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Archive for June 19th, 2011

intern interview

Below loveDANCEmore intern Sofia Strempek interviews one of the choreographers in residence at the Yard

Hsueh-Tung Chen spent a month on Martha’s Vineyard in 1985. He and his New York based company, H.T. Chen and Dancers, rode the boat over to the island again this summer to participate in another dance residency at The Yard. Chen, who runs his company with his wife Dian Dong, founded H.T. Chen and Dancers in 1978; the company houses a performing arts school and was most recently awarded the 2009 NYC Mayor’s Award for Arts & Culture.  Chen took a moment to talk with me about his past and present work as a choreographer and creator of a successful dance company.
(note: some minor language and syntax has been altered to more accurately represent Chen’s intended ideas during the interview)

SS:     Your company was at The Yard in 1985. What work did you create then? What are you choreographing now?
H.T.C:     In 1985, I was selected as a choreographer [for The Yard]. I did a wonderful piece that is actually so beautiful, with music by Mahler, called “The Song of the Earth.” The reason I used the music is because Mahler used Chinese poetry. I researched his poetry… I realized how beautiful poetry he used. I used lot of his music and made the piece at The Yard.
Every piece is a challenge. This new piece is challenging [because] I don’t have music yet. The way I make dance, I [start] with many different movement phrases. I slowly develop, I put it together. In music, they build from the small piece— you put it together. A dance starts to develop, and then you become an orchestra. [In the piece I am creating at The Yard], I have two images. One is an image of a strange animal. Another image is the relationship [between the animals].

SS:     What was your first piece of choreography ever performed?
H.T.C:     The piece was very abstract called Historical Fish. That was 1975. About a struggle… I thought, ‘How come a fish was in a piece of stone [a fossil]?’ So I just think, ‘God! The fish before it dies, how much struggle!’ That is what the piece talks about: struggle.

SS:    How did you develop your movement aesthetic?
I saw lot of American modern dance. I [saw] how American modern dance uses movement to be a language to express your own feelings. Therefore, I learned how to find your own language in the movement. That is when I started thinking [of ways to] to combine the ways of my classical Chinese dance training [with a] modern [dance] concept, to come up with own movement language.

SS:    You have mentioned that calligraphy is an influence for your movement. Can you explain this?
H.T.C:     [With] calligraphy, I usually think of the whole stage as a white piece of paper; how can I use the words— the body words, body language— to move in the space?
My teacher Doris Rudko, she always said “How you find this idea to use group form?” Influences [like calligraphy] can show on your movement. You [don’t] recognize it until someone points it out.

SS:    As a director of a dance organization, does your dance work ever suffer in deference to supporting the organization financially/logistically?
H.T.C:    Of course, money is a very important, but money cannot make good art. Dance is an expensive kind of art form. For example a composer in the creation process has a piece of paper. They can write. [If they don’t like what they have written] they find another piece of paper, continue writing. But for dance you have to go to the studio to try it on the human being dancer, live dancer. It’s not just a piano. You have to move in space.

SS:    When does movement become dance?
H.T.C:      As soon as the movement starts to have some kind of expression of your true feeling, and starts to speak to the issue or the creation, it can communicate. Otherwise, it’s just exercise.

SS:    What is your responsibility within your community in New York and Chinatown specifically? How have you influenced your surrounding community?
H.T.C:     I think that we had the very first company in Chinatown that tried to use our heritage to move forward in a contemporary way.  We have five different [schools] that have students come to the theatre to watch our lecture demonstration, which is art in education.

SS:    What other art forms do you partake in?
H.T.C:     I am gardener. And I was always, always interested in architecture. Before I went to the dance program in college in my native country [Taiwan], I was in the college of architecture. Unfortunately, at that time we didn’t have calculators. The math drove me crazy. I say ‘oh oh oh!’  So, I switched from an architecture major to a dance major.

SS:    Is there a specific type of place that you can focus and work in best?
H.T.C:     The Yard is good. I can concentrate. Particularly, being able to bring the whole company here, we all can concentrate on work. That is very important. Concentration. Concentration.

check out catalyst this month

Click the link below for the electronic version of June’s Catalyst.

Thanks to Amy Brunvand for writing about her experience at Mudson & the upcoming events of loveDANCEmore (specifically journal submissions!)