Q: What has been your professional dance journey, and how did you come to dance with Hubbard Street?
I am originally from Taiwan. I left Taiwan after I graduated from high school. During high school, I went to Taipei National University of the Arts for the dance department. Before TNUA I trained mostly in ballet and a little modern at my dance studio. When I went to TNUA, I started a broader dance education and studied Graham, Limón and Cunningham. I also studied martial arts, chinese opera dance, tai chi, and for a year we had tumbling class which I did not enjoy. I was not good at tumbling and got many injuries from it. Looking back, I wish I had tried harder with tumbling. The program I attended is similar to North Carolina School of the Arts where they have high school training on top of their university studies. I attended the TNUA high school program and then left and went abroad to New York City. I went to SUNY Purchase for college. The reason I went to SUNY Purchase was that one of my modern teachers was teaching us Limón and had danced for Limón and recommended that I study abroad if I wanted to develop my professional career outside of Taiwan. She helped me with a lot of the application process, recommendation letters and video filming. Because of her, I went abroad. I got to Purchase and worked really hard to be a good dancer and a good student. As I think back, I feel like I didn't really have a strong voice. I was a good dancer but I don't think I had a strong personal voice.
My personal voice did not develop until I was in Kyle Abraham’s company dancing with AIM. That is when I really became a woman and an artist. SUNY Purchase was awesome though and I learned so much. Technically, I had so much to learn but also I was in a bubble there. Before I joined Kyle Abraham, I was apprenticing with Gallim for six months. Dancing there was my first experience of the Gaga inspired language. Troy, Fran, and Caroline are the three people I worked with a lot in the company. What I was struggling with was that I felt like I couldn't be seen. I felt like I wasn't being seen. I also have a hard time just speaking up in general. So a lot of the time I work really hard to deal with how I can deal with my internal conversations. So when Kyle offered me a job, I took it.
Working with Kyle really developed my artistic voice. I danced with Kyle for five and a half years. I wanted to try something different. Dancing in a repertory company was something I always wanted to do. Hubbard came to mind for me. I set up a private audition with Glenn [Edgerton]. I went to Chicago and was with the company for a week. They were working with Brian Brooks at the time. In the morning, I would take ballet class with them at the end of the week Glenn auditioned me. He saw me in ballet class and then asked me to do a solo and gave me some improv tasks to do and then we had a talk. The reason I couldn't do the open audition was I had a tour with Kyle. I was hoping that maybe I could get a job in the start of 2017 which is unusual because the contract starts in August.
It turns out I didn't get a job with Hubbard that time. Funny enough, at the end of 2017 in November which was almost a year after I did the private audition, Glenn called me and offered me a part time job. One of the dancers was pregnant and would be on maternity leave the next year so Glenn asked me to join as a part time halfway through the Hubbard season. I would join January 2018 and I thought it would be a great opportunity to later get a full time contract with Hubbard. I took the job immediately, I really didn't have a plan B. I started dancing with Hubbard in January 2018 and by March of 2018 Glenn offered me a full time job for the next season.
Q: What have been some challenges in your pre-professional or professional dance career?
For me, it has been to speak up. Maybe it is because I was coming from an Asian culture that in the classroom the students are supposed to be quiet and the loud personality was never accepted or permitted when I was at school in Taiwan. The quiet, good students are the hard working people that listen and follow the rules. Part of my personality is that I am more of an introvert and I fit into that mold comfortably. When I moved to the States, it was just so different. I was like, wow people are not afraid to speak up even about the silliest or tiniest things they want to share. At that time in my mind, it was a culture shock. I don't see the necessity to even share certain thoughts. I think it was me taking in all these different things, like people are not afraid of putting their voice out there.
It was funny because I went through a lot of transition in Kyle’s company. Kyle knows I am quiet and he would put me on the spot for talk backs after the show to train me. It was kind of funny. I am usually not the one to volunteer to answer questions, but the more that he did that the more comfortable I felt to grab the microphone and answer questions from the audience. It is a funny thing, like a push he would do to me. He would call people out and I was one of the people he would call a lot like, “What do you think Connie?” and he would just look at me. I think voicing my opinion is a very important trait to be an artist and to be able to share. I am still working on it. I’m not good at it, but I am trying to be better on how to articulate my thoughts and not just blurt out things, being thoughtful of what I say. Whenever I have an idea, I try to share. I still am not always the most comfortable speaking in a big group. Every time I do speak up, I feel good so I will keep pushing myself. That is one of my big challenges.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?
I think it really forces me to stop and not think about my future, my goals and what I want to achieve. I started choreographing, so I am always thinking about what is my next idea or project or what do I need to apply for or what choreographers or companies do I want to work with in the future. When this pandemic hit, I really took a pause on all that. I am really trying to stay in the present moment and think about how to take care of myself, instead of always looking ahead of myself. So I am really looking in and being more, I guess, more still. I am just kind of looking in and taking care of myself, so where my head and mental state are at. I also feel like being a performer and a movement artist we have a habit of always projecting in any way. Even though I am not a vocal speaker, I am constantly asked to perform with my body and project and am always on the move and I think as a dancer our mind is trained like that. I feel like I am always tunnel vision to the goal and this time has forced me to take a pause.
Q: What did the initial cancellations of shows look like for you and the company? Can you talk about what Hubbard is doing now?
I already knew about the COVID-19 situation at the beginning of the year. I had been hearing about it from my family back home in Taiwan. In Asia it was already a big storm and everyone was freaking out. Taiwan’s government acted so early on and as a Tawianese citizen I feel really proud that the situation is under control. In January, they were doing all these policies and tests. I already had a sense of how serious this could be early this year. The company was still going even though I knew what was going on in Taiwan. I felt removed because I was still working with Hubbard full time and the States were not taking this virus seriously.
In January, we were still on tour. We went on tour in February to Europe. We performed in Germany in two cities and we had a week break so everyone went to different places. I went to Berlin and that is when the virus was spreading even more and at the end of the break things started shifting. We started hearing about things being cancelled and our next part of the tour in Europe was in Italy and we were going to meet up there. There was a change of plans, our company manager said let’s meet in Milan for now and have everyone together to make sure everyone is okay. It was crazy because when we were in Milan that's when Italy was getting bad and the explosion of COVID-19 cases was happening 30 miles north of Milan. I was very paranoid. When we were at the hotel, we got the news that tours were cancelled so they were trying to figure out with the presenters how to find tickets for us to get back to the States. We were waiting in Milan at a hotel for two nights and the whole time we were there I did not leave the hotel. We would hang out at the bar and the balcony. We had a movie night. That was the end of February.
When we flew back to Chicago, I was surprised how easy it was to get back into the country. There were no tests, just normal traveling. We got to the States and we just passed through. I was surprised there were no temperature tests going on. We had a couple days off and then we were back to rehearsal to prepare our March series “Decadance.” Things progressed and got more serious. We started thinking about making adjustments for certain sections because it involved audience participation. We talked to Ohad [Naharin] about how to not interact with the audience and make it as safe and smooth as we could. So we cut and altered sections. Then we went into tech and we did a dress run, that was March 12th. Then that night was supposed to be opening night. We did the dress and we were dancing 80% and at the end of the run, David, our executive director, gathered everyone on stage. I had a feeling the show would not happen and before he started talking I started crying. It was very hard and in 20 minutes our mayor announced that public locations that host more than 200 people will shut down. We were deciding if it was worth it to do the opening and then cancel the rest, but the conclusion was that it was cancelled all together. Safety and health were more important. We wanted to respect everyone and be responsible. A lot of people were crying. I cried for some selfish reasons because we worked so hard for this show. Apparently, we do a pretty intense version that Batsheva wasn't even doing. We worked really hard and we wanted to share this.
The last few days we worked with Omri [Drumlevich] who danced with Batsheva and now he is in NYC freelancing. He came to work with us last week and gave us some new amazing fresh perspectives. We were all excited about learning from him and sharing it with people. At that moment I was questioning everything that I do as a dancer, as a dance artist. I was thinking about what is the point then if I can't dance, if I can't even do this, what is my purpose? I had a really hard time taking that in. Glenn invited the whole company over that night to be together and I just couldn't go. I had to be by myself and digest that.
Q: What is Hubbard doing now?
For a few weeks we were not really doing anything. After “Decadance” got cancelled, my partner and I decided to quarantine, even before the shelter at home order in Chicago. We were staying at home, mostly. As a company, I can't remember the first thing we did, but some of us are taking Gaga online class and started seeing a lot of classes. From that point, Hubbard as an organization started thinking about being more engaged in this. We need to be present and help the community to see the care we have for each other and the love we have for each other and have a platform to care for each other. We started doing some test ballet classes and now we slowly have more regular online classes and bring in guest teachers as well. Some company members are going to be teaching. Glenn has been teaching ballet on Instagram live and we will have other ballet teachers on board soon who are legendary ballet teachers in the Chicago area. If this situation was not happening, we would be working with Peter Chu for our May series so we decided to work with him via Zoom. It would be a completely different thing. We have been studying the style of his company and it is heavily influenced by chi gong. We just started with him this week and starting next week we will be with him three times a week. He has been sharing chi gong practice with him and eventually it will lead to sharing for the public. It will probably be through Zoom, we are not sure yet.
Hubbard is really supporting their dancers. I am getting paid the same salary and my income has not changed since all of this has happened. I want to express that because it is so important that Hubbard is supporting their dancers. They really vouch for the dancers. They want to support us. I am so grateful for that. There have been some tough decisions the company has had to make as well. It is very hard and I want to express how grateful I am that they have decided they want to support us.