Since 2008, Taiwanese dancer/choreographer Kun-Yang Lin has made his Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers company a home on the foodiest street in South Philadelphia: Ninth Street below the Italian Market. Just south of the garish neon-lighted Geno's and Pat's cheesesteak nexus, his studio rivals the gaudiness of the intersection, decorated with one of Isaiah Zagar's mirrored and broken-pottery mosaics. On a more artistic level, neighbors didn't get it. They also didn't like having a dance studio on the block, first thinking it would be a noisy dance club.
Lin turned his experience with neighbors into a new work, Home/S. 9th St. It premiered Thursday night at FringeArts, informed, in part, by the stories of residents living along Philadelphia's diverse South Ninth Street corridor.
Filling the FringeArts space, Britt Plunkett's simple white-box set closely resembles the studio interior. Equally spare are Lin's costume designs - tight white jeans and colored knee socks.
Lin's choreography veers from its often Asian-inspired spiritual feel and dramatic gestures. Faint echoes of movement from ballet and ballroom dance to martial arts and Zumba appear, echoing the classes that might be given when the company is not using the space. Lin periodically hosts free Friday-night performances and encourages neighbors to drop in, so his dancers use folding chairs as props that morph beyond seating for audience, becoming windows, stairways, beds, and the ordinary things we find at home. The dancers vaguely imitated neighborhood dogs, kids playing tag. Mo Liu's fluid solos had an uplifting, aspirational quality.
Home, nostalgia, and comfort are synonymous to me. Cory Neale's sometimes staticky soundscape loosely unified those themes. He interspersed recorded and spoken texts by the dancers: the ice cream truck, they can't even order a cheesesteak in English, why do you say you're an artist? There were Chinese lullabies and tinny chimes like the ones in the Buddhist shrine down the street.
Members of the current company hail from all over the U.S., China, and the Philippines, exemplifying the neighborhood's diversity. Lin made a cameo appearance, giving sharp orders on a microphone to the dancers.
It was difficult to see that the piece's through line combined individual and group dances into a coherent two-act narrative, and I'm not sure Lin succeeded altogether in conveying the piece as a portrait of immigration and integration. But I know he has added another layer of community and flavor to South Ninth Street.
Additional performances: 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd. Tickets: $29, $15 students. Information: www.kunyanglin.org.