Ling Hui’s Annual Dance Concert returns to Wheeler Theater with ‘Mutation’

Darcy Reeder and KaiLea Wallin
Posted 6/17/22

Eight legs slither through the air, as eerie music entrances you. Perfect synchronicity, then sparks of beautiful chaos: The four dancers seem to multiply. This advanced contemporary dance piece is …

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Ling Hui’s Annual Dance Concert returns to Wheeler Theater with ‘Mutation’

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Eight legs slither through the air, as eerie music entrances you. Perfect synchronicity, then sparks of beautiful chaos: The four dancers seem to multiply. This advanced contemporary dance piece is the title number of the show “Mutation,” and it’s just one of 10 dance numbers on stage this month.

After a two-year hiatus, Ling Hui’s 26th annual dance concert, “Mutation,” returns to Wheeler Theater on Saturday, June 18, with two shows, starting at 1 and 3 p.m.

“Mutation is about changing, and change can be good,” Ling Hui said, reflecting on the last two years, and her dance studio’s return to the stage.

Amidst all the change, dance has been the constant. Most of Ling Hui’s teenage students have studied with her since they were only 3 or 4, and are now performing advanced dance pieces together. Jeannette Patric, Anabel Moore, Maggie Emery, and Maeve Kenney finish each other’s sentences as they laugh about what a wild ride it’s been, finding ways to dance together with Ling Hui throughout the pandemic.

“It was really cool to see how we adapted,” Patric said. “So we were dancing on Zoom, you know, trying not to knock over the Christmas Tree.”

“We were using chairs as ballet barres,” Emery added, “and I had to dance on carpet.”

Zoom was just one of the ways dance class continued. At times, dancers also met outside, dancing on top of the bunkers at Fort Worden. Eventually, students made it back into the studio, with masks. High-quality masks continue to be required in all of Ling Hui’s classes, allowing dancers to safely meet indoors to learn and practice.

Another huge change is Ling Hui’s studio location. During the pandemic, Ling Hui moved to a new studio at 909 L St. (previously the Gilman Studio). The airy studio has a wall of windows, filling the space with natural light. Sometimes deer stop by and watch the dancers practice.

“I don’t feel pressure to create dance,” said Hui, who, before moving to Port Townsend in 1996, was the educational director of Taipei’s Crown Dance Studio. 

“Dance is my passion. Without creating, I cannot survive.”

In “Mutation,” Ling Hui has choreographed a dance concert of both ballet and contemporary pieces. 

It opens with “Blossoms,” a graceful, traditional welcome number, performed by the Intermediate Ballet students, with music by Antonio Vivaldi. The ballerinas move like petals opening in a spring garden, colorful and light.

“Shall We Dance?” with music from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” showcases the Beginning Ballet students in their emerald green tutu dresses. “They have no stage fright,” Ling Hui said with a big grin. “They’re just happy!”

In “Spring Waltz,” also set to music from “The Nutcracker,” the Junior/Intermediate ballerinas tiptoe like fairies in their powder blue dresses in this challenging routine for ages 10 to 13.

Then comes “Dream,” a gorgeous pointe performance set to Tchaikovsky’s music from “Sleeping Beauty.” Pointe Work dancers Anabel, Maeve, and Maggie have been dancing en pointe for between 1 and 3 years, but because of the pandemic, this will be their first time performing  with pointe shoes on stage. The dancers say they feel like twirling music box ballerinas, pirouetting in their sparkling sequined gowns. All their practices have worn out a lot of toe shoes; Maggie said she’s already on her eighth pair.

It’s always a treat to watch the youngest children dance on stage for the first time, and this year, in a fun, high-energy performance, the Creative Dance students will be joined onstage by all their dads for a piece titled, “Pirouette with Papa.”

The ballet half of the concert ends with “In Her Name,” a grand Advanced routine set to music by Ezio Bosso. The four dancers exemplify strength and grace in their lilac dresses, as they move like long willow branches in perfect unison, making difficult balancing postures look effortless. Emory said, “This piece feels like a tribute to someone maybe you’ve lost.” As the music builds, you can feel that emotional power.

After intermission, the contemporary dance portion begins with “Farewell,” with music by Drehz. In their ethereal black-and-blue costumes, the Advanced dancers explore grief via a duet. Dancers Maggie and Maeve will be performing the piece in the 1 p.m. show, while Anabel and Jeannette will dance the 3 p.m. show. Ling Hui says this expansive piece was created in part to say goodbye to Patric, a graduating senior. 

“I’ve been dancing with Ling Hui since I was a toddler. I’m so happy I can close it all out on stage,” Patric said.

Next is “Mightiest of the Mighty Ones,” set to music by Israeli group Balkan Beat Box. At more than 5 minutes, it’s longer than Ling Hui would usually select for Beginning Contemporary Dance students, but these 7- to 9-year-olds have risen to the challenge and report feeling excited and proud to perform. “This dance piece makes me feel like an empowered young woman,” said Mary Hill, age 8.

“Metaforce” showcases the Junior/Intermediate dancers with choreography set to music by Abel Korzeniowski. These dancers, age 10-plus, “are like rosebuds just about to open,” said Ling Hui. “When I see a kid’s potential, it’s like a piece of jade I want to carve.”

The show closes with the showstopper, “Mutation,” with music from Cirque du Soleil.

“It was fun to get to create a more professional dance, even in a small town,” Ling Hui said of this 8½ minute routine. The performers in this piece say when they are dancing they feel like they are moving through a landscape that is first underwater, then woodland, then a wild jungle forest. “It’s a very character-driven piece, coarse and animalistic,” said Emory.

Ling Hui is so happy her students will be able to perform on a real stage again.

“I think kids need it, especially teenagers,” she said. “It’s motivation for the performing arts.”

Her students agreed.

“There’s something very sentimental about Wheeler,” Maggie said of the venue where she and her friends have performed so many times, “so we’re very happy to be going back.”

Tickets to this year’s concert — $20 for adults, $15 for youth 7 to 18, free for children up to 6 — are available at the door or in advance at The Food Co-op. Masks are required for all audience members age 5 and up.

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