Dance choreographer Kun-Yang Lin finds inspiration all over the globe

Liu Mo in Be/Longing: Light/Shadow.  Photo by Matthew Wright. Liu Mo in Be/Longing: Light/Shadow.
Credit: Matthew Wright

Before any of the dancers in Kun-Yang Lin’s company take a single step on the stage of Drexel’s Mandell Theater this weekend, an unbelievable amount of movement will have already taken place. The Taiwanese-born, Philly-based choreographer journeyed to Mexico, Venice, Indonesia and — less exotically — the Jersey Shore in the years prior to the creation of “Be/Longing: Light/Shadow,” the evening-length piece which will open Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers’ 2014 season.

“Each time you create a work, it’s always an experience you unveil,” Lin says. “As an artist, traveling for me is very important. Sometimes I think of myself almost as a researcher, like a scientist trying to uncover certain things. You immerse yourself and somehow the work just emerges. We’re at the point now where we start to come from the unknown to knowing what this piece is.”

The initial inspiration for “Be/Longing: Light/Shadow” came in 2008, when Lin visited ancient pyramids in Mexico while working with one of the country’s premiere dance companies. “It was just phenomenal,” he recalls. “The pyramids grow from the roots toward the light, and that simplicity struck me and started my head spinning.”

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers in Be/Longing: Light/Shadow. Photo by Matthew Wright. Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers in Be/Longing: Light/Shadow.
Credit: Matthew Wright

A year later he visited the Venice Biennale and was captivated by Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s exhibition of threads of golden light; later he was equally stunned by the haunting sculptures of London-based artist Anish Kapoor. Both of their work started him thinking of ways to similarly capture the rich contrasts of light and shadow through dance. Last year, Lin traveled to Indonesia for an encounter with three other Asian dance masters: a mask performer from Indonesia, a Japanese Butoh master and a Taiwanese martial artist. All were ensconced in a farm in the Javanese countryside along the Bedog River, near a 300-year-old banyan tree.

The final piece came with a solitary winter jaunt to the Jersey Shore, where Lin drew labyrinths in the sand with a stick. “Walking alone on the beach in the cold winter,” he says, “your body can feel the bitter cold, you hear the ocean waves, and you realize you have so much to learn about the great universe. When you draw a labyrinth you start to realize that sometimes you feel so close to the center but you’re so far away. The secret of life is always walking the path. So I used the labyrinth as my starting point.”

The piece that resulted brings together Lin’s dancers with master puppet artist HuaHua Zhang, mandala artist Tatiana Hassan lighting designer by Stephen Petrilli, and composer Cory Neale for a multi-disciplinary, hour-long work that distills all of these influences into a single experience.

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers: Be/Longing: Light/Shadow
March 21 and 22
Mandell Theater, Drexel University
33rd and Chestnut streets
$28-$35, 267-687-3739

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