DIVA IN MOTION
Sheu Fang-yi, a well-known dancer from Taiwan, will soon debut her newest production, MyHeart, in Beijing. Chen Nan reports.
Family background, ample talent or training since early childhood are often cited as reasons behind the success of many artists.
But the story of Sheu Fangyi from Taiwan is a bit different. The former principal dancer of the Martha Graham Dance Company, a wellknown dance platform founded by American modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham in 1926, began her journey as a way to escape school studies.
“Because I wasn’t good at studying, nobody had any expectations from me, including my family,” Sheu, 45, tells China Daily in Beijing. “But when I interpreted a person’s life onstage, I felt free and confident.”
When she started to learn dancing, it seemed like the “only thing” she could do, she says.
Sheu is ready to premiere her latest production, My
Heart, a contemporary dance piece, at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing over Nov 2-3.
The production is part of Sheu’s ongoing project, Fang-Yi Sheu & Artists, which she launched in 2011 as a forum to expand her passion for the performing arts. With this project, she has worked with some of the world’s finest dancers and choreographers, including Lin Hwai-min, Akram Khan and Tan Yuanyuan.
As for My Heart, a couple of young contemporary dancers, including Li Xing and Liu Liwei, whom Sheumet at festivals organized by the NCPA in the past few years, will join in the production.
What excites Sheu most is the participation of Zhu Yan, the principal dancer of the National Ballet of China. The two dancers will tell the story of a woman who experiences her life traveling the world.
In December, Sheu was in the audience when Zhu performed in Beijing, the leading role in the two-act ballet La
Chauve-Souris choreographed by Roland Petit.
Then they met again during rehearsals of the national ballet and after a brief talk, Sheu asked Zhu to join in her new production.
“When I saw her (Zhu) dancing in the rehearsal room and taking off her ballet shoes, I felt more connected. She is sincere and focused when she dances, which I really appreciate,” says Sheu. “We have lots of similarities, such as our personalities and attitudes toward art.”
For Zhu, who has been dancing with the NBC since 1995 and performed leading roles in most of the classical ballets, including Swan Lake and Don Quixote, the idea of participating in a contemporary dance production was both challenging and alluring.
“I was thinking about some change after being a ballerina for 20 years. Sheu’s invitation came right on time,” says Zhu, who flew to Taiwan earlier this year to train with Sheu.
Zhu says she wasn’t sure at the beginning of the training if she could do it, as modern dance is different from classical ballet.
“Thanks to Sheu, I gained a different perspective on dancing.”
For Sheu, what matters to her as a dancer-choreographer now is to discover more possibilities about herself by working with other dancers from diverse dancing styles.
Born in Yilan county in Taiwan, Sheu always loved dancing though her family was initially against the idea, she says.
At 19, she made the decision to become a professional dancer after Ross Parkes, former lead dancer of Martha Graham Dance Company, spotted talent in her.
“For the first time inmy life, someone said that I had potential. I worked very hard to become a dancer,” Sheu says.
After graduating from Taipei National University of the Arts with a bachelor’s degree in dance, Sheu went to New York on a scholarship to study at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.
In 1995, she joined the platform, becoming a soloist two years later and was promoted to principal dancer in two more years.
Being the lead dancer in Martha Graham’s iconic works, Clytemnestra and
Chronicle, Sheu was praised by critics as “the finest present-day embodiment of Martha Graham’s technique and tradition”.
“I showed the pages to my father, who finally agreed that I could dance,” recalls Sheu of the time she was featured in the US press.
When she was principal dancer of the established company, she was free to dance any role she wanted. But Sheu made the decision to quit the job and return to Taiwan in 2010 only because of her need to discover more about herself, she says.
Besides Fang-Yi Sheu & Artists, Sheu also initiated “creation weeks” in 2015, inviting international young talents to participate in newworks.
The same year, she expanded her artistic field by starring in Taiwan-based filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien’s movie The
Assassin, which won the award for best director in Cannes in 2015.
“I always try to remind myself of why I dance and the joys it brings to me,” says Sheu.
Her autobiography published in 2008 is called Dare to Be Different.
When I interpreted a person’s life onstage, I felt free and confident.” Sheu Fang-yi, dancer from Taiwan
Sheu Fang-yi (left) is now devoted to discovering more possibilities about herself by working with other dancers from diverse styles.
Left: Sheu Fang-yi (left) and Zhu Yan attend a Beijing event to promote the production MyHeart. Right: Sheu rehearses for MyHeart.