Getting to Know Micheline Heal!

I also quite enjoyed talking with Micheline Heal about being a young choreographer in New York City.  You can see her work on Friday, January 31 at 7:00pm, Saturday, February 1 at 9:00pm, Friday, February 7 at 9:00pm & Sunday, February 9 at 6:00pm at the CoolNY 2014 Dance FestivalAll performances are held at the WHITE WAVE John Ryan Theatre, 25 Jay St., Brooklyn, NY and are FREE! -Nicole

N:  You participated in something called the "Stages of Healing" program.  Can you tell me a bit more about it?
MH:  Yes! “Stages of Healing” is a wonderful presentation series at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that is curated by Dr. Micah Sickel. He brings artists and companies into the hospital to do programming with current patients (active duty, retiree and dependents), patient families and hospital staff. Sourcing artists from grantees of National Endowment for the Arts and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (I was a grantee in 2011), they have curated artists such as Dance Exchange, Michael Rohd of Sojourn Theater, Grammy-nominee Christylez Bacon, and Poet Laureates Linda Pastan and Joseph Bathanti, amongst others.

N:  You used to be here in Boston.  Can you talk a bit about your work with the American Chinese Arts Society's Traditional ChineseDance Troupe?  How does that work translate to what you're doing today? 
MH:  I grew up in Boston and danced with the American Chinese Arts Society’s Traditional Chinese Dance Troupe for ten years. My introduction to the troupe happened when I was seven years old; my grandmother saw an ad in the Chinese newspaper for the audition and being the dutiful granddaughter I auditioned, got in, and wound up staying until I left Boston for college. It was an incredible link to my Chinese heritage that I am profoundly grateful for and most certainly influences my choreography & movement vocabulary. My use of props (especially fabric), fluid & spiraling phrase work, acrobatics, and thematic focus on spiritual and metaphysical subject matter are each direct but subtle displays of my training in Chinese dance. The dances I grew up performing filled the stage with lush costumes, dramatic sets and backdrops, and movement that explored props such as fans, ribbons, drums, and the iconic long water sleeves. My goal is to integrate these influences seamlessly, interpreting them in a western context so that they come through in their essence and not as cultural appropriation. Of course I do, on occasion, dip directly into my wealth of training and make a dance that is recognizably Chinese but I only do so to draw the audience’s eye very intentionally through an Eastern cultural lens.
N:  Your company, Mich-Mash, relocated from the DC area to Brooklyn, NY in 2012.  How did that move work?  Did you have dancers who moved with you or did you begin working with new collaborators once you moved?MH:  When I relocated Mich-Mash from the DC area to Brooklyn it was because I, for personal reasons, had to make the move. The dancers with whom I was working with in DC did not come with me; my company still works on a pick-up basis and though I have dancers who have worked with me on many different projects, the core group of dancers who I was working with at the time also had other commitments to other companies and were not in a position to move with me. Over the past year and a half I have gathered (through a myriad of avenues) a group of dancers in New York who I collaborate with on an increasingly regular basis.
N:  People in the arts often develop strong mentor/mentee relationships.  Did/do you have a mentor throughout your career?  Do you have a person or people that you have taken the mentorship role for now that you're a more established artist?  How do you feel those relationships change your work?
MH:  I don’t have a single mentor but I would say that I have several in a kind of mentorship circle. Ironically none of them are choreographers – I wish I had a strong artistic mentor who could give me concrete and specific feedback on my work. Calling all mid-career/established choreographers: I would LOVE to speak with you about mentorship! Marcus Kyd, Artistic Director of the Taffety Punk Theatre Company in DC, took me under his wing shortly after I landed in DC and has provided invaluable advice & counsel to me over the years. Laura Colby, Founder & Director of Elsie Management, who I have assisted in various administrative capacities, has taught me more about the business of the dance field than I think I could have learned in an MBA course comprised exclusively of case studies in dance. John Gingrich, of John Gingrich Management, has generously shared with me a lifetime of experience as a dance audience member, classical music manager, and is a dear friend.

I really do wish I had a mentor who was a more established choreographer. Because I started choreographing professionally at such a young age, I never joined a company where traditionally dancers establish that kind of relationship. I also never did the summer programs, the other place where such a relationship would have naturally emerged.

To learn about good choreography, I watch dances. I’ve spent hours watching videos, and regularly attend live performances, trying to sponge up as much as I possibly can. In my book the mark of a good performance is when I stop doing my homework and just get swept up in the work.

To critique my work, I turn first to my dancers & collaborators, then to my audience. I very intentionally maintain a relaxed rehearsal environment and urge anyone that I’m working with to feel comfortable giving feedback on both the work itself as well as my methodologies. Collaborative dance-making is all about listening throughout your leadership without losing sight of the vision. It’s a delicate balancing act, one that I think I’ll spend a lifetime striving to perfect.

Once the dance has been performed, it doesn’t mean that it stops evolving. Little things change and morph over time, new dancers bring new ideas or a fresh insight to the material, feedback from audience members can lead to subtle shifts or entire re-workings of sections. I become more like a playwright watching my ideas be interpreted and reinterpreted – a process that is truly beautiful to witness.

N:  Monkeyhouse is really big on celebrating a birthday.  When is your birthday?  (Don't worry, you don't have to share the year!)
MH:  My birthday is June 14, 1987. And you can put that wherever you want! I’m young by some people’s standards, old by other's – so in turn you could say that I make very good dances for a young person or very bad dances for someone my age.

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