The Martha Graham Dance Company will be returning to Taiwan after 15 years for performances on March 25 and 26 at the National Theater in Taipei. Graham personally brought her dancers in 1990. She died the following year.
Taiwan's very own Sheu Fang-yi will be coming with the dance company as a principal dancer. Her performance, which has earned raves from dance critics in recent years, promises to dazzle the local professional dance circle.
Sheu went to New York in 1995 to find her stage after graduating from the Taipei National University of the Arts (then known as the National Institute of the Arts) in 1994. Late last year, she landed on the cover of Dance Magazine. Graham now lives through her.
The Martha Graham Dance Company, which was founded in 1926 by the choreographer and dancer herself, is the oldest and the most celebrated contemporary dance company in America.
The retrospective program, which the Martha Graham Dance Company will present, will include "Errand into the Maze," "Appalachian Spring" (1944), and "Chronicle" (1936) on the first day. The repertoire on the second day will have "Deep Song" (1937), "Satyric Festival Song," "Lamentation" (1930), "Cave of the Heart" (1946) and "Acts of Light" (1981).
On a recent visit, Sheu described the dances created by Graham as "all about a woman's feelings about herself." Even the dark side such as the envy she harbors is not spared in the dance explorations, according to Sheu. Confronted, too, is the fear deep inside her.
"A woman in fear goes through an inner struggle feeling like she's in a maze," Sheu remarked, drawing her description from Graham's choreography. "The question is: how does she deal with fear?"
She went on: "There is usually a story in every Graham piece. 'Cave of the Heart,' for example, goes into the world of Medea. How this story is told differs with each dancer and each performance."
Sheu admitted that "Acts of Light" may seem to be all technique. But it is so much more. Certainly having good technique helps, she said.
"The heavy repertoire demands that I keep my body in peak condition," revealed Sheu. "I can be put in a tense situation for 17 minutes in one dance and for 30 minutes in other works."
Sheu's success as a dancer makes her countrymen wonder about her secret. She pointed out: "Opportunity knocks at some point for everyone. How you prepare for that break is what counts."
"As a newcomer in the company years ago, I was made to feel that acceptance was not forthcoming because my training was not acquired in New York," recalled Sheu, who learned the Graham technique initially with Ross Parkes as teacher at the National Taiwan University of the Arts. "But today, the impression about dancers from Taiwan has changed considerably. Some would now even go to the extent of saying: If you want Graham technique, go to Taiwan."
For a dancer who has gone so far as to deserve a dressing room of her own and a salary much higher than what she used to get, the talented Sheu said that earning respect as a foreigner in New York was not easy but it has finally happened for her. That is what really counts. She has a company-guaranteed 30-week annual work contract. Until recently, there were only four principal dancers, including her, in the Martha Graham Dance Company.
"Recognition means a lot," said Sheu. "I have proven myself to audiences around the world. The time has come to do it in my own homeland. There is no denying that I feel the pressure."
One critic even said that Sheu has replaced the late Graham as interpreter of her choreographies on the dance stage because of her shining qualities.
"I didn't belong to her generation," Sheu said. "I can never replace her. From her choreographed work though, I can find my story, whether it be about envy or fear."