writers on dancing


Reticent "Tracings"

Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co.
Asia Society
New York, NY
May 22, 2005

by Leigh Witchel
copyright ©2005 by Leigh Witchel

"Tracings" is, in Dana Tai Soon Burgess’ own words, an homage to his family. He has taken the odyssey of his great-grandparents in Korea from a life in the palace of Seoul to the pineapple plantations of Hawaii and made it into a dance for three men and five women. The story of immigration is the story of our country; millions of voices each tell individual tales that blend into one. The details of each tale—my great grandfather was a cabinet maker, Mr. Burgess’ worked on a plantation—are most interesting to ourselves. One must escalate the telling of the tale to something much more than the details.

Burgess hews closely to his themes; there’s a journeying dance, a marital dance, a toiling-in-the-fields dance. He’s clear, honest, and never cheap. But the work is also reticent about its theatricality. There were a few beautiful moments in it. The pineapple-harvesting dance is a solo at center stage with dancers at the corners of the stage taking white, ghostly pineapples and slowly filling suitcases with them. The process is not that interesting. Seeing one lone pineapple in a suitcase makes one long for a grand effect, even a mountain of them in the center of the stage. But by the end the suitcases start to fill with pineapples. We have a pungent image, and a question as to what might happen next. Will there be more, will the suitcases overflow, what will the dancers do? Unfortunately, that’s the point the scene ends.

At the end of the work Anna Kang Burgess, Burgess’ mother, returns to the stage to end the piece as it began, with her seated in a high backed chair. Her slow walk and and ritual acceptance of a pineapple, and the elegant process and final arranging of her traditional Korean gown as the music grew uncomfortably louder had the theatrical tension and energy one hoped for from the start. The score by Aaron Leitko along with a section by Jason Kao Hwang provided a discreet soundscape; the piece could have used more. It’s odd to ever criticize Jennifer Tipton’s magisterial lighting designs, but this one may have not survived the transposition into the Asia Society’s simple stage. Dancers were poorly lit with unintentional shadows obscuring their faces.

Volume 3, No. 20
May 23, 2005

copyright ©2005 by Leigh Witchel



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last updated on May 1, 2005