ARTISTS REACH OUT: REFLECTIONS IN A TIME OF ISOLATION
Senior Curatorial Director Eva Yaa Asantewaa dreamed this series of interviews, Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation, out of grief for her work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance.
“In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.
But there’s no distancing around what we still can share with one another—our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.
So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I’m glad they’re part of our beautiful community, and I’m eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.” – Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Senior Curatorial Director
This interview features Jessica Chen, Artistic Director of J CHEN PROJECT (JCP), a Gibney 2019 Solo for Solo Choreographer, and a Gibney Curatorial Advisor.
Jessica Chen (www.jessicachen.co, www.jchenproject.com) is a choreographer, teacher and Artistic Director of J CHEN PROJECT (JCP), a 501c3 non-profit modern dance company based in NYC. She graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara and continued her dance training at The Ailey School. Her work has been supported by LMCC, Taiwan Ministry of Culture, Gibney, and Jerome Foundation.
Her choreography credits include The Portal at Minetta Lane Theater (Off-Broadway), INTERSTATE at New York Musical Festival (Off-Broadway), Cliché at The Cutting Room (NYC), Fiddler on the Roof at Timberlake Playhouse (IL), Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (NYC), and Ai Weiwei: The Seed for Brooklyn Museum (NYC).
She has taught master classes, workshops and seminars at institutions such as Semester at Sea, Yale, Boston University, Rosie’s Theater Kids, Do-One (Japan), Jazz DU Funk (China), Mt. Holyoke, and Orange County School of the Arts, as well as her alma mater.
Cornell University honored Chen as Keynote Speaker of their 2011 Celebration of Asian American Women, for her work empowering female leadership within the community. She presented “If I Can Dance It, Then It’s Possible” at the 2014 TEDx organized by Semester at Sea. International and National credits include 2010 World Expo USA Pavilion in Shanghai, China, and the Amnesty International Arts Festival in Washington D.C. Chen includes her thoughts on “Identity and Marketing in the World of Social Media” as a featured chapter contributor to a new book called A Life In Dance: A Practical Guide. Jessica is a GYROTONIC® trainer and manages Body Evolutions W72. Jessica is a Proud Member of SDC.
Photo of Jessica Chen’s Connected Fibers by Jessica Chen, photo by Vanessa Gonzalez-Bunster.
Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?
Much of my work on many levels has been affected. Canceled teaching opportunities, postponed conferences, choreography residencies moving to Zoom, etc.
J CHEN PROJECT will not have an in-person show this year. Most immediately, we had to cancel our #C3 CORE Choreography Competition Finalist Showing. With the support of our board, we are continuing the program. This is possible because we are exploring the capabilities of a digital residency. So I’m hoping this encourages choreographers from all over (not just New York City) to submit their work and apply. We are adapting to the new normal and are continuing to connect and create as much as we can.
Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.
Since I remember, I have been making dances and directing shows. My uncle, to this day, still requests an encore of a play I created with my sisters and cousins when I was about 8 years old. Growing up, I performed with the Los Angeles Chinese Folk Dance Company, which gave me a deep connection to my Chinese heritage and the beautiful stories we told through movement.
I discovered modern dance in college at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and moved to New York to train at The Ailey School in 2006. I founded J CHEN PROJECT, a modern dance company, in 2008, and we officially received our 501c3 non-profit status in 2017.
In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?
I practice connection. Much of my work focuses on revealing our intrinsic human experiences. I am interested in what connects us all. I believe the answers lie within our shared stories. Therefore the real work becomes deconstructing and examining the different aspects of our identities. I am lured by the identities created from narratives and labels given to us by society, along with the parts that emerge from our perspectives, ideas, and beliefs.
I am a woman born in America with Chinese heritage and immigrant parents. The Asian American woman experience is shrouded in fear, shame, guilt, and oppression. On a personal level, I do not want to admit that I am at a disadvantage because I want to be viewed as strong and independent. But it is when you surrender into your reality and your vulnerability, that you can genuinely find the true strength. Within this discovery, I have found connections with others who have a similar story, even if their labels and the narratives look and sound different from my own.
Photo of Jessica Chen’s I Can Almost See You, photo by Vanessa Gonzalez-Bunster.
How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?
I care most about our humanity and the joys that life can bring. In this current moment, I am focused on our health, both physically and mentally. Through this practice, I have connected and reconnect with family, loved ones, and friends. It is immensely healing to listen to people and share my own stories. The sense of community has been so strong, and I am feeling it deep within my core.
How does your practice function within the world we have now?
Tomorrow is my 50th day in quarantine. Eck! I have practiced connection by leading a free movement class at 12noon EST via Zoom every “workday,” Monday through Friday, since my quarantine started. It is a 20-30 minute class using exercises from my GYROTONIC and dance techniques. This is my daily practice. This has been my anchor and the consistency within the inconsistent world we know.
With this as my platform to connect and move with my community, I started creating work online with dancers through my Zoom world. And last week, I created a Dancing from a Distance video with my dancers. You can view it here: https://youtu.be/N0D5pKYJ1Io.
Community, expression, and connection are essential for me to get through these trying times. And I’m exploring what the vast digital space has to offer, and I have thankfully experienced a world full of abundant opportunity.
Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.
Every day I give a gift to myself. Whether that is sleeping in, eating a slice of cake, sitting on my fire escape, etc. I am doing my best to embrace the stillness and silence and taking it easy.
To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.
Top photo by Vanessa Gonzalez-Bunster.