Passyunk Square: KYL/D Director Uses Dance as a Means of Self-Discovery

“One, two, three, two, two, three and go!” Kun-Yang Lin said as he stood in front of his ensemble of professional dancers at CHI Movement Arts Center (CHI MAC) and gave notes during rehearsal of a restaged piece, “ONE/Immortal Game.”

The dancers portrayed human sized chess pieces and moved in a grid-like pattern to emulate a chess board. Each dancer embodied a unique personality with their own strategy of how they were going to advance across the board. A series of carefully constructed choreography followed, with each performer dynamically weaving in and out of negative space while striking contorted poses along the grid.

Lin is the founding artistic director of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers (KYL/D) and Co-Founder of CHI MAC, located in South Philadelphia. As an immigrant from Taiwan, Lin’s artistry derived from his cultural and spiritual values as well as his life journey. Lin first arrived in the United States not knowing the English language, and not having much money to support himself.

“Dance was the motivator to keep me going,” he said. “Dance was the oxygen that kept me breathing.”

Lin began developing work in the States, teaching and dancing through his experiences as an outsider. Eventually, he created a new home for himself through his art.

“Dance became the sense of being an insider,” he said. “It became my safe place. A place I can see confidence.”

Ken Metzner, the co-founder of CHI MAC and executive director of KYL/D, described Lin’s dedication to cultivating a safe space for dancers, who are each diverse in terms of dance background, culture, race, sexuality and personality.

“Kun Yang’s approach to developing artists is very much about seeing the individual artist within each dancer,” he said, “and allowing them to flourish and contribute in ways that let them shine.”

Lin’s artistry and teaching philosophy revolves around a contrast of seeing life through different lenses. Drawing from Asian history, including Buddhism and Taosim, Lin emphasizes self-discovery – listening to your inner passions and knowing when to let go of something in order to introduce a new chapter in life.

“In order to have the opportunity to begin something,” he said, “I had to be willing to give up what I already had in Taiwan.”

Lin looks for these selfless and self-knowing qualities in dancers. His company explores meaning and mystery within the world, and stresses discipline, fearlessness and curiosity about life.

“Kun Yang’s style has helped me develop quiet confidence instead of just ‘in your face’ confidence,” said Evalina Carbonell, a dancer with KYL/D.

At KYL/D, Lin not only trains dancers through mind, body and spiritual philosophies but also aims to include the community in his creative process. There is a  pre-show Studio Series, which was created to invite community members to watch a KYL/D rehearsal and engage in an open discussion and feedback session after.

There is the InHale Performance Series, which was created to give dancers from outside the KYL/D community to join their family and share their artistry in an open and safe environment. Directed by 10-year company member Jessica Warchal-King, InHale uses dance as a language to coalesce. To Lin, InHale suggests breathing new life into the KYL/D community.

“Kun-Yang often says you have to take care of the audience as you would take care of your family or the cast members onstage,” Warchal-King explained.

The two-hour KYL/D rehearsal ended with all 10 dancers sitting with the audience members, talking about the meaning and intention behind each piece and how they felt internally and externally while performing.

“I am a shy guy,” dancer Liu Mo said to the audience members at the Pre-Show Studio Series. “But in this space I feel free and I feel loved.”

From Taiwan to the United States, dancer to teacher to artistic director, Lin embraces life’s challenges and successes through inhaling the good, exhaling the bad and creating art from these experiences.

– Text, video and images by Daniel Lopez and Meghan McFerran.

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