“Mandala” is a masterwork of art and stagecraft.

By Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer

Dancers use their bodies as instruments, and they need constant training and upkeep, research and inquiry. Over the last two years, dancer/choreographer Kun-Yang Lin put his company of nine through a varied, rigorous training program. Thursday night at the Painted Bride, it premiered the fruit of that program, called Mandala – the intricate, ephemeral, circular sand paintings of Buddhist and Hindu tradition.

As observer and chronicler of the Mandala Project over many months, I had watched KYL/Dancers in rehearsals as well as at workshops with a martial-arts expert, a puppet master, the Dalai Lama’s former ritual dance master, and a teacher from Taiwan’s acclaimed Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. Yet I was still startled to see how Lin wove those investigations into his choreography in final form. Heidi Barr’s exquisite crimson costumes, Stephen Petrelli’s striking lighting, and Jonathan Goldman’s spiritually driven music, along with a gorgeous visual design for the first of the five sections, elevated Mandala to a masterwork of art, spirituality, and stagecraft.

Puppet master HuaHua Zhang had put the dancers through practice in working with objects, investigating how to imbue them with humanity, humor, pathos. Using large swaths of crinkled paper, she worked with Lin, Petrelli, and the dancers to create a wondrous, many-legged, mammoth-like creature by having the dancers manipulate the material around and above themselves. At the end of the beast’s laborious diagonal entrance, the dancers broke out individually to whirl within the paper, which suddenly seemed lustrous and fluid as silk.

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