Connecting with Jessica Chen (part 2)

by Karen Krolak

Yikes...it has taken me a while to get the second half of this interview with Jessica Chen published. When you read the barrage of posts that are about to go up, though, you will understand why that is. To refresh your memory, Monkeyhouse met Jessica while performing at White Wave's Cool New York Dance Festival.

kK: I read on your website that you started out studying traditional Chinese dance.
JC: I studied Chinese Folk dance for many many years (6 to be exact) and toured Southern California with a semi-professional company. At that point, I didn't have many friends at school because I was busy every weekend performing.

kK: And, how did you become interested in contemporary dance?
JC: When I was 13, I decided to quit and join my junior high cheer team. That changed my life, because I joined the dance team in high school and then danced in the modern department at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Upon graduating from UCSB, I moved to NYC to go to the Ailey school. It was in NYC, working with other choreographers, that I discovered contemporary dance. So you can say it started when I wanted to make more friends at school.

kK: Hmmm...contemporary, cheerleading, and traditional Chinese dancing is quite an unusual combination. How do you feel that your choreography reflects this diverse range of dance styles?
JC: One of my new pieces is a sword dance, which is one of the traditional dances. It was the dance I was working on when I quit. I never got to perform it. Now I get to choreograph my version of a sword dance. I also love partnering work and maybe that is influenced by my background in cheerleading. At UCSB, I was what you called a "flyer" and I had only one "base." I was always really good at being lifted and thrown around (as a flyer), but I also knew how to lift others (as a base).

kK: So, how did you begin choreographing?
JC: Well, when I was young, around 8 or 9 years old, I would produce shows with my sisters and cousins for our parents. They included dancing, singing and acting. That was fun.

kK: Oh, I loved to do that too with my best friend, Sandy. When did you first show your work publicly?
JC: My first experience choreographing was in high school. I was a dance team leader and our coach was let go. We had a transition coach who was very much like the con-artist choreographer from the movie, Bring It On. He even made us do "spirit fingers." Long story short, I had to step in several times to re-choreograph our show. Anyway, I choreographed my first piece when I was 19 for a Teen Choreographer Showcase hosted by the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance.

kK: My first choreography project was also in high school. Ricki Lombardo created the part of the narrative shadow dancer for me in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and asked me to create all my dances. It wasn't until I studied with Lynne Blom, though, that I realized I wanted to be a choreographer. When did you know?
JC: It wasn't until I was at the Earl Mosley Institute of the Arts in 2006 that I discovered I really liked choreographing. Out of two summers (6 weeks) I choreographed three pieces. It was from the second summer that I decided to form the J. Chen Project and pursue my choreography career.

kK: Are you working on any projects while you are in Taiwan?
JC: I am in Taiwan to visit my 94 year old grandpa and my aunt. He is a strong, interesting man and has been through so much. It's nice to come and spend time with him. And it is Chinese New Years, so lots of good food and celebration. I would like to tour here someday soon, so I am looking at some potential theaters and checking out the contemporary dance scene in Taiwan.

kK: Thanks for taking the time to answer all my questions.
JC: Of course, it's always fun to do interviews. I am producing my first evening length show in June so this is great exposure for me.

kK: Well, please keep us posted as I would love to see your work one of these days!

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