DIVA IN MO­TION

Sheu Fang-yi, a well-known dancer from Tai­wan, will soon de­but her new­est pro­duc­tion, MyHeart, in Bei­jing. Chen Nan re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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

WANG XIAOJING / FOR CHINA DAILY

Sheu Fang-yi (left) is now de­voted to dis­cov­er­ing more pos­si­bil­i­ties about her­self by work­ing with other dancers from di­verse styles.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Left: Sheu Fang-yi (left) and Zhu Yan at­tend a Bei­jing event to pro­mote the pro­duc­tion MyHeart. Right: Sheu re­hearses for MyHeart.

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