March 29, 2012 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Two decades of dance

Dana Tai Soon Burgess says building a foundation of donors who believe in his work has been essential to his success. (Photo courtesy DTSB)

The Dana Tai Soon Burgess dance company kicks off its 20th anniversary season next week with several performances.

On April 5-6, the outfit will perform several works over two nights at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre (800 21st Street, NW) on the George Washington University campus.

Among the works are:

  • “Becoming American” — which explores the experience of a Korean child uprooted from her birthplace when she is adopted by Caucasian American parents. The lead dancer is Katia Chupashko whose personal story is told in the work.
  • “Hyphen” — which looks at the experience of being a “hyphenated” American (as in Korean-American). It features the full company.
  • “Khaybet” — a solo dance performed by associate artistic director Connie Fink which depicts a woman at the end of her life. Burgess participated in a cultural exchange which led to the work in Pakistan.
  • “Fractures” — a spare work depicting a love triangle to be performed by Yeonjin Cho, Kelly Southall and Sarah Halzack.

Tickets are $25 for general admission but discounts are available. Details are at dtsbco.com.

Burgess, who’s openly gay, says it’s exciting to see his eponymous company reach 20 years.

“Often we associate dance with being something very ephemeral and once it’s done, it’s gone, but it really attests to the staying power of our company and the work we do and the aesthetic we’ve developed to still be here,” he says. “Our community really supports us and that’s tantamount for an arts organization to feel we have a place and a home and we feel that.”

Though Burgess’s work isn’t LGBT specific, four of the 11 in his company are openly LGBT. While other gay arts companies, such as Ganymede Arts, have either closed or are struggling, how has Burgess kept going despite the tough economy?

“There are several ways an organization like ours can grow even within those confines,” he says. “When you’re producing work of high quality and individuals are really taken by that work, then they want to get involved if you ask them. If there’s enough of a structure in place for them to be a supporter and to feel part of an organization, they will. It’s a lot of work … you also have to realize ways to make even very specific themes, like this piece about being a Korean adoptee, reach out and have meaning to a larger group. There’s a universality that must reach out to all audience members so while they might think, ‘Wow, that’s specific, I’m not a Korean adoptee,’ it still says something about diversity and inclusion and they can feel an empathy and beauty in the work they can relate to … there are lots of approaches you can take to make niche work successful.”

When Burgess, who grew up in an art-rich household in Santa Fe, started the company just two years after moving to Washington, there were just seven dancers working mostly on a volunteer basis. The company now has a different structure altogether and Burgess, who last danced himself in about 2008, works full time in the field; he also teaches dance at George Washington.

He says he doesn’t particularly miss performing himself because in his coaching he’s “constantly moving.”

“I feel completely connected to the field in a way that’s perhaps more three dimensional than it was 20 years ago,” he says.

The group also plans a May 18 anniversary performance at the National Portrait Gallery, a spring tour of the Middle East sponsored by the U.S. State Department, a September perfornance also at the Marvin Theatre with other works including the gay-themed “Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love,” and a private reception for donors at the Arts Club of Washington.

The Washington Post once called Burgess the region’s “leading dance artist, consistently following his own path and producing distinctive, well-considered works.”

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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