Asian American Dance Journey
Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company
August 13 & 20, 2016
by George Jackson
© copyright 2016 by George
© copyright 2016 by George
The immigrant experience, alienation and assimilation were themes of Burgess’s pair of lecture-performance programs at Flashpoint, an exhibitions and presentations gallery in Downtown DC. As invocation there was Michio Ito’s 1914 solo to Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria”. It is almost a stepless dance. The arms are constantly, fluidly in motion. The body stretches, reaching up and up heavenward but also settles back down, a return to this world. The legs are lowered, one bending in a kneel and the other projecting backward, both actions sanctifying the ground. The performer’s face is attentive to a different life than the here and now. Sarah Halzak, new to this role, has the secret of the inward Da Vinci smile. Her performance was remarkable. Scenes excerpted from several of Burgess’s dance works followed, three on the first bill and a week later four more plus a repeat. Prior to each scene, Burgess spoke about the situations that prompted him to choreograph. Contrast among the excerpts was considerable in terms of drama, design and dance. Although space at Flashpoint is limited, the sum picture that emerged from the excerpts was bigger than that of any one of the complete works by itself.
Photo at left: "Leaving Pusan," from Burgess's Tracings. Photo by Mary Noble Ours.
Especially the scene from “Island” (2009) profited from being hemmed in. Its figures really seemed caught in an insular, overcrowded immigration camp. At the center, initially, were those coming from Asia into America. They wore rusty red attire. In detention, they had no privacy. Surrounding them were the guards, figures in black. They too were trapped. Expression, explosion, all incipient emotion was squashed in this dance.
Core movement motifs varied in the different scenes. Bodies swung like bells (in the 2011 “Becoming American”) or progressed in processionals and passed through logogram poses (in the “Leaving Pusan” section of the 2003 “Tracings”) or echoed diverse dancefloor forms. Principal colors differed in Judy Hansen’s costumes: white stood for mourning, a scarlet cocktail dress symbolized America, while grays – plain and patterned – reflected the world of black/white TV. Subthemes touched on growing up gay (the 2010 “Charlie Chan & the Mystery of Love”) and hybrid traditions (a pair of duets with tango and rhumba tones from the 2007 “Chino Latino)”. Development was gymnastic, balletic or ritual. The 2008 “Hyphen” juxtaposes finger action and the whole body, questioning whether that sign joins or separates. These successive scenes produced a rich pageant.
The dancers of Burgess’s company (a total of 10) are agile shifting from scene to scene, and from group work to leading roles. Katia Chupashko Norri, as the adoptee in “Becoming American”, balanced lost waif traits and an insistence on self . Christin Arthur made urgent the contrast between old customs and new freedoms in “Leaving Pusan”, the scene performed on both bills. Kelly Moss Southall’s singular blend of male stoicim and sensuality was a building block for 6 of this series’ 8 items.
Two speakers, journalist and playwright Jenny Chen and social activist Rosetta Lai, plus audience members joined Burgess for coda discussions. It seems that some immigrants realize how American they have become only after they revisit their birthland.
Photo at right: Dancers of DTSBDC in Becoming American.