LOCAL FEATURE | washingtonblade.com
Dancing to victory
Two local choreographers with ties to Asia win awards
By YUSEF NAJAFI
Mar. 18, 2005
In “Tracings,” Dana Tai Soon Burgess and Company’s dance production chronicling
Korean migration to the United States in the early 1900s, every move and sway has
meaning. Even the pineapple lounging onstage while the dancers swerve around it
throughout the piece is significant.
“My parents came from Korea in 1903 to work at the pineapple plantations in Hawaii,”
Burgess says, explaining the origin of “Tracings.”
The 37-year-old artistic director’s 13-year-old dance company recently won the 2005
Mayor’s Arts Award for Excellence in an Artistic Discipline. Dana Tai Soon Burgess
and Co. first won this award in 1994.
Now, Burgess, who is gay, is getting ready to take “Tracings” to an opera house in Riga,
Latvia, a European country located along the Baltic Sea, northeast of Poland. In May,
the dance company is scheduled to perform at New York University’s Skirball Center
for the Performing Arts.
Burgess, a native of Santa Fe, N.M., earned a master’s degree from George Washington
University, where he currently teaches dance. He lives in D.C. with his partner of four
years, Aaron Modiano.
Burgess says his work is influenced by his interest in martial arts, visual arts and his
travels to places like Asia, Latin America, South America, the Middle East and Europe.
Two years ago, “Tracings” was performed at the Kennedy Center in conjunction with
the Korean American Centennial. The Smithsonian Institution also was a sponsor.
“It’s great,” Burgess says about receiving the most recent award. “It means a lot to
know that you have a home and place where your art is understood.”
Daniel Phoenix Singh, who also is a gay choreographer based in D.C., shares a similar
The National Endowment for the Arts recently awarded Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix
Singh and Co. an American Fast-Track Review Grant for $10,000.
The dance company Singh founded was one of 171 organizations to receive such a
grant, which is designed to provide financial support for producing culturally diverse
“It validates all the work we have been doing without funding, so far,” says Singh, a 32-
year-old native of India.
He works as a network administrator for the Association of American Colleges and
Universities and also is a member of KHUSH D.C., an organization geared toward
supporting gay people in this region who have ties to South Asia.
The Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh & Co. is scheduled to perform “Dancing Across
India” and “Bhangra Dance Party,” which feature dancers, musicians, and video
artists, at 7 p.m., on Friday, April 1, at the National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium,
1600 M St., NW.
Similar to Burgess’s cultural themes, Singh, who has a master’s degree from the
University of Maryland, keeps his dance productions filled with Indian influences as
well as gay and lesbian themes. The pieces usually include six to 10 dancers.
“In Indian dance, there is a lot of gestures and storytelling, and that has influenced my
modern dance a lot,” Singh says.
“Most people experiment with what interests them,” he later adds, “so being gay has
made me look at relationships in my dance of both men with men, and women with
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