Sun, Mar 26, 2006 - Page 18 News List

The intensity of Sheu Fang-yi

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

Inspiring, intense and serious are three words that are often used to describe Sheu Fang-yi (許芳宜). Her colleagues in the Martha Graham Dance Company used them repeatedly when asked to describe what it is like working with her. It is that seriousness and intensity, perhaps, which has propelled a young girl from Ilan County into the front ranks of modern dancers in New York City and to be hailed as one of the top interpreters of Martha Graham's works and an inspiration to other dancers.

Sheu joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1995, one year after she graduated from Taipei National University of the Arts with a bachelors of fine arts in dance and went to New York on a full scholarship to study at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.

She became a soloist with the company in 1997 and was promoted to principal dancer just two years later.

In person, Sheu's slight frame belies the power she displays on stage. She is also unassuming, stressing that despite all the attention centered on her during the Graham company's visit to the National Theater this weekend, that this trip is about the company, not about her.

"Being a star is not my job; dancing is my job," she said in an interview on Thursday.

"I have a lot of opportunities to have my picture in magazines but that's not my goal."

Sheu is also not so sure that her dancing should be considered the epitome of the Graham Technique.

"I didn't train at the Graham school," she said. "What the real Graham technique is, is something maybe only Martha Graham knows.

"It's like sex. A climax is only something that you can feel," she said, laughing before adding, "But it's something that can be faked -- the pull and release [of the Graham Technique]."

"I studied [Graham Technique] with Ross Parkes [a former Graham principal dancer. He has been a teacher at the Taipei National University of the Arts for many years] and his way of teaching is a little different -- how to use your muscles. How a teacher presents himself, presents the class -- it's always going to be different," she said.

"But one of the teachers at the Graham school saw me one day and said to the others `if you want to learn the real Graham Technique go to Taiwan," she said.

However, she added, "I'm not sure my dancing is so orthodox."

Whether or not her technique is pure Graham, most people who have seen her dance agree that she has brought a new dynamic to her roles.

"I have to get closer to the ground, dig deeper," she said, talking about how she prepares for a role.

"You have to practice. I know how to pace myself, how to take care of my body. When I know I can do it, then I'll try to do it full out," she said.

That willingness to go full out, even in rehearsals, was something that other dancers in the company commented on during a press conference on Thursday.

"This woman means business, on or off stage. In rehearsals or in performance, she inspires and gives you the extra energy to go to places that you need to go to," Slovenian dancer Tadej Brdnik said. "She's scary, she's loving ... when it's required."

Oklahoma-born Heidi Stoeckley also talked about how Sheu inspires everyone to go to a higher level.

"I had not been in the company too long and they kept mentioning that she was coming to rehearsals. One day she came ... she was dancing the red woman. I didn't know who she was but I was glued to her for the entire run-through. She didn't dance like anyone else. She's just a complete joy to watch," Stoeckley said. "Afterwards, I went up to her and told her I was so impressed and she just said `Let's go have a coffee.'"

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