique, to help them become aware of space and time and each other. “We embrace our own background, culture and training,” says Lin, “to find a collective language.”

HuaHua Zhang, in a brown robe enters, part dancer, part puppet. She is locked in a struggle with the two parts of herself, shadow and light. While she has worked with the troupe before, this is the first time she has appeared on stage as herself without a mask. “What am I beyond my personality?” she asks.  

Tatiana Hassan, wearing white with glowing fingertips, creates images of light. “We are energy and light.” she said. “I am making metaphors with my hands.” The lights mesmerize. Unsure of what we’re seeing, we yet understand that we are watching energy, the pulsing of our own hearts beating with hers.

The show came into being through an explorative process. Lin asked the dancers to consider their own questions of identity, where they belonged, where they be / long. In response they found gestures, then gesture phrases, then the phrases became duets, became dance and were eventually joined with music. “Music and dance had a dialog,” said Philadelphian composer Corey Neale who created the original music and sounds for the show which had it’s world premier at the Mandell Theater at Drexel University.

I look at my notes afterwards, see blank spaces, words I don’t recognize—zebra cloud storm, shadow tree, plane, spirit in air. The dance took over and I stopped writing. It was seamless, endless. Stillness and movement, light and shadow. Finally, we, too, became part of the dance, arms reaching, connecting heart to heart, audience and performers as one.  We end with Aum, chanting the sound that joins us all.

Kun Yang Lin/Dancers: Be/Longing: Light/Shadow March 21-22, 2014 at Mandell Theater at Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 687-3739 or

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