Dance has finally become a thriving outlet for a onetime outsider’s creative energy.
Dana Tai Soon Burgess, chair of the theater and dance department, took a chance twenty years ago when he founded his own dance company.
Dana Tai Soon Burgess and Co. is now a critically acclaimed production group which has featured both alumni and students in an array of dance pieces.
Dubbed by the Washington Post in 2010 as the “poet laureate of Washington dance,” Burgess and his company are marking their anniversary with a spring performance this weekend featuring highlights from four dance pieces he choreographed and directed.
Burgess will also be receiving accolades on opening night including a mayoral proclamation from the Office on Asian Pacific Islander Affairs and the director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
“It is always an honor to be acknowledged by the Mayor because the D.C. community in many ways, built my career,” Burgess said in an e-mail. “I have always had a close relationship with the Mayor’s office due to the programs that I advocate and produce, but I feel a special affinity to Vincent Gray’s administration.”
The contemporary dances, which include roles played by students, alumni and professors, revolve around the ideas of identity and self-discovery and are influenced by the dancers’ backgrounds.
For Burgess, growing up as a gay, bi-racial Asian-American in a Latino, Catholic community presented challenges and conflicting ideals. For him, dance became a language with which he could express himself and create a sanctuary where he could feel belonging.
“I think that we all feel like outsiders at certain moments of our lives and that in multi-faceted America we all crave to understand the concept of place,” Burgess said.
His background has a major influence on his work and coincides with the themes he strives to convey through his dancing.
Associate artistic director and dance professor Connie Fink performs “Khaybet,” a solo dance and one of the four-featured pieces. The performance depicts a woman at the end of her life and was choreographed after Burgess participated in a cultural exchange in northern Pakistan. The concepts of race, socio-economic identities and how they impact one’s perceptions are reflected through the dances and allow the audience to challenge their own preconceived notions.
“We have a very special aesthetic that portrays emotions through movement and these movements tell stories that we can all ponder as universal stories,” Burgess said.
Dancer Katia Chupashko says that the differences in “interpretation of the theme of a work can often take the work to various places depending on the perspective.”
“Dana has a thoughtful way of developing a theme and guiding the audience along a journey and each audience member will take something different away from the experience,” Chupashko said.
The performance can be seen on April 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. in the Marvin Center Betts Theatre. Student tickets are $15 and general admission is $25.