Happy Hour on the Fringe: Global Pandemics and Art with Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers
During the global coronavirus pandemic, FringeArts is pivoting the focus of our podcast to checking in with our artists, our audiences, and our community partners during these unprecedented times. Since we can’t gather, we’ll chat remotely about how we respond to this crisis, and how the role of art during a pandemic shifts.
In this episode, FringeArts Marketing Manager Raina Searles chats with Keila Perez-Vega (pictured above on the right), Marketing Associate and dancer with Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers. They discuss KYLD’s recently streamed, previously archived show, SANTUARIO, and how the decision to stream it came to be. They also delve into what it means to be in a dance company during the pandemic, and ways to stay connected to your body during this time of isolation.
Raina: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. My name is Raina Searles, and I’m the Marketing Manager at FringeArts. In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic many of us, especially in arts organizations, have had to reflect on ways to do our work despite dramatic social disruptions. One thing FringeArts is excited to continue doing is connecting our artists and community partners with all of you listening, through this podcast. We’re diving into how artists are responding to the pandemic, the intersection between art and public health, and how community partners are working to meet the specific needs of their constituents. You can learn more about what we’re doing at FringeArts by visiting FringeArts.com/covid-19, and as always, enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.
Today, we’re talking to Keila Perez-Vega, with Kun-Yang Lin Dancers, a Philadelphia based dance company founded over 20 years. Their original work has been performed across the world and is rooted in the diverse philosophies, living traditions and contemplative practices of Asian origin and Eastern world practices. Keila, welcome!
Keila: Hi, thank you for having me.
Raina: Yeah, we are so excited to be chatting today, um, and first, I would love to just start off hearing a little bit more about you. You are a dancer with Kun-Yang Lin, so can you tell us a little bit more about how you got involved.
Keila: Yeah, definitely. So I am a dance artist here in Philadelphia. I joined the company back in 2016, um, so I’ve been with the company for about 4 seasons now. I went to University of the Arts so kind of was Philly based for school and kind of, upon settling, kind of my roots here, looking for a dance company that I admired. And I really loved the work they were doing, the Chi practices they trained their dancers with, so I auditioned and got in. And I guess the rest is history now.
Raina: So you also work in marketing, so I know you were putting in a lot of work the past few weeks because just the Friday before we’re recording this, on April 17, you made one of your archival works available to the public. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Keila: Yeah definitely. So what’s great about Kun-Yang Lin Dancers is that they really encourage their dance artists to get involved administratively, so me, yes, I’m doing marketing. But there are other dance artists who are in charge of our showcases, rehearsal directors, etc. So about a week ago, we decided to stream SANTUARIO, which is a work that premiered back in 2017 here in Philadelphia, and just kind of giving audiences an opportunity to connect to accessing the full performance online. We ended up doing kind of a one day push, trying to see what kind of interests, and you know, the feedback was overwhelming. And we decided to do it for two days, so that’s– that was much to our surprise, just that the audience really wanted to engage with that footage one day more
Raina: Was there something about the piece SANTUARIO that made you choose it over another one that you might have recorded or are you looking at doing a series of releases?
Keila: Yeah definitely. So one thing to know is that we did have our spring– so every year, we have a home season, usually in April, and our spring season was supposed to be that weekend, which is April 17th and 18th. And SANTUARIO is one of the works that we brought back and taught the company. So that program consisted of three works, one being SANTUARIO, so number one, we were looking into which of the works we wanted to kind of share with the audiences. Because we couldn’t be on the stage, we thought a virtual experience would kind of be appropriate, at least for these times. So that was one. SANTUARIO is also a work that shows a lot of images of resilience, of hope, and we thought that especially in these times, that as a society, there’s a lot of unknown. We thought a hopeful message would be something audiences would really grasp to.
Raina: Yeah I had the chance to watch the live stream, and I felt like there were so many beautiful moments in there of people being kind of frozen in place but then also like these, uh– jerky moments that were really kind of like, really kind of made you feel the anxiety and the stress, but then them all kind of coming together and finding community which is what I think so many people are trying to do right now.
Keila: Right, yeah.
Raina: Can you tell us a little bit about the background of the piece, cause I– there, I know there is an interesting history behind what the piece is based on?
Keila: Yeah definitely. So this piece SANTUARIO is a response to the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, so a very dense topic. I think when it was first brought to the company, we were excited to put something together in response to that. SANTURAIO is a direct translation in Spanish for “sanctuary,” so for us, it was trying to share our sanctuary with those viewers and for many people, a space like the Pulse nightclub is their safe space. So hence the title, and so yeah, the work kind of–if you had the opportunity to watch it, it starts in kind of like a nightclub setting. So the lights are really exciting, the music is high tempo, something similar to what you would see at a club. And then the piece progresses kind of in a linear progression of events. Something traumatic happening, and then it kind of dives into these lovely series of duets, trios, kind of representational of, you know, the relationships and the people in these spaces. And just trying to show light and show that through a tragedy or a through our differences, we’re all made out of the same fabric, we’re all human. So I think that’s like the beauty at the end when, um, once again, if you saw the whole piece, us stripping down to kind of like our bare skin. And that’s the humanity, the hope, and the community, the unity that we wanted to portray. So yeah, I mean it has a really, um, we did a lot of, as dancers, we did a lot of circles of talking. We did a lot of movement research. So it was definitely a lovely experience as a dancer. I was in the original cast, so I had definitely enjoyed that process and us bringing it back this year. With new– we have new dance members who learned it for the first time this year. We’re definitely in another climate right now, but it seems even at this time super relevant to what we need to hear right now.
Raina: Have you, uh cause I know at FringeArts, we’ve kind of been juggling what comes next in all this and when things first started to hit the city of Philadelphia, there was a lot of uncertainty about ‘do we cancel our programming? Do we reschedule it? Are we moving things to the fall or to, you know, all the way to next year?’ So I’m curious how the conversations went on your end about the decision to move the performance or– and if you’re looking at rescheduling it, or like what your future plans are?
Keila: As everyone’s dealing with, the plans kind of change sometimes weekly, daily, by the hour. And initially, our decision to cancel the home season was kind of when we were told no gatherings more than 50. So that was kind of a tough but a decision we had to make. Early on, there were discussions of rescheduling and our hope was to rescheduled the home season for later on, but I think as things progress, it’s really hard for a lot of productions, theater, arts, dance to reschedule something, I guess with the fear that you’d have to reschedule it again, right? So right now, we’re just trying to take it a week at a time and yes, our hope is to bring those works back. I mean, our dance artists worked all year on this program and would love to share it, so some other conversations we’re having is what if we can’t share it in the capacity of a theater, maybe it is a series of smaller performances or more intimate interactions that might be more appropriate for the time if we can’t you know, gather 300 people in one space. Maybe do a series that it’s 30 people trying to also be mindful of the guidelines that we need to follow.
Raina: Yeah. Yeah I know one of the conversations we’ve been having especially around the Fringe Festival is both what are we doing, but then also what are audiences going to be willing to do at a certain point? You know, cause– just because things “reopen” doesn’t mean that everyone is going to suddenly– I mean some people are probably going to be ready to uh, run outside of their houses at a certain point, but uh, are people going to be ready to gather in a group of 30 or more people even if guidelines say that you can? And it’s really hard to know what the best, kind of entry point is, and I know we’re also thinking about that cause, you know, the Fringe Festival takes place in September and so it’s very much on our minds as well, how we can present programming and if people want programming, and if it needs to be virtual to really get people to engage with it? And if that will actually increase engagement because we’ll actually have people coming from around the world who might not normally be able to travel able to access that are online.
Keila: I agree. I think that the beauty of social media and virtual is the accessibility beyond being physically there. So it’s like a give and take and I think that’s something all organizations are exploring. It’s just, you know, I– it’s a downer that we can’t just get people in one space to experience art live which, um, is beautiful in it’s own right. But also there is a beauty that now art, through the virtual platforms, can expand past the U.S., past the, you know, time zones and stuff like that. So that is also exciting, so trying to– I agree, like exploring what is the best engagement, and what do people want? I mean, I– and it’s one of those things that we won’t know until we get there.
Raina: Yeah, I think it’s– I think a really good question is what do people want. Because I feel like I, um, you know, obviously our office closed and we’re all working from home. And even when I’m inundated in the art world, I feel like there’s so many livestreams and so many opportunities to engage with art that sometimes I also am feeling overwhelmed by how much people are making available. And So is our role to be creating so much art? But also you know I’m one person, so I’m, you know, a totally singular subset of the population. Because I also think there are people who are really craving that connection and that ability to both create but also view and experience art.
Keila: Right, yeah. No I totally agree. And I think it’s also, um, for us, our conversation was like, once again, I mentioned the spring program had three works, right? We had Emptiness of Snow, SANTUARIO, and then a premiere Fishing Girl. One conversation is, you know, our desire is to, you know, premiere those works in a stage setting, but if not available in the coming year, like would we have a premiere online or what does that loo like? So that’s definitely– SANTUARIO obviously we premiered in 2017 and had the pleasure of sharing that work with an audience but how will the works that we worked so hard on– do we premiere those virtually? Do we wait for another time? When does it feel appropriate to put that work out there?
Raina: I– I’m curious with SANTUARIO, did you find that you had, um, people accessing the video from even outside of Philadelphia as well?
Keila: Yeah, so we were– I mean obviously the beauty of digital is you can track where your audience is and one way we decided– I know separate organizations are streaming through social media. We decided to specifically do it through our website. Just to…we also were interested in seeing where the traffic went, and we really wanted people to explore different missions of our website. So yeah, we found people from all over, people who’ve, you know, haven’t connected or haven’t come seen the company perform in years and because of this opportunity were able tor reconnect with us. We also had people send us lovely messages. We had people generously donate towards our mission. So it definitely, the widespread audience, was definitely evident when we went live with this performance.
Raina: And, then, uh, obviously you are a dance company, but you also have an educational component as well, so I’m curious, during this time, how are– how are you all as a company functioning? Are you still doing, I don’t know, like Zoom rehearsals or gatherings or something like that?
Keila: Yeah, so I think immediately after this all happened, we made it a point to connect, at least with the dancers, we ended up meeting up over Zoom for a few rehearsals. Obviously the rehearsals weren’t towards the spring season since we did cancel it, but we could– we have all of this material, so what we did was, we gave each other class. So we either had a company member do a ballet class, a contemporary class, um, and then we rehearsed online. We did kind of, for us it was more nostalgic. It was comforting knowing that despite we were far apart, we could still dance together, so we did a series of those. And then, to this day, the company, um, we still have offerings of class, which is optional for the dance artists but it’s also a wonderful way for us to connect, to stay healthy. I mean, we’re dancers, we love moving.
Keila: So finding ways to do that together because we spent so much time together is really lovely. SO yeah we’ve been doing a series of those. I think as time progresses, we do have a summer series that usually is open to the public and it’s usually workshops that are hosted by different instructors so eventually a conversation would have to be, you know, what do we want to do with that? If we needed to move that virtually I know a lot of other organizations are, so expanding those options outside of our dance artists is definitely a conversation we’ll probably have to have.
Raina: I was also looking through your website, and knowing that some of the practices you work with include mindfulness and meditation, is that something that your work has highlighted in the past few weeks or that you all are kind of practicing more during this time?
Keila: Kun-Yang has his signature Chi Awareness Practice, which is something as a company we exercise in rehearsals and during his classes that he teaches. It’s definitely embedded into the work and how we approach dance, so I think each of us individually as dance artists have taken practices like that at home. Chi Awareness Practice, you know, it’s this connection of mind, breath, soul, um, of the awareness of others. And I think in these times of quarantine when, you know, the sense of other might feel far apart, it really enables us to, like, look within. At least for myself, I’ve reflected a lot, I’ve really tuned in to my body and listened to what it needed. You know, whether it’s rest, whether it’s– um, I needed to move that day. And for me, it’s quieted things down and I think that especially in a time where the pace of life has possibly slowed down for many of us, this Chi Awareness is kind of heightened, you know? I don’t have the distractions and I can really focus on my own practice. And everyone’s practice is different and I know the dancers, the different dance artists, each of them has a different practice but I definitely feel the awareness super heightened, which is really lovely that despite we’re not together doing it, we’re all finding our little rhythms and grooves apart.
Raina: I– I’m curious as you talk about that, since you went to school in the Philadelphia area, were you very familiar with Kun-Yang Lin before you graduated, or did you kind of learn about all these practices after joining the company?
Keila: Yeah, so um, I think I definitely– I mean I knew of the company when being in school but definitely dove into what they were all about afterwards. Kind of when, you know, the typical dancer, we’re looking for a job or looking for where we feel we fit best, so definitely learned more when I joined the company. And Chi Awareness Practice is something, we get it a lot when people see us performance, and they always make comments like, ‘Wow there’s something different about you guys.’ People often connect it to spirituality. There’s something spiritual. There’s something wholesome. There’s a sense of community, mindfulness. But it’s– outside of seeing it in performance, it’s a whole different experience being inside the dance space. So I encourage people to really get into it, especially Kun-Yang’s class, because he really explains it beautifully and it’s a practice that, um, like anything, you don’t master it right away or ever really master it. It’s an ongoing process. So it’s, yeah, it’s just like really int– for me, really interesting that people can kind of pinpoint it when seeing us perform but it’s whole different experience being in it, and it’s a daily practice, especially as a dancer trying to tune into your body, to your breath, to others, to space. So it’s definitely something that after graduating, I definitely tuned more into.
Raina: I guess one question, knowing that KYLD is so rooted in Chinese traditions and origins, I’m curious what your connection has been to the Philadelphia Chinese, and broadly the Asian American community, has been, especially thinking about how during this time, there’s a lot of discrimination and a lot of, uh, increased challenges that people are facing right now.
Keila: So we have this program, our outreach program, Chi Dance, which is commonly, right now in, I think um, 6 schools, I think 5 public schools and 1 elementary. But then, they also do a segment of Chinese programming, cultural programming, out throughout Philadelphia. So, I mean, those are programs led by some other dance artists. We have Gracie and Maggie and Katie who are really involved in those, and they’re offered throughout the year. It’s kind of, some of our dance artists who are of Chinese origin have participated in these, um, lecture demonstrations, and these presentations. So I feel like Kun-Yang does a really lovely job in connecting what he practices in contemporary dance and kind of uniting it with his, um, Chinese background and especially with all the programming here and here in Philadelphia. So they definitely–um, right now, I’m not familiar what’s during, I guess, during quarantine what those connections are. But definitely throughout the year, they’ve definitely done amazing programming with kids, an assortment of like public events, museum based performances and presentations, galleries, etc. I definitely uh, our website has more information about that, but definitely something to check into it if you’re interested in those cultural programs.
Raina: Great, and can you just, uh, share with us your website and where we can find you on social media?
Keila: So our website is kyld.org and then our, we are on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, so Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, with the slash. You can find updates of our current programming. Our website also has vast information about, you know, our Chi Dance, our upcoming events, especially now that we’re going virtual, but also gives you an array of things we’ve one in the past. Through our press section, you can really dive into, you know, what press has said about the company, you can meet our dance artists through that page, so yeah I would encourage people to connect with us, and you know, if you had any specific questions, shoot us an email. Send us a message. We really love hearing and engaging with our community.
Raina: Thank you Keila so much for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. You can find FringeArts on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram and visit us at FringeArts.com. To you Keila and all our listeners at home, stay safe, stay well, and stay positive.
Keila: Thank you so much for having me.