By Avery Novitch
Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014, marked the beginning of the Department of Theater and Dance’s annual fall Stephanie C. Davis Dance Residency. This year, the College hosted Philadelphia-based company Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers.
The residency commenced with an open master class taught by dancers from Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers for members of the Union community. Company members began the class by elaborating on the style of choreographer, founder and artistic director Kun-Yang Lin.
Company member Rachel Hart described Kun-Yang’s focus on forging the connection between the dancers and their inner qi, which is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as, “The circulating physical life-force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine; the material principle postulated by certain Chinese philosophers.”
With this emphasis on inner qi, the warm-ups and exercises demonstrated by the dancers became much more meaningful.
The first exercise involved walking around the studio with a sense of acute mental and physical awareness. This hyper-awareness enabled dancers to feel a greater connection with the space, our bodies and fellow students. We were then instructed to pull our bodies through the room with circular motions. This qi-inspired circular movement pattern served as a thematic thread that tied the exercises in the class to one another.
The next exercise involved all the students standing in a circle and passing tennis balls around with the same smooth, circular motions.
Following this activity, we broke off into pairs and passed imaginary orbs of energy between each other while continuing to incorporate circular motions into our patterns of movement.
We then engaged in a mirroring exercise with our partners where we had to closely examine each other’s movements and dance in unison.
The company members continued the class, teaching us various progressions. These routines definitely presented some degree of challenge because they hardly engaged with counts. The instructors encouraged us to give our bodies over to the movements, experiment with motion and challenge our physical limitations. Because of the spiritual nature of the modern technique and style of dance of the Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, the class was, at times, tough to follow.
They encouraged us to take risks with our bodies while also remaining in touch with our centers. While I found this concept fascinating, I was, of course, unable to master it in the one-and-a-half hour master class.
Although we were only exposed to Kun-Yang’s teaching for a short time, his visions, styles and dance philosophy definitely will have a lasting impact on my mentality towards the world of dance.
On Friday, Oct. 24, the Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers performed their work at the Egg in Albany.
Kun-Yang’s company opened the show with his piece “Pilgrimage.” For this piece, the dancers entered the stage adorned in oriental-style costumes and performed the choreography to musical selections by Phillip Glass and Lama Gyurmes.
Throughout the piece, the dancers incorporated audible breathing. The presence of the dancers’ breath created synesthetic art for the audience that melded physical movement with bodily sound. At many points, the breath mirrored the physical movements reflecting the bodies’ reactions to different progressions.
By layering bodily, human sound on top of choreography, Kun-Yang’s dancers marked the changing dynamics of the choreography with their breath.
Another performance element that served as a connecting thread throughout the show was the contrast between sharp movements and suspended movements.
The piece “Moon,” a solo performed by Liu Mo, included profound dissonance as he traversed between staccato, heavy-footed movements and smoother, legato movements.
This style contrast was complemented by his costume: a bare chest and a flowing white skirt. This costume accentuated his longer, sweeping movements, while also reacting to his sharper movements.
The theme of abruptness and suspension was obvious in Kun-Yang’s other pieces, and for me was certainly the most captivating aspect of the show.
“A-U-M,” a piece that began with the dancers engaging in all types of elongating stretches, integrated sharper choreography, as well.
The final piece “Be/Longing: Light/Shadowed 2,” incorporated this contrast most powerfully. As the dancers moved across the foggy stage, they reconciled coping with their own individual shadows.
Kun-Yang’s integration of varying choreographic dynamics created a multifaceted and complex piece that elicited a powerful emotional response in the audience members, myself included.
Overall, the Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers’ performance provoked a profound emotional, spiritual and mental journey. His choreography and performance presentation were effective in their ability to move the audience and forge a powerful connection between the audience members and his company’s art.