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Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company Performs at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

June 8, 2017

The psychological impact of war on soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is the focus of a new dance by choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess inspired by the National Portrait Gallery’s current exhibition, “The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now.” The new dance, “After 1001 Nights,” will have its world premiere at the museum’s Kogod Courtyard July 8 at 2 and 4 p.m.

The Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company (DTSBDC) will hold open rehearsals in the Portrait Gallery June 10 and 17 from 11:30 to 2 p.m. to provide visitors a window into the choreographer’s creative process. Burgess is the Smithsonian’s first choreographer-in-residence.

“Dana’s work is bringing both modern dance and visual art to a broader audience and ultimately enriching the life of the museum and its many visitors,” said Kim Sajet, director of the Portrait Gallery.

The title of the new dance, “After 1001 Nights,” is a reference to the stories of the Arabian Nights. The dance is inspired by artworks in “The Face of Battle” exhibition: photographs by Ashley Gilbertson of bedrooms the combat dead left behind, Louie Palu’s psychologically complex portraits of military personnel and pencil portraits by Emily Prince that correspond to soldiers’ skin tones. Those tones inform the costumes designed by Judy Hansen.

The choreography also was informed by interviews Burgess conducted with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan “who talked about everything from the boredom during long periods of waiting to the sounds of war to coming face-to-face with their own mortality,” Burgess said. The dust in the desert came up over and over including this line from one interview: “You knew when someone was badly injured because they turned to dust.”

The dance focuses on a soldier looking back at his younger self and trying to come to terms with what he saw and did in war. It is set to the melodic, elegant music of composer John Zorn, “Leonard: The Book of Angels Volume 30,” performed by Garth Knox and the Saltarello Trio.

In the fall, Burgess will create a new dance based on the exhibition, “One Life: Sylvia Plath.”

DTSBDC is marking its 25th anniversary this year with performances, classes, an international tour and these two world premieres at the Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Website: npg.si.edu. Connect with the museum at Facebook, Instagram, blog, Twitter and YouTube.

About Dana Tai Soon Burgess

Washington, D.C.’s foremost modern dance choreographer, Burgess has been described by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman as “poet laureate of Washington dance.” He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and George Washington University, where he is chair of the Department of Theater and Dance. The company manages the dance program at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., offers a Summer Dance Intensive at Georgetown Day School in the District and public classes at Glen Echo Park in Bethesda, Md. DTSBDC has performed across the U.S. and around the world, including at the White House at the request of President and Mrs. Obama.

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