Face Time: Dana Tai Soon Burgess

October 14, 2011

In his spare, contemporary dance works, D.C.-based Korean-American choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess fuses Eastern and Western traditions, weaving together disparate elements such as martial arts, sculpture and edgy music. His eponymous company’s “Becoming American” performance makes its world premiere Friday through Saturday at Dance Place.

So what’s “Becoming American” about?
It was inspired by one of our dancers, Katia Chupashko. She was adopted from an orphanage in Korea, and the piece speaks about growing up and trying to adapt to a foreign culture.

How do you convey that?
I created a world that was very murky for the main character. You can only see her and her adoptive parents dancing. The rest of the cast is cloaked and masked.

Isn’t a piece based on your own childhood also on the schedule?
We’re reprising “Charlie Chan and the Mystery of Love,” which is based on my growing up Asian-American in New Mexico, where there weren’t many other Asian- American kids. I become fascinated by Charlie Chan. He could drop into any culture and figure it out! In the piece, the main character is inundated by fantasy figures from the TV set who help him learn to interact with his community.

As a dancer, is it easy to stay in shape as you get older?
Dancing keeps you young. There’s more awareness of your body, and you’re constantly exercising and interacting with the world in a physical way.

You’ve been traveling a lot lately. Does that inspire your work?
I often travel with the company to work with different communities and companies around the world. It’s inspiration to look at the way people choreograph in other places.

But when you come back to D.C., what are you happiest to come home to?
I really just miss sitting on my couch in the living room and looking at my collection. I have ethnographic antiques from different places I’ve been to.

What’s your favorite item in your collection?
There’s a ceramic vase of an owl my parents gave me when I was a child. It’s an old Indian pot, and there’s something ancient and wise about it!

Any favorite hangouts in D.C.?
I like to go to Mie N Yu and Masa 14. And in my neighborhood, I like Bambu. If you want something simple and you don’t want to dress up, it’s a great place to get sushi.

Where do you shop in town?
I like Sicily, because it’s easy and the clothes fit. And I love to visit the antiques shops on Wisconsin Avenue.

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Kristen Page-Kirby · October 13, 2011