Sat, Mar 10, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Loving Graham ... and danbings

Peiju Chien-Pott has gained a reputation as one of the premier interpreters of Martha Graham’s legendary works. She is headlining the company’s return to Taipei next week

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Peiju Chien-Pott, left, and Leslie Andrea Williams perform in Martha Graham’s Chronicle, the finale of Program A when the Martha Graham Dance Company returns to Taipei for four performances at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall from March 16 to March 18.

Photo courtesy of Brigid Pierce

Twelve years ago this month, a young Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA, 國立臺北藝術大學) student was in the audience at the National Theater to watch the Martha Graham Dance Company and one of its principal stars, Yilan-born TNUA alumnus Sheu Fang-yi (許芳宜) perform.

Next week, that student will be headlining the company’s return to Taipei, when it will give four performances at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

Chien Pei-ju (簡珮如), or PeiJu Chien-Pott as she is known outside of Taiwan, said she cannot wait.

Not just for the chance to perform the Graham roles that she has made her own in recent years in front of family, friends and former professors, but to enjoy her favorite Taiwanese breakfasts and other dishes she misses when she is at home with her husband and seven-year-old daughter in New Jersey.

Next week’s trip will cap a very busy eight months for Chien-Pott, a time that has seen her bounce back and forth between Taiwan and the US more than normal.

She was in Taipei in August last year for rehearsals and to perform in the opening ceremony of the Taipei Universiade, received the Bessie Award for Outstanding Performer on Oct. 9, came back to Taipei in to deliver a talk on Oct. 20 at the Taipei International Convention Center and receive an “outstanding alumni” award alongside classmate and choreographer Huang Yi (黃翊) from TNUA the following day, went to China for a week and returned to the US for the start of the company’s 2017-2018 season.

She won the Bessie — the NY Dance and Performance Awards — for her performances of Graham’s Ekstasis, with the award committee praising her for “bringing to life a lost Martha Graham solo from 1933, masterfully inhabiting the … movements … and embodying the very essence of Graham’s ecstatic vision.”

DANCING TO NEW YORK

I caught up with Chien-Pott via Skype on Wednesday last week at her New Jersey home during a brief respite after a four-week tour that had taken the company to Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany and Canada, bookended by several performances in Florida.

I asked about her start in dance, the company’s program in Taipei and her plans for the future.

She said she started taking classes in kindergarten, and by fourth grade she had begun to get serious about dancing.

“My mom had sent me to a bunch of afterschool classes — piano, violin, calligraphy, dance — but I got the most satisfaction from dance. I felt confident when I danced,” she said. “In fourth grade, I asked my mom to sign me up for a private dance school. Then, when I applied for middle school, I entered a school that had a special dance course.”

Three years later, Chien-Pott auditioned for TNUA’s seven-year dance program, which goes from high school to a bachelor’s degree. She was nervous, because by that time the university’s five-year dance program had already produced a lot of stars, she said.

“I remember the day before the audition, my father and mom and I drove to the Guandu Temple (關渡宮) to pray for a smooth audition and then we walked around the campus, checking it out. My dad said, ‘I think I am going to be here often,’” she said.

She was accepted into the second group of seven-year students, one that included Huang Yi and several others who have gone on to prominent careers.

“At TNUA I had a lot of great teachers, like Lo Man-fei (羅曼菲), Zhang Xiao-xiong (張曉雄), Ku Ming-shen (古名伸); I felt like I was in the top program, very honored and very special,” she said.

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