Past the pottery yurts, glass-blowing demonstrations, and children’s theatres, a troupe of dancers practiced enthusiastically in the Hall of Mirrors at the recent Glen Echo Park Open House. Jan Tievsky, manager of the new Dana Tai Soon Burgess studio at the Park, invited passersby to watch the company as they practiced for an upcoming performance at the National Portrait Gallery. The open rehearsal also served as a preview for potential dance students.
This fall at Glen Echo, the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company (DTSBDC) will be offering classes in hip-hop, Bollywood dance, contemporary modern dance, improvisational movement and ballet. All of the classes will take place in the newly-renovated Hall of Mirrors dance studio, continuing a tradition first established by Tievsky in the late 1970’s.
The renovated studio space is clean and bright, with a fresh coat of light blue paint and two walls covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors. A windowed observation area looks into the practice room along a hallway with new changing rooms and a bathroom.
“We’re trying to get people interested in modern dance again,” said Tievsky, also vice president of DTSBDC’s board of directors. “These classes are open to any adults or teens who want to experience the Burgess School.” She explained that Burgess’s style is notable because he draws inspiration from a wide variety of dance traditions, and incorporates little details, like subtle hand movements, into his choreography.
“There is a ballet basis in everything,” Tievsky said. “He is so precise, and he grapples with huge, important ideas. You can tell when dancers have been with him for a long time because of the way they move: cerebral, emotional—the entire body is expressive. ”
DTSBDC is now in its 24th season and company members will be leading the classes at Glen Echo Park under the guidance of Burgess. The company has toured to over 20 countries and performed in the White House at the invitation of President and First Lady Obama. Burgess has received numerous honors and awards for his work as a teacher and choreographer, including two Senior Fulbright awards, a Washington D.C. Mayor’s Art Award, and the Pola Nirenska Award.
The Washington Post’s chief dance critic, Sarah Kaufman, has noted Burgess use of subtle movement to tell powerful stories. “The basis of Burgess’s choreography is sympathy with what we struggle not to show. He can portray, uncannily, the flickers and stabs of feeling that swarm through us as we try to stay calm under stress,” Kaufman wrote.
The new Glen Echo Studio isn’t the only exciting development for the company. Recently announced as the first choreographer-in-residence at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Burgess will create dance performances inspired by the museum’s exhibitions over the next three years.
As a part of the residency, the company will perform Burgess’s “Margin” in conjunction with the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition this October.
The Outwin Exhibit, on display at the Museum through January 8, 2017, represents the best of current portraiture and examines issues of modern American identity.
Burgess has said that his unusual upbringing has been a major influence on his work. “Being half-Asian, growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, going to these bilingual schools, the concept of being ‘the other’ and looking for a sense of home, or looking for a sense of place was a continual challenge,” Burgess said.
The excerpts performed during the Glen Echo Park open rehearsal explored complicated questions about oppression and navigating life on the margins of society. In one scene, a solitary female dancer moves in tandem with a pair of male dancers. The woman and the pair mirror each other’s movements, except the woman is alone, holding hands with an imaginary partner while the men dance in one another’s arms.
The dancers’ movements fall in and out of sync with the bright, yet melancholy, melodies Burgess has selected. The soundtrack for “Margin” includes Concha Buika’s “Volver, Volver” and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Bibo No Aozora.”
The public is invited to attend open rehearsals at the National Portrait Gallery on October 1, 8, and 15, from 11:30 a.m to 2 p.m. each day, and on October 28 the world premiere of “Margin” will be held in the Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery at 6:30pm.
Katie McDermott is a 2016 DC Arts Writing Fellow with Day Eight and a copywriter and social media manager for Plaza Artist Materials. She is also a freelance writer, musician and D.C. area native. She earned her undergraduate degree in English in 2010 and a master’s in Teaching in 2011, both from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She is also a freelance writer, musician and D.C. area native. Tweet at her at @kcmcder.
This article was produced through the DC Arts Writing Fellowship, a project of the non-profit Day Eight, through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, Humanities DC, Brink Media, The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, and DCRE Residential. To read additional articles produced through the fellowship visit Artapedia.com.