DanceWatch: Dancer Ching Ching Wong says good-bye

I have a secret. Writing DanceWatch Weekly is a completely selfish venture/adventure that I deeply love. Well, maybe not so secret now. Because of DanceWatch, I get to immerse myself, or obsess (however you want to look at it), in the research of my favorite subject—dance. I get to bump up against so many different ideas and styles of movement, confront my biases, and examine the culture of dance and its forms on many levels. I also get to be in the presence of deeply insightful and inspiring artists, hear about their lives, and share their stories with you. So awesome, right? Right!

This week I spoke with NW Dance Project dancer Ching Ching Wong about leaving the company after seven years and her plans for the next ten months. That conversation unfolds below after the performance listings.

Yours truly will be performing with Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater this weekend as part of its community ensemble in UPRISE. Portland dance artist and scholar Taylor A. Eggån and set designer Daniel Addy will debut their new dance-theatre work Abominable. NW Dance Project begins its 14th season with a world premiere and two returning works, and the Bolshoi Ballet will be live at a movie theater near you. Enjoy!

Performances this week

Ching Ching Wong and Franco Nieto in Felix Landerer’s Post-Traumatic-Monster. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert.

You Are All I See (World Premiere) by Wen Wei Wang, Post-Traumatic-Monster by Felix Landerer, and At Some Hour You Return by Jirí Pokorný
NW Dance Project
October 19-21
Portland State University, Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.

With a final performance by beloved, long time NWDP dancer Ching Ching Wong, and the introduction of two new dancers, Katherine Disenhof and Anthony Pucci, NW Dance Project begins its 14th season with three dances: You Are All I See, a brand new work by Chinese choreographer Wen Wei Wang; Post-Traumatic-Monster (2016) by German choreographer Felix Landerer; and At Some Hour You Return (2014), by Jirí Pokorný from the Czech Republic.

Dancer Taylor A. Eggån in Abominable. Photo courtesy of Taylor A. Eggån.

Directed by Taylor A. Eggån, set and costume design by Daniel Addy, performed by both
October 20-22
Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, 8371 N Interstate Ave.

Abominable is a dance-theatre work that draws “on the medieval Scandinavian imaginary and its lineage of famed heroes” creating “a context for examining the monstrosity of heroism as well as the (self-)destructive logic of heroic consciousness, which continues to haunt white masculinity to this day.”

The work is directed by Portland dance artist and scholar Taylor Eggån in collaboration with dance artist and set designer Daniel Addy.

Eggån has performed for Gregg Bielemeier, Mary Oslund, POV, and Eliza Larson, he and keeps a blog of his writing at The Exploded View.

Addy has performed for aero/betty, Tahni Holt, Mary Oslund, Tracy Broyles, Suniti Dernovsek, Dawn Joella Jackson, and Linda K. Johnson to name a few, and has contributed to the set design of many dance works in Portland.

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater. Photo courtesy of Oluyinka Akinjiola.

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater
Directed by Oluyinka Akinjiola
October 20-22
Reed College, Greenwood Performance Stage, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater presents UPRISE, an evening of choreographic premiers by artistic director Oluyinka Akinjiola and company members Michael Galen and Jamie Minkus, with musical guest Amenta Abioto. The works, inspired by Angela Davis’ desire to see liberation movements become intersectional, address issues of power, oppression, and community.

The company is “an ensemble of multi-dimensional dancers and musicians that looks at tradition through a contemporary lens bridging our vast history with our complex present. Rejoice! weaves dances of the African Diaspora, storytelling and live music to navigate through issues relevant to today’s world.”

Akinjiola says, “There is a reclaiming of power when we value aesthetics from the African Diaspora. Our bodies and our stories are inseparably political.”

The Bolshoi ballet in Le Corsaire. Photo courtesy of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Le Corsaire
Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
12:55 pm October 22
Playing at Century 16 Eastport, Lloyd Center 10 Cinema, and Clackamas Town Center

In a live broadcast all the way from Moscow to a movie theatre near you, the Bolshoi Ballet will perform Le Corsaire—a lavish ballet created in 1856 by Marius Petipa, contemporized by Alexei Ratmansky. The ballet tells the tale of shipwrecked pirates, the beautiful women who rescue them, the capture and sale of those women into sexual slavery as harem workers, and then, of course, the rescue of said ladies by the pirates in the end. It’s all about romantic love.

Interview with dancer Ching Ching Wong

Ching Ching Wong has danced for NW Dance Project for the past seven years. When she and I sat down this past weekend to talk, we estimated that she had danced approximately 70 new dances in her seven years with the company. If you’re wondering if that’s a lot? It is. It’s a whole lot. Wong’s contribution to the company is immeasurable.

This weekend she will be performing with NW Dance Project for the last time just days before she leaves on a self-directed world tour to teach and perform with her boyfriend of seven years Joe Reynolds and Korean violinist-looper and composer Joe Kye.

But before she exits Portland, Wong will perform a new solo choreographed by Katie Scherman with Kye and the Bravo Orchestra at Alberta Abbey on October 27 at 7:30 pm here in Portland. She will launch her website on October 25 as well as a fundraising campaign.

Wong is half Chinese on her father’s side and half Filipino on her mother’s side. She was born in Manila but grew up in Southern California, and at the age of 13 moved in full time with her dance teacher Alia Harlan, the director of Allegria Dance Theater and stayed until graduation. Wang says that she was raised in a dance studio.

Dancer Ching Ching Wong. Photo (c) Peddecord Photo

Seven years ago, after graduating with a B.F.A. in Dance Performance and a minor in Education and Psychology and Social Behavior from the University of California, Irvine, Wong moved to San Francisco with the intention of staying. She auditioned for every dance company she could get her hands on but no success. Somewhere in there she auditioned for NW Dance Project, and artistic director Sarah Slipper hired her. She turned 22 during her first month in Portland dancing with the company.

Wong, who turned 29 in August, won the coveted Princess Grace Award for Dance in 2015 and was named one of Dance Magazine‘s 25 To Watch for 2017.

She is genuine, and kind, and makes a point to connect with every person she meets. She is fiercely positive and her bubbly nature and hopefulness is contagious. Her dancing is dynamic and quick, charming, heartfelt and emotional. She is a little body with a huge amount of energy and life.

She has been written about many times here at ArtsWatch and is dearly loved by Portland’s dance audiences. Gavin Larsen wrote about Wong in 2015 when she received the Princess Grace award. You can read that story here.

In March, Wong’s grandmother passed away and in April things began to shift.

“It’s as if something inside me was saying, ‘what are you scared of, Ching? What are you holding yourself back from? Loving and accepting more people into your life? What are some things that are important to you? What are some things that you want?’ It just stirred up a lot of questions and from those questions ignited movement.”

Her interior examination kept going, she said: “‘You’re so young, your body is capable, and your mind is capable and we are capable, so what do we want to do with these capabilities?’”

“And the thing is, I was fulfilled here, you know? Portland is my home. NW Dance Project has been my home for seven years, I have this fantastic group of people that I admire and love, and I’m rooted here. But something inside me stirred, and now I’m willing to turn my life upside down. I’m selling all my things and giving away all of my possessions and relinquishing my home and opening myself up to the world and asking if she will take me in. (Ching starts laughing) This sounds absolutely crazy, um…

I suggested that she wasn’t embarking on this course alone. “I’m not,” she said. “I’m not doing this alone. I have this amazing partner in life, Joe Reynolds. You know when all of these feelings started coming up, every night I would come to him with a new idea, a new story, a new dream. And for every single one of my dreams he said, ‘OK, OK, OK, I will go with you.’ Oh my god, yeah it’s crazy. We’re both giving up our homes, our lives a little bit to open ourselves up to possibility.”

Wong rehearsing with NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

It’s an emotional conversation, and we are both tearing up at this point, and then Ching starts laughing.

“I’m really emotional right now because I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, so…,” Ching starts laughing again. “And the thing is I’m scared, but I don’t feel alone. I one hundred percent don’t feel alone. I feel the most supported that I think I’ve ever felt in my life. Even though I have so many questions about the next ten months…I feel sure, I feel sure that this is what I need to do and I feel ready.

We are both laughing and crying at this point.

How do you feel about leaving the company? About leaving the “it,” the thing that every dancer wants, a coveted full time dance job, for the unknown?

I love routine. I love taking class in the morning every day. I love that moment when you’re standing behind a choreographer and you are soaking up them and their past, and their movement and everything they are bringing to the table. I love that work, I love being in the studio. And I have one more week left—Saturday is my last performance, this is my last time in the studio. But it feels like nothing is going to change. When I’m in the studio, it feels like the safest place I can be. The world just kind of washes away around it. So leaving it’s hard to imagine a little bit, absolutely, right now. But I’m so excited for…I mean two things: there are only ten spots in the company. And so the dancers that get to have those spots next? It’s good, it’s a gift for them. They deserve it. And Katherine and Anthony are the two new dancers who have joined us, and they’re amazing.

So this is the thing, it’s like, I am viciously sad to be leaving the company and to be leaving these relationships that I love. But then I feel I get to take the dancers with me, you know? They’re family, they’re gonna come with me on this journey. And then what I’m most astonished with in this journey is that I’ve been reaching out to old teachers, old friends, my colleagues and asking if they want to join me. For example Charbel [Rohayem], Tatiana [Barber] and Lindsey Matheis, they are going to dance with me in Los Angeles. I’m going to Boise November 1st and Lauren Edson was one of the first choreographers I worked with. Victor [Usov] and Nicholas [Petrich], you know Victor who was formerly part of NW Dance Project, they want to join me in the Philippines to do outreach there. My friend Caili [Quan] from BalletX introduced me to ballet schools in Guam and so I am going to her home town. Ihsan [Rustem], I’m assisting him in Switzerland. I don’t feel like I’m leaving cause I feel like I get to find this this deeper and richer connection in my mobility. (like a crystal formation) That just continue to spread. If you could attach a string to me and attach it to everyone else and just keep letting that blossom and ooze out

I love this idea that our bodies are our vessels that hold our mentors and hold our past. You know my dancing and me, I’m a reflection of Donald McKayle, of Aliya, of Sarah Slipper of the dancers who have partnered me, of my family. …it’s kind of neat to think that that can continue to grow and spread and connect.

I mean, even here in Portland I have asked Katie Scherman to choreograph a solo for me…I want to open myself up to join as many people as I can, ‘cause we’re stronger together, you know?

How are you funding all of this?

No idea. I have $500 in my bank account.

How are you are so brave?

I don’t feel brave, I’m absolutely scared out of my mind. [laughing] Also I’m poor and I have big dreams. I’m launching a fundraiser on October 25th.

I’ve been avoiding the fundraising aspect of this because I’m the most scared of it. I’ve prided myself since college of you know… I worked three jobs when I was in college. When I first joined the company I was teaching 7 classes a week on top of a full 40 hour rehearsal schedule. Because there is a pride in me to be able to care for myself and be financially stable. So yes, honestly I think I’m going to need a little help with these next ten months and I’m so scared to say it, I really am.

So outreach is one of the portions that is part of this journey. I’m going to Nepal and spending some time at Kopila Valley Children’s Home. The founder is Maggie Doyne. She won CNN Hero of the year in 2015. She’s incredible. The school has 350 Nepalese kids and her home has 50. They all call her “Maggie mom.” It is incredible. And that sort of love is the kind of love I felt when I was growing up. I said I was raised in a dance studio, I truly was. I was raised in a dance village, and I still feel like I’m in a dance village. And then to see those kids in Nepal, that’s exactly how they’re growing up. There growing up loved and supported, even though it’s simple.

But yeah, I have big dreams. I want to go in there, and I want to raise money, not only to fly me to these locations, but to raise money to create a dance program for them. A couple thousand dollars can help fund a dance teacher for a whole year for them. I feel like we can do this.

So me, Joe Kye the violinist, and Joe Reynolds are going to Kopila Valley Children’s Home and we’re doing dance, music, and art with them.

On Thursday evening I did a 30 minute Skype dance class with a couple of kids in Nepal. Joe was playing live, Janelle Garland was my assistant, and it was at BodyVox. It was my way of introducing myself to the kids in Nepal and give them a taste of a dance class and let people view it. I streamed it live on FB and instagram.

Wong dancing in Summer Splendors with NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

How have you changed as an artist in your time with NW Dance Project?

So dance growing up for me was this fearsome attachment. It felt like I needed dance to survive and to be whole. It was fearsome. It’s vicious and I wouldn’t let anything get in my way. I am not the most talented dancer in the room, I am not the dancer with the most facility. My teacher used to say, “It’s not the dancer that has it all that’s going to make it, it’s the one that stays in the race.” And I think that’s true because no one is going to kick me out of this race because I’m going to be here whether people like it or not. I think I’m the one that just keeps coming to class and I just want to keep working on it, and I’m not the best at it. I’ve always admired all these dancers around me. Even when I first joined the company, at my audition, I remember watching Andrea Parson, she’s the most magical creature I’ve ever seen in my life: “I want to dance with her.” You know? So that was a dream of mine when I first auditioned, the moment I laid eyes on her.

I think my relationship with dance it’s as if I needed to let go of this fearsome attachment in order for myself to feel good standing in my own skin. I’m not trying to show or prove or fight or you know? I think maybe I fought so hard to dance in my early years that I slowly started to shed that, to let go of that so that, so I could finally just move and breath and just exhale in my own body a little bit. I don’t know if that makes sense.

I’ve let go a little bit. I still love dance as much. But I don’t fearsomely need it that it hurts me anymore.

What has company life been like for you?

It’s a rigorous schedule. It’s very disciplined and in a way…I mean I live a really boring life. I can eat the same thing for breakfast every day, you show up to work, you do ballet class every day, and rehearse for six hours a day and you repeat the pieces, you choreograph, you make the work, you rehearse the pieces, you work on notes you wake up, you do it again. And I love it, I love that about it, you know? But that’s not for everyone, it’s not for everyone.

In terms of me and the company, I feel as if…Kate Wallich said this once to me in Seattle, she said, ‘Ching, you’re like the one that wants to mellow, to keep the waters calm, not calm, but level out the energy in the room.’ For example, if it’s too hyper I’ll kind of stay quiet, if spirits are down then I’ll crack a joke. Or if it’s a bit tense, then I’ll sacrifice myself and make fun of myself. I think it’s because I don’t like confrontations.

The dancers recently roasted me at this gala a couple of weeks ago…I think I redefined my definition of love. It just made me realize that I have so much history with each and every one of these people. There are stories that were shared in various parts of the world that no one can ever really capture. And even our tiny little dressing room: I can’t tell you the amount of laughter that’s happened inside those dressing rooms, you know, or tears, or car rides. It’s just memories. Those feelings are irreplaceable, really. Maybe that’s all we live for are just those memories, we just want to connect, maybe that’s all we want. We just want to connect with someone, we just want to feel something. We want to be part of…

This is a hard question to ask because I’m sure every choreographer you’ve worked with has been amazing but do you have any favorite choreographers?

This next program is really special. So Felix Landerer choreographed a piece last year. It’s called Post-Traumatic-Monster. I think Felix was revolutionary for the whole company. Everybody was just blown away with Felix. The way in which he approaches movement, his detail and the way he digs into the movement is so specific. It was changing, it was really mind changing.

Is it his use of language?

Its his language, how he describes it, it’s also his body. He can show us the difference. And it’s not movement that you’ve not necessarily seen before but it’s different in how he places his weight and how he pushes off the floor and the spirals and how he initiates and finishes movement and the whole process in between.

But It was really a whole mental shift in, I think, all the dancers. Which is so inspiring. And his piece in particular is special to be doing, it’s my last time dancing with Franco [Nieto]. I think maybe I’ve waited my whole life to do a role like this. Because it’s more than just movement. It kind of scares me to do it. It’s that fear that I’m not good enough for it or that I’m not brave enough to ask of myself to do it.

And then Jirí Pokorny choreographed “At Some Hour You Return” in 2015. I submitted it for the Princess Grace Award. And I love this solo, I love it, I love it. I remember when I first worked with Jiri and he set this solo on me, I went home and repeated the movement over and over and over and over, I obsessed about it. All I could think about were the movements. It’s so intricate, quirky and fast, and I loved how his body shifted in it. I’m so excited to be doing it onstage.

And the last work is You Are All I See by Wen Wei Wang. I love that we’re working with Wen Wei because he worked with us when I first joined the company. My last moment on stage is going to be his work—I’m going to get to walk off stage with him in my heart. You know? Those three are really special.

I have to say that Ihsan [Rustem] has been a huge part of my career. And he’s one that I’m taking with me onto this next side. I’m honored to be his right hand person while I’m in Switzerland, helping him restage Yidam for Concert Theatre Burn. I feel tremendously connected to Ihsan. When I started planning and thinking these next ten months, he’s one of the first people I called. I feel like he’s there with me, even if he’s not physically by my side. I know he’s holding my hand saying, “You get it girl, you got this.”

I’m launching my website on the 25th of October along with my fundraiser.

I want my website to really be a hub for everyone to come on the journey with me. I want to be able to show all the places I’m teaching and choreographing and working. All the places that I’m on tour with Joe Kye. And I also want it to be a place where I can acknowledge the tremendous amount of support from people who have backed me.

Wong and Viktor Usov rehearsing choreography by Ihsan Rustem at NW Dance Project. Photo courtesy of NW Dance Project.

Tell me about the solo Katy choreographed.

She’s a dream. I said I made a dance bucket list, and Katie Scherman is on it. I think she’s incredible. I love the way she moves, I love how she loves and how excited she gets watching other dancers.

Do you think your princess Grace award and the recognition from dance magazine (25 to watch) made a difference? Would you have had the confidence to do what you are doing without the recognition?

I think I’m still who I am. Princess Grace and 25 to watch, for me I’m most thankful for them I feel like it’s a way I can honor my teachers and my mentors. So for me I feel like that award is for them, and to be able to acknowledge them is number one on my list. Right? Who cares about me, I’ll just keep going, it’s fine. Rememberer, I’m never going to stop this race, I’m just going to keep going. But for them, that award is for them. They have made the dancer that I am and the person that I am.

What are your plans for your last week with NW Dance Project?

Normal. I’m going to wake up and take ballet class. I’m gonna rehearse. I’m going to eat dinner and go to bed. There’s just a couple of extra things I have to do alongside of it, like try and plan my life for the next ten months. You know when food is so good and there’s that last bite and you just wanna slowly eat it and savor it and remember it and build your story around the whole evening that surrounded this bite. Then that’s it.

I want to make sure that I leave Portland letting people know how much they meant to me. Really. I’ve felt so loved and so supported. It’s important for me to make sure that all those people who have been by my side here know that. It’s going to be a gift to get be on that stage with those dancers for one last time.

Upcoming Performances

October 26, Cocktail Hour: The Show, choreography by Marilyn Klaus, presented by Seacoast Entertainment Association
October 26-November 5, Diva Practice (Solo), Kaj-anne Pepper
October 26-28, Dancenorth Australia, presented by White Bird
October 27, Migrants, Ching Ching Wong, Joe Kye, and Bravo Orchestra with choreography by Katie Scherman
October 27-29, Nous, on va danser, Nancy Ellis
October 31, Opus Cactus, MOMIX, Eugene

November 2-10, Avalanche, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
November 3-5, Converge, PDX Contemporary Ballet
November 4, ICONIC, A Fundraiser to support Performance Works NW Programming
November 9-12, When We, Allie Hankins & Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 15, The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow, Decadancetheatre
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December 7-9, Bolero, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem


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