In The Moment: An interview with Choreographer Shu-Chen Cuff of the Gin Dance Company on Appearing at Intersections at Atlas

Over the past several years, Shu-Chen Cuff and the Gin Dance Company have been making impressions on the DC area dance scene. Established in Reston, Virginia, the award-winning Gin Dance Company has been performing throughout Virginia and DC, including at the Atlas Performing Arts Center located on the lively, burgeoning, H Street, NE. in Washington.

Shu-Chen Cuff, James Fredrickson, and Elizabeth Lucrezio. Photo by Ruth Judson.
Shu-Chen Cuff, James Fredrickson, and Elizabeth Lucrezio. Photo by Ruth Judson.

When I first interviewed Shu-Chen Cuff a few years, she said that “through dance, we deliver our ideas, stories, and emotions across without saying a word. Regardless what country you are from and what language you speak, the audience can hear your voice by watching the body movements expressing with a different rhythm, different energy, and different dynamic.”

When I asked why audiences hunger for dance, Cuff described it this way; “We all live in a stressed filled world. Watching dance is a great way to unplug for a couple of hours and lose ourselves in the moment. A moment filled with beautiful and intricate movement set to music that touches our soul. It reminds us of dreams that we once had and possibilities that still lie ahead.”

Her words made quite an impression on me.

Gin Dance will be returning to Atlas’ Intersections Festival this year for a performance of an imaginative dance program called Hear Me Now on March 7th at 4:30 p.m. The 2015 Intersection Festival is bringing together over 100 performing arts groups in a multi-week arts festival through March 7th.

I interviewed Shu-Chen Cuff, the Artistic Director of the Gin Dance Company.  

David Siegel:  For those not familiar with Gin Dance Company, how would you describe your choreography “style”? 

Shu-Chen.
Shu-Chen Cuff.

Shu-Chen Cuff: I’ve had some big influences in my dance life that have certainly contributed to and helped shape my choreographic style. In Taiwan, where I was born and raised, I studied Chinese Folk Dance and Opera Movements along with Ballet and Modern Dance. From that heritage, it would be hard to deny a strong Eastern influence in my choreography. In the States, I went much deeper into Ballet, Modern, and Jazz.

The short answer to the question is that my Choreography style is a fusion of eastern gesturing with western fluidity of movement and, while modern in styling, certainly with a contemporary balletic feel to it. I work very hard to do very different types of works to continually challenge myself and my dancers as well as maintaining a fresh new look for audiences.

What do you look for in dancers for your Gin Dance Company compositions?

Besides having strong technique, I also look for the dancers who have the drive and passion to keep learning, growing, taking on challenges and who can easily adapt to the new style of the piece and can offer their unique artistry to each work and make it their own. Character development is just as important as strong technique in creating a fulfilling rich experience for the audience.

What inspired development of your newest work Motion in String?

For some of my works, I have the inspiration for the piece, a particular story, message, or movement first. For Motion in String, the inspiration started when I first heard the music. This recomposed score from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons by Max Richter kept the classical feel from the original, but enhanced it with a strong edgy tone giving it a unique modern flavor that I really fell in love with. The music is rich and expressive with emotions and feelings. When I first heard the music, the movements and the vision of the work had penetrated my mind. I had to create the piece.

How would you describe the score for Motion in String?

Motion in String is assembled with four sections with very different rhythm and dynamics to the music in each moment. The score is recomposed from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons by Max Richter. The 1st section is Emergence, the 2nd section is Segregated, the 3rd section is Unceasing, and the 4th section is Explosive. It was the inspiration for the new work.

What has the rehearsal process been like for this new work?

A new work like Motion in String requires several months of hard training and rehearsals. In the first 6 to 8 weeks, I work on creating the movements and teaching the choreography to the dancers. The following 6 to 8 weeks leading up to the performance, we focus extensively on the details of the flow and quality of the movements as well as constantly developing characters. I want the dancers to be able to execute the work comfortably and dance freely on the stage.

It was such a fun process to choreograph Motion in String. The music is constructed with so many layers to it that creates great opportunities for me to develop different dynamics and quality of movements and to form characters and relationships that connect between the dancers.

Why did you select the title Hear Me Now! for the overall performance?

We’re doing 4 very different works and Hear Me Now! seems to work with them all. A couple of the pieces have important messages that we all need to ‘Hear’ that can make a significant impact on the audience, while others are fun and delightful like a piece taking a light-hearted look at how we are all addicted out our smart phones. Hear Me Now! just works!

What do you want audiences to come away with from Hear Me Now!?

Hear Me Now! is a gathering of four very distinctively different works. Some works are enriched with their own depth, ideas, and meanings. Others are packed with humor and playfulness. We hope the audience will leave the performance feeling inspired and uplifted and find their own way to interpret and translate the works, seeing their own lives reflected it.

Shu-Chen Cuff and Elizabeth Lucrezio. Photo by Ruth Judson.
Shu-Chen Cuff and Elizabeth Lucrezio. Photo by Ruth Judson.

Why did you want to perform at the Atlas Intersections Festival?

Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival is an extraordinary collaborative presentation of music, dance, theater, and film that showcases so many different types of art forms and cultures. We are exhilarated to offer/share a captivating and diverse program for the audience to discover. It’s an electrifying and fun celebration of the arts.  We are so thrilled to be part of this festival and be able to connect with other outstanding artists.

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The Gin Dance Company performs Hear Me Now! on Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 4:30 PM at tlas Performing Arts Center’s Intersections Festival in the Theresa and Jane Lang Theatre – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC.  The show is recommended for s 5 and up, and runs 60 minutes. Purchase your tickets at the box offce or online



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