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Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company

'Leaving Pusan,' Section I from 'Tracings' (2003), 'Khaybet '(2003), Images from 'The Embers,' Section I (2006), 'Fractures' (2000), Images from 'The Embers,' Duet I (2006), 'Chino Latino' (World Premiere), 'Mandala' (2001)

by Carmel Morgan

October 12, 2007 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC

This year marks the fifteenth anniversary season of Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company (“DTSB & Co.”), a modern dance troupe whose insightful works reflect the Asian-American perspective of its founding artistic director, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, and the varied backgrounds of its dancers, many of whom also have ties to Asia.  The weekend’s two gala performances at the Kennedy Center were sold out, a testament to the enormous popularity of this unique hometown company.

With support from the U.S. State Department, DTSB & Co. has toured extensively, including visits to the Middle East, South Asia, and South America.  The audience definitely benefits from the company’s international wanderings.  Burgess’ choreography is infused with his experiences from abroad.  He mixes various cultural forms of movement, like martial arts, with modern dance to achieve a distinct voice.  Burgess only recently retired from dancing to focus more fully on directing and choreography.         

At its anniversary gala the company presented several favorite Burgess pieces from years past, as well as the world premiere of “Chino Latino,” a work referencing Asian communities in the Americas.  The wide-ranging program was as diverse as the company members themselves and offered a rich feast for dance fans.  The audience was transported back and forth in time and around the globe.    

The bookends of the program were among the most compelling pieces of the evening.  The first piece, “Leaving Pusan,” is an excerpt from the larger work “Tracings,” which mines Burgess’ Korean family history.  Toting a traditional Korean mask and a round white suitcase, a woman’s emotional journey away from her homeland is poignantly expressed. 

Closing the performance was “Mandala,” a hypnotic celebration of strength and femininity.  It is a true ensemble piece.  The four females mesmerize with their musicality.  You can see the score, composed for the work by Jon Jang, carried through the bodies of the quartet.  The dancers’ heads and hands tilt and weave in unison, sinking and rising in perfect rhythm.  Little unanticipated jerks and flings suddenly break the intoxicating smoothness.  The dancers toss themselves up from the floor, with legs spinning upwards almost as if break-dancing.  This intricate, high-energy piece is completely entrancing and conjures the divine. 

Excerpts from “Images from the Embers” were also intensely moving.  Sue-Chen Cuff as Death is a menacing figure in black who haunts the Middle Aged Woman, Tati Valle-Riestra, and the Young Woman, Miyako Nitadori.  Section I ends in a chilling, Munch-like silent scream from the two grieving women.  Death also makes an appearance in “Khaybet.”  The soloist is covered from head to foot in an earthy brown, including her face.  With her face obscured, her movements are at once human, and not.  The work, performed to the music of Philip Glass, travels along a diagonal. The dancer moves slowly, at times seemingly stopped in her tracks by a memory, until she retreats to where she began, unveils herself, and accepts her mortality.  The theme of loss and struggle is featured as well in “Fractures,” a tender trio that while suffused with sadness, is less gut-wrenching than other pieces on the program.     

“Chino Latino,” the new work premiered by the company, is lighter and brighter still.  The costumes consist of vividly colored silks that mirror Chinese and Latin styles.  Historic songs about Asians in Peru, Argentina, and Colombia accompany the four separate dances – a solo, two duets, and a trio.  As somber as the rest of the evening’s offerings was, one couldn’t help but yearn for something really fun and fiery.  “Chino Latino,” unfortunately, failed to deliver that punch.  Burgess is at his best when his passions are tinged more prominently with pain.

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