Alumni

I am also a lot of other things | an update from Carson Stein

Carson Stein relocated to San Francisco from Hockessin, Delaware in 2009 and studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance for two years. She currently dances with SFCD company-in-residence Sharp & Fine and Liss Fain Dance. She has also performed with burnsWORK, Project Thrust, and Raw Dance.

Yes, I am a dancer, and that’s currently what I say when people ask, “What do you do?” But I am also a lot of other things.

Do I wish that at twenty-three I was still blissful and naïve? Yes, sometimes. But I can also acknowledge that I am only twenty-three, and hopefully I have an entire lifetime ahead of me to figure out what else I want. Without these five years I’ve spent in San Francisco, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It isn’t that three years of freelancing has turned me into a bitter and jaded dancer; it actually has led me to find out a lot more about myself. I’m less afraid for the moment that I stop dancing and more confident in sharing my other interests that I once left buried deep inside; I am more comfortable with who I am.

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There was a time five or six years ago, when all that consumed my mind was getting my first professional dance job. Looking back I realize that was a waste of valuable brain space. It ate away at me day after day, until the day actually came and I was offered real paid dance work. A giant weight was lifted from my shoulders, and then it occurred to me that it wouldn’t last forever. I soon would be in the place of hoping to find another job, then another, and another, that repetition of waiting and hoping is endless. Sure, along the way I have found consistent work; but deep down I know it’s not going to last forever because I don’t want it to. For a long time I did want it to last forever; I was inspired and hungry for more experience and understanding.

I’m fortunate to participate in creating work that allows me to be myself, but it only lasts for a few moments. And those moments can be some of the best moments you will ever have, but the initial wonderment fades away and things become mundane, like brushing your teeth and locking the front door when you leave. I have gone through this set of feelings years ago: it seems to come in cycles. There’s the beginning excitement, intrigue, and desire next comes hard work, sweat and occasionally tears, which lead into resentment, disappointment and frustration. This cycle happened to me as a high school student (dance and academically related), more than once during the two years I was a student in the year round program at SFCD, and now its sweeping it’s way through me again as a professional contemporary dancer. It isn’t easy, nor has it ever been. Summer once told me, “Carson, it would be easier for you to become a doctor.” At the time I laughed it off and didn’t believe her. A few years later, I realize how right she was. I could be finished my undergraduate degree and on my way to graduate school now, but I am not. I am here.

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It’s taken me quite some time to figure out that I can identify myself as something more than a dancer if I want to. It’s completely in my control what I want to share about myself. The bulk of my life has been defined by my dancing, and I was always nervous for that moment to disappear. I’m not scared for the time when I am not dancing anymore; it’s become a little exhilarating to think about the future. But for now, letting the next few months unfold is all I am looking forward to.

Kelvin Vu

All that Glitters | an update from Kelvin Vu

Kelvin Vu began studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance in 2011 after graduating from Yale University. After performing with Project Thrust and Sharp & Fine in San Francisco, he joined the Batsheva Ensemble in Tel Aviv in August 2013.

Kelvin Vu

Kelvin Vu

I started writing and sketching in a journal in my freshman year in college, when Moleskine notebooks were trendy, and I thought I was going to become an architect. Despite intentions to start a daily practice, I’ve only written intermittently and drawn seldomly. Even so, I’ve managed to fill a few notebooks, and thinking that there might be something worthwhile in each, I’ve kept them all. I recently looked through the ones I wrote in since leaving college and came across some surprisingly prescient entries.

In May 2012, at the beginning of my first summer intensive at the Conservatory, I wrote this:

“The fantasy–the dream of what I want–is not to be a dancer. It’s the pursuit of dance that I dream about. The kind of pursuit that leads to the brilliant display of information and the blaze of intelligence and consideration. Is it pretentious or somehow disingenuous to want to be fiercely intelligent? Perhaps this is the problem–the desire to be something in lieu of the pursuit itself. On that note, a thought from Christian’s class–the unknown and its importance. What is the point of pursuing something you already know–what could be more worthwhile or more engaging than the exploration of the unknown?”

And a couple weeks later, at the end of Session 1:

“Thinking about the ‘why’ of dance…and what makes the Conservatory so special. The odds are not comforting–how many of us will stick with dance and end up being able to survive off of it? Probably very few. But that’s not the point, or at least not mine. A group coming together, working, learning, exploring, growing together…there’s something that’s so magnificently youthful about it. The ephemeral quality of hunger and discovery and love in concert–nothing is more inspiring. I hope to never lose that hunger or love…”

After another year and another full summer at the Conservatory, I moved to Tel Aviv to start working with the Batsheva Ensemble, the junior counterpart to Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company. I moved blindly, having only been to Tel Aviv for the two-day cattle-call audition the previous spring. The move marked a lot of firsts for me: my first time living outside the US, my first company contract, and my first full-time job of any kind after a lifetime in school. Despite my best efforts, I found myself indulging in the notion that then, my life as a professional artist would begin, that this new chapter would be filled with gravity and momentousness and perhaps, admittedly, a bit of glamor.

In many ways, these feelings were not inaccurate. I felt an added sense of responsibility to research and perform Batsheva’s repertory and to invest in Gaga as my primary philosophy and toolbox. I felt the pressure to drink the institution’s Kool-Aid and to immerse myself in Ohad’s ideas and the universe he’s created. I had a contract and official duties to fulfill as an employee.

Further, life as a dancer in a major rep company certainly felt different. The numbers paint a specific picture: one company, seventeen colleagues, more than 120 performances, five programs, four tours to six different countries, 45 weeks of work. The benefits of the job paint another: a salary, health insurance, paid vacation, physio treatments, good studios, per diem on tours, receptions. During the first months, I remember feeling like Dorothy, plucked from Kansas by some mysterious whirlwind and dropped in new territory. I found the novelty and sheen a bit intoxicating, but I also felt wary that maybe my ruby slippers didn’t fit so well or that someone had spiked my glass of Kool-Aid.

I recalled words that Yale’s then-Dean-now-President Peter Salovey offered during the opening days of my freshman year in college. He told us to look around and to remember two important things: that Yale could replace us with an entirely different class of students who were just as capable and deserving and that also every single one of us would feel that at some point, Yale had made a mistake and admitted us by accident. At the beginning of my season with the Ensemble, I felt both of these things–that there were many other dancers who could have taken my spot and that I was embarrassingly underqualified.

I wrote home to Summer, who simply suggested to work but not worry because, as she explained, worry erodes trust. Per usual, she was absolutely right. Of course, there are many worthy dancers in the world, some of whom I replaced when I joined the Ensemble, and others who will eventually replace me when I leave. And as a new member of a junior company, it’s natural to feel underqualified. That’s partly why I came to Batsheva–to feel that I was the worst in the room again and to subsequently feel that I had the most to gain. But remembering and trusting why I auditioned for Batsheva in the first place–Gaga, Ohad’s ideas, the repertory itself–brought me back to a place from which I could work and grow.

Now with only a few weeks left in the season and with the benefit of hindsight, perspective feels easier to find. While the composite experience of my first year in the Ensemble is necessarily nuanced and layered, the most important takeaways now seem refreshingly simple. Despite all of the newness around me, I found that I could depend on the reasons why I went to Yale, why I chose to dance, why I enrolled at the Conservatory, and why I ultimately moved to Tel Aviv. What seems like a constant uprooting or change of path has been anything but. When I remember that the everyday work and my own curiosity are at the center, the progression of new environments makes so much sense.

Kelvin Vu - boats

photo by Kelvin

That said, the journey hasn’t been free of potential distractions, of tourist traps, of fields of deadly poppies on the way to the Emerald City. Something I realized early on is how easy life could be, like how easy it could be to go to bed late or to eat junk food. How easy it could be to not stretch, to not stay in great shape. How easy it could be to rest on the fact that I have a contract with a salary and health insurance. How easy it could be to stop working and feel entitled to be complacent. But at the same time, I also realized how hard and bland it would be to live the life that resulted from such easy choices and that such a life is simply not worth it.

I also realized the true responsibilities–and privileges–of being a professional artist. There are the most straightforward ones. To stay in shape, to stretch, to grow, to develop–these goals are supposed to be built into the system of professionalism. There are, however, the more existential ones, which often take more effort to identify and prioritize. Right now, I love where I am because the philosophies of Gaga and the work at Batsheva interest me the most, but my explorations in dance and my commitment to art have to extend beyond this company. For me, being a professional artist includes realizing that this will hopefully be a very long journey and that it’s up to me to continue the conversation and research. Of course, the present is important and, for now, highly convenient, but it would be vastly premature to consider these years the peak of my career.

I recently read an article detailing a study published about a year ago that analyzes our perceptions of our own change and potential to change. Researchers in this study found that we tend to underestimate how much we can and will change in the future as compared to how much we’ve changed in our past. They call this the “end of history illusion.” This misperception is intuitive, but the danger comes in how it affects our decisions and how we make them because thinking that our steepest growth curve is behind us cuts short our personal timeline and openness for radical transformation. I’ve been toying with this concept for a while, and it seems appropriate at this point in my dance journey. It’s tempting to think that I’ve left behind my gawkiest days and that this latest version of me is somehow closer to the ultimate one. But, when I really think about, that would be selling myself short and it would prevent me from seeing all of the potential forks in the road where the most interesting lessons lie.

I have no idea how my time in Batsheva will end or where I will go after, but for now, I’ll keep in mind something Summer once told us during my year at the Conservatory, that the pursuit of the thing is the thing. And I’ll also keep in mind a more recent journal entry, in which I wrote, “Keep building. Aim for many, many dirty first drafts. Keep the glory days at bay.”

–Kelvin Vu, May 2014

Upcoming Events – December!

Students:

Student Showcase – San Francisco Conservatory of Dance

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An informal, in-studio showing of selections from our advanced students’ work during the Fall semester, to be followed by light refreshments.  We will also share the work of our youngest students led by Kaitlin Parks, who teaches our Children’s Classes.

Saturday Dec 14, 12 noon to 1pm.  San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, 301 Eighth St.  sfconservatoryofdance.org

Free!

Spring Semester Announcement!
We are excited to announce that in the upcoming spring semester, the year-round students will be working with both Azsure Barton and Doug Letheren!  Stand by for opportunities to participate – open class, workshops, etc.  We do not have the dates set quite yet, but we will be sure to post them as soon as they are available.

Faculty:

the metrics of intimacy – Hope Mohr and Christian Burns

Photo credit: Parker Murphy

Photo credit: Parker Murphy

The metrics of intimacy offers a unique window into the creative relationship between Hope Mohr and Christian Burns, which has developed over time through an intimate studio practice of improvisation.  Acclaimed performers Mohr and Burns draw on their different dance lineages: Mohr is anchored in modern and post-modern dance; Burns in ballet.  Their shared attention to being in the moment allows the emergence of a visceral and thoughtful portrait of intimacy. Presented as a part of the Footloose monthly series.

Dec 4-5 at 8pm, The Garage, 715 Bryant St, SF, hopemohr.org, burnswork.org.

Tickets are $10-20, brownpapertickets.com or 1-800-838-3006.

Alumni:

Geneva Boredom – Joy Prendergast

Photo: Joy Prendergast

Photo credit: Joy Prendergast

First created for the Garage RAW residency program, Geneva Boredom has now been reset as an art installation/amateur light show specifically for SFCD studio 270. The idea is to bring the atmosphere of the piece to new locations, giving the audience a closer look at, and into, our fantasy worlds. Choreographed by Joy Prendergast.  Performed by Dee Gooding, Rachel Prendergast, and Joy Prendergast

Saturday Dec 7, at 7:30pm.  San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, 301 Eighth St, Studio 270.  sfconservatoryofdance.org

Queen of Knives – Sharp & Fine

Photo credit: Shannon Kurashige

Photo credit: Shannon Kurashige

Based on a poem by beloved and internationally celebrated author Neil Gaiman and choreographed and directed by Megan and Shannon Kurashige, Queen of Knives is an evening-length dance piece that examines love, loss, and regret through the mysterious, transformative lens of magic. Created in collaboration with the dancers of Sharp & Fine, Queen of Knives pushes the boundaries between classical ballet technique and contemporary experience to bring the audience into a story filled with visceral, surprising, and beautiful images.

Dec 12-14 at 8pm, Dec 15 at 2pm.  Z Space Theater, 450 Florida Street.  sharpandfine.com

Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door.  General seating.  zspace.org

Conservatory:

2014 New Year’s Workshop

Summer Showcase '13

December 28, 29, 30 & 31, 2013
10am-4pm

This 4-day workshop will include daily Gaga classes taught by Doug Letheren, Ballet with Summer Lee Rhatigan, and choreographic exploration and coaching with Alex Ketley. Doug will also teach and coach the repertory of Sharon Eyal. This workshop is for advanced dancers.

Cost $325

For more information contact Megan Kurashige,
Email: Megan@SFconservatoryofDance.org
Telephone: 415-640-7009

 

2013 SFCD Summer Dance Series

Starting next week! The 2013 SFCD Summer Dance Series

2013 SFCD Summer Dance Series

photo credit: Jubal Battisti

SFCD is delighted to announce the fourth annual SFCD Summer Dance Series. This year, we will present three world premieres and dance artists from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Tel Aviv. Three of SFCD’s resident companies–Project Thrust, Sharp & Fine, and burnsWORK–will perform, as well as Danielle Agami’s Los Angeles-based dance company, Ate9. The final program in the series will be a piece created by Bobbi Jene Smith, a dancer with the Batsheva Dance Company.

The SFCD Summer Dance Series was launched in 2010 as a way to present dance works by choreographers and dance companies engaged in the creation of compelling and groundbreaking work.
Project Thrust in Kingdom
July 1, 8 PM
July 29, 8 PM
SFCD company in-residence Project Thrust will perform Kingdom, an evening-length work of dance-theater choreographed by the company’s artistic director Malinda LaVelle that muses on miscommunication, the isolated worlds we build around ourselves, and the illusions that fuel our perception of self. (Advisory: this work contains a few moments of rear nudity).
Tickets: $20; available online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/381903 or at the theater box office.
Sharp & Fine and burnsWORK
July 2, 8 PM
July 30, 8 PM
SFCD companies in-residence Sharp & Fine and burnsWORK will perform, respectively,Love Songs and sonorous figuresLove Songs is a collaboration by choreographers Megan and Shannon Kurashige, opera singer Ina Rae, and the dancers of Sharp & Fine. sonorous figures, co-created by choreographer Christian Burns and musician Donald White, investigates underlying connections between sound and movement, classicism, improvisation, and narration.
Tickets: $20; available online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/381917 or at the theater box office.
Ate9 in Sally Meets Stu
July 3, 8 PM
Los Angeles-based guest company ate9 will perform Sally Meets Stu, choreographed by company artistic director Danielle Agami (formerly a dancer with the Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company). This work envisions a meeting between a man and a woman, opening questions that allow the audience to lean back and enjoy the unpredictable.
Tickets: $20; available online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/381922 or at the theater box office.
Bobbi Jene Smith in Arrowed
July 31, 8 PM
Guest artists Bobbi Jene Smith (currently a dancer with Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company) and Christian Burns will perform Arrowed, a work Bobbi created which is an interpretation of an ongoing interview between two people.
Tickets: $20; available online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/381926  or at the theater box office.
Photo credits: Project Thrust, Brian Henderson; Sharp & Fine, Shannon Kurashige; Bobbi Jene Smith, JB Photography.

Words to Work By, Part 2

UT Austin senior and Conservatory summer program alumna Courtney Mazeika brings us this week’s words to work by.

When I get caught up in the whirlwind of life, this prose poem helps me to find the ground.

Desiderata
By: Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in
silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the
ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare
yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be
greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career,
however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let
this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and
everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in
the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress
yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the
universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever
your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be
cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

Adventures Abroad: Andrea Thompson

Good friend and Conservatory alumna Andrea Thompson reports from her travels abroad, which started on a Birthright trip to Israel and continues this spring with a string of auditions.  Here, she writes about her experience after Batsheva Dance Company’s winter Gaga intensive and the first round of auditions for the Ensemble.

DAY BEFORE AUDITIONS: I got to experience a Batsheva ballet class! Claire, the Ensemble director, taught the class which was mainly for the Ensemble but overrun by people from the main company. Bobbi took ballet 🙂

It felt much like the Conservatory in terms of environment: safe to go for things, push pirouettes and beats and things you don’t get to do there on a daily basis. I’m really glad I got to see what the once-a-month ballet there is like. I must admit that during the intensive and in fact my whole month-plus in Israel I have not really missed ballet because Gaga and Batsheva’s rep have felt so full and complete on their own. Though in the four ballet classes I have taken since November I can definitely tell that it’s been a while…

After ballet, Faith [another Conservatory alum] and I stayed to watch the Ensemble rehearse “Tabula Rasa,” a piece to gorgeous Arvo Part music that Ohad made in the 80s, pre-Gaga. In structure, the piece is closer to classical organization than his more recent works: lots of formations and duets and patterns and some unisons. I loved it. If there were a part of me that would miss classicism, this piece satisfies that appetite. The music alone holds enough “beauty” in a traditional sense–as opposed to the “finding beauty in things that are grotesque, extreme, or exaggerated” category–that I was immediately and unquestioningly hooked into watching. It is exactly what I want to dance: inventive and surprising movement accompanying fantastic music that picks you up and sweeps you off your feet.

Faith and me after the winter Gaga intensive, looking BEAT!

Faith and me after the winter Gaga intensive, looking BEAT!

AUDITION, DAY 1: There were three sessions of auditions throughout the day, each with about 60 people. I was in the earliest group from 9-12:30. We started with a Gaga class taught by a girl in the Ensemble–obviously, no one watched. Then we learned a bit of rep from  one of the company members, a tiny firecracker in the main company. She didn’t tell us what it was except that it was a solo she does in some piece. I liked it a lot. She taught us the material and the co-associate director of the main company and rehearsal director for the Ensemble chimed in with more information about qualities and dynamics to get us juicing everything there was out of the movement.

We did the phrase in groups of 11, and being that my number was 5, I was in the first group for everything. We spent probably an hour and a half learning and then doing the phrase in groups, then each group got 2-3 minutes for improvisation. No interacting, just improvising in your own box of space.

And that was the end! We went upstairs and half an hour later Claire came up and read the list of numbers for the people who they wanted to see the next day. The good thing about being #5 out of 60 was that I had very little suspense! I was called, so Saturday I returned.

DAY 2: There were 34 of us; my French friend who also did the Gaga intensive and I were the only non-Israelis there. A former company member of 10 years taught Gaga. It was perfect because my nerves were a bit higher that day, and with him I got to bomb around and get some jitters out–sweaty time! Then another company member taught something from Humus! I had learned it from Bobbi at SFCD summer 2009 and good thing, because I was #2, in the first group for everything and had to look sharp. We worked for about an hour and a half on it and they made a cut.  Then the last 20 of us did that together with the phrase from yesterday. Ohad came for the last hour or so, and he saw both phrases and then a three-minute improv (four people at a time: “Show us what kind of creature you are,” he said).

They made another cut sort of–15 out of those 20 people were invited to the February audition, including my friend and myself. They said that some of us don’t have to go if we can’t make it because they know us now.

So excited to return and keep putting myself out there!

Suzanne Dellal Center

A view into the Suzanne Dellal courtyard from Varda, Batsheva’s biggest studio and the one we used for the intensive

View from the other side of Varda on a cloudier day- overlooking the Neve Tsedek neighborhood and beyond the street lights and palm trees, the Mediterranean Sea!

View from the other side of Varda on a cloudier day- overlooking the Neve Tsedek neighborhood and beyond the street lights and palm trees, the Mediterranean Sea!