- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Washington choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess speaks with a distinctive voice that reflects his Korean-American roots and reaches out to audiences across oceans and continents.

Tomorrow night, the Washington Performing Arts Society will present his world premiere “Images From the Embers” at Lisner Auditorium.

Later, the work will be seen in New Mexico and farther afield in Peru and Poland. He has plumbed his own background — a Scots-Irish American father and a mother of Korean ancestry who grew up in Hawaii — in making works that have resonated in such distant places as Latvia and Ecuador.

When Mr. Burgess began working on his new evening-long dance, he was influenced by the writing of the French novelist Marguerite Duras.

“I was reading her stories of life in France during World War II and her screenplay for “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” he says. “The reason I admire her work so much is that it resides in this odd psychological, rather dark place where time is constantly shifting. I like to play with time going backward and forward because I think that our memory and emotions are triggered constantly — they’re not linear in terms of how we recall things.”

He found his own way to capture this onstage.

“The choreography is imagistic. Dancers swirl about in space, and all of a sudden, a tableau hits; then a movement swirls around again, and something else is revealed. That’s why I named it “Images From the Embers.” There are all these images — and after the fire is gone, they still burn hot.

“It’s an abstract narrative.” Mr. Burgess explains. “It conveys emotions, but the characters are more like archetypes. It all takes place in one woman’s subconscious. The backdrop of war and its psychological effect on relationships is part of my theme, too.

Although his theme grew out of listening to his father talk about his World War II experiences, Mr. Burgess is not interested in making a direct comment on current times. He is not by temperament a political artist, he insists, adding, “I also think a lot of that is like preaching to the choir.”

Nevertheless, he does have concerns about what war does to us. “With the images we see in the news every day, it’s easy to filter out that these are human beings who have families or who love or have loved. Somehow, with global conflict, the first thing that goes is a sense of shared humanity.”

A long section at the end of the piece has images of war and conflict. To create that, Mr. Burgess drew on his early martial-arts training. He studied karate for many years. “That was my first way of moving when I was a child and a teenager,” he says.

An archetype of death is present constantly in this work. Asked if it is like the ominous, brooding figure of death in Kurt Joos’ “The Green Table,” Mr. Burgess says that in his case, death is a lurking woman.

“She’s all in black — I wanted the costume to give her a slightly 1860s look. She was there in the Civil War. She’s been around forever.”

Mr. Burgess’ work requires refinement and delicacy in his dancers, and over the years he has acquired an especially dedicated group.

“When I bring a new dancer into the company, there’s already something special about them I find fascinating,” he says. “I can see they have a very rich internal world — and we really have to nurture that. I think somehow the dancers who end up staying with a choreographer for a long period of time understand they’re an extension of the dream realm of the choreographer.”

What he hopes from the audience reaction to “Images From the Embers”: “That people will view it as something that’s oddly beautiful which allows them to be more empathetic. Basically, it’s what becomes of our psyches in a time of war.”

WHAT: Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co. in a world premiere, “Images From the Embers.”

WHEN: Tomorrow at 8 p.m.

WHERE: George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium

TICKETS: $25 to $35. Some student tickets available at $10

PHONE: 202/785-9727

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