5 Questions with Kun-Yang Lin
Posted April 15, 2021
In five questions, we aim to discover more about Annenberg Center artists and others whom we find interesting. This time, we feature dancer/choreographer Kun-Yang Lin whose company returns to our stage on April 22 with a world premiere and more. “Lin’s dances, simultaneously abstract and specific, create and inhabit worlds of their own.” (The New York Times) Let’s learn more about Lin’s background and choreographic inspiration!
1. What first got you into dance?
I view dance as my first language. I was raised in a home where my parents never spoke the same language (Mandarin and Taiwanese), so I learned to communicate through body language, gesture and action. I also noticed that in my community, the small village of Hsinchu in Taiwan in the 70's, there were no opportunities for boys to pursue dance and performance, which inspired me to explore new possibilities with dance and community building. I started a small group of male dancers when I was around 12 years old. That group was the first "seed" – planting the idea of developing a company of dancers as part of my life's calling.
2. How would you describe the works that you typically create?
There are many dualities that shape my identity and my artistry. My parents never spoke the same language and I was raised to practice Catholicism while growing up in Taiwan, a country steeped in the traditions of Buddhism and Taoism. I am also an Eastern immigrant living in Western society. All these contrasts have made me deeply invested in the dialogues between innovation and tradition, the individual and the collective, the visible and invisible - these
"in-between spaces" I find to be fertile ground for exploration. Additional impulses that nourish my artistry are Buddhist and Taoist world views and the internal energetic flows of many Eastern arts I have practiced over the years including tai chi, martial arts, chi gong, calligraphy, meditation and Chinese opera movement. These impulses are filtered through my practices of different techniques such as modern, post-modern, improvisation, contemporary training and performance experience. I blend all of these influences with my cross-cultural research in dance as the ultimate integration of body, spirit and mind. Many people often comment that my work is spiritual and poetic. One of my favorite quotes from a review of my choreography from The New York Times is that the works "create and inhabit worlds of their own."
3. What inspires you to create?
My work has always been centered around finding that common sense of humanity. Through all of our different lived experiences, how do we cultivate a greater sense of awareness, openness and understanding? Dance is a way for me to learn and discover what gifts lie inside of each of us. To be present to each moment and find what it is telling us. From this lens of mindfulness, I begin to discover more nuance to what work I want to create next. Many of my works are created in connection to personal experiences and observing what is happening in the world around us. From my father's passing to 9/11 to climate change, I explore utilizing contemporary dance as an abstract way to interact with these experiences and concepts. As well, my international travels each year throughout Asia, community engagements with KYL/D and everyday experiences with my dance artists and artistic collaborators deeply impact the work I create and its gradual development from a seed of an idea to a full-length piece. In 2015, I created a work titled HOME/S. 9th St. which focused on themes of immigration and personal identity and was informed by community engagements with immigrants and neighbors on S. 9th St. where the company's dance center, CHI Movement Arts Center (CHI MAC) is located. In 2017, I created Santuario as a piece developed in response to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. In 2018, I premiered Faith Project/The Door, which, utilizing similar community engagement practices to HOME, centered around themes of faith and spirituality. All of these works were created out of a variety of stimuli and inspiration from my community, small and large, with a commitment to finding commonalities and transcending differences.
4. What is your process?
For each new work I create, and each piece of repertoire I re-envision, the process is unique. The dance artists in the company change from time to time which influences what type of work I decide to create and to bring back into the repertoire. In a broader sense, my process typically starts with self-exploration and research over the summer. When the dance artists come to begin the new season, I have short phrases and ideas that they help me develop further. I enjoy giving them tasks – asking them to take apart the phrases and rebuild them in a specific way, then to make it a duet, etc. There is a lot of collaboration, improvisation and exploring with each other until the piece starts to take shape. At the same time, I also have some music mapped out and ideas about how to rearrange and add to it with my composer and sound designer, Cory Neale.
Cory attends multiple rehearsals throughout the entire process to make changes and add ideas to the score. Oftentimes, the company will have the opportunity to perform excerpts at different locations of the work-in-progress before its full-length world premiere which also provides me with more opportunities to reflect and change certain elements. I usually describe my choreography as "living works" because they are constantly evolving every time they are performed. Each work requires a different sensitivity and method for cultivating it to the point where you feel you are ready to share it with the community.
5. What projects are you working on currently?
Since COVID-19, there have been many shifts in what I have been focusing on. My company typically performs one home season each spring. However, our spring season was cancelled due to the pandemic and our rehearsals have been halted several times due to changes in restrictions. We were very honored to be invited back by the Annenberg Center to create a new and unique program, reflecting on the state of the world today through re-envisioning old and recent repertoire with a fresh set of eyes, new artists and smaller casts. This opportunity created a new sense of urgency in bringing the dance artists together to present a program for our community that focuses on renewal, hope and unity.
My hope is to bring more of our dance artists back into the studio this summer and find more opportunities to share our work online and in-person. As well, I am working on a personal project surrounding the themes of my aging body and its relationship to my artistry, regarding finding new inspiration to continue to create, teach and perform. I'm excited to be able to collaborate with acclaimed artists Gus Solomons Jr. and Pallabi Chakravorty to examine my practices and my journey in a totally new way. Support for the research and development of that project, WHERE IS MY B-O-D-Y, has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. We will be sharing more project insights at kyld.org/where-is-my-body.