- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

One hundred years ago, Chai Chin Hyung, the great-grandfather of choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess, set sail from Korea on the SS Gaelic bound for Hawaii.

That year, 1903, marked the beginning of Korean immigration to America, and to celebrate that centennial, Mr. Burgess has created a full new work, “Tracings,” premiering at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater tonight and tomorrow.

Mr. Burgess has one of the most distinctive voices on the local dance scene, and his work has been recognized with commissions from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution.

As a young boy, Mr. Burgess heard bits and pieces of his family’s migration, ranging from his great-grandfather’s privileged life connected to the palace in Korea to pineapple picking on a Del Monte plantation in Hawaii.

Even Mr. Burgess’ mother picked pineapples as a young girl.

“When I was young, I remember asking my mom, ‘Why are your hands so scarred?’” he says. “And she answered, ‘Oh, I cut myself picking pineapples.’”

By the time Mr. Burgess was asking these questions, his mother had become an artist, having met her future husband when they both attended Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.

“Tracings” is not trying to offer an overall history of Koreans in America. Mr. Burgess has been influenced deeply by the magical realism of Isabel Allende’s “House of the Spirits” and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” — “a genre in which spirits and symbols are as real as a telephone or a chair,” the choreographer explains. “I’m presenting a dreamscape of memories, a sort of collage.

“What I find so fascinating about this immigrant experience,” Mr. Burgess says, “is how much courage has to occur at the moment of jumping off and leaving your homeland.

“And then once you get to the new place, how do you combat for a whole generation — or two or three generations — the incredible depression of not feeling welcome?”

The work clearly has been the most personal journey Mr. Burgess has taken as an artist.

“I tried to understand how my ancestors’ harsh experience had still allowed the creative process to stay open, generation after generation — because my parents are both artists, my brother’s a designer, and I’m a choreographer. There has to be a belief that things are done for future generations, and somehow that dream becomes a symbolic dreaming artist. I think that is a core element of what they passed on to me.”

Mr. Burgess tries to find a new structural form and a new movement style for each piece. Wanting to preserve a dreamlike spell, he opted for an hourlong piece with no intermission. Reflecting the circular quality of memory (“One memory leads to another, then another, till something connects them all and brings it full circle.”), his work is full of round movements — circles in space, curving arms — layered with moments of stillness and gestures on top of that.

His mother, now 73, makes a cameo appearance. Blowups of pictures of his ancestors — his great-grandfather Chai, his grandfather Yang — are projected onstage. “Arirang,” a song taken up by Hawaiian immigrants that speaks of longing for Korea and its mountains and beautiful rivers, is woven into the music Mr. Burgess uses.

The work has special resonance for his company members, 80 percent of whom are first-generation Americans. The incandescent Miyako Mitadori came from Japan just a few years ago; two are from Korea; and others are from Colombia, Taiwan, Peru and Okinawa.

Mr. Burgess’ renowned lighting director, Jennifer Tipton, also has a special affinity for Korea. Her first tour for the Paul Taylor Dance Company was to Korea, and she returned there last summer to teach lighting design.

“Tracings” marks the fifth time the two artists have worked together. They have been communicating about it for a year, mostly through videotapes and e-mails. In the past week, the New York-based designer has been in town creating the final details of her lighting.

“I feel really lucky to be working with Jennifer,” Mr. Burgess says, “because she approaches light from a very spiritual level. It’s another creative entity onstage and such an important one.”

WHAT: Dana Tai Soon Burgess and Company in “Tracings”

WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30

WHERE: Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

TICKETS: $25

PHONE: 202/467-4600


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