Get to know I Am Here
Gin Dance Company’s ArtsFairfax Project Support Grant Recipient
ArtsFairfax connects you to all things arts in Fairfax County, the City of Fairfax, and the City of Falls Church. We believe that arts and culture activities transform and empower our communities. In the months ahead, discover the good work of this year’s ArtsFairfax Project Support Grant recipients.
Next in the series we chat with Shu-Chen Cuff, Artistic Director and Choreographer of Gin Dance Company, to learn more about I Am Here, a dance production inspired by her personal experience immigrating to the United States from Taiwan. I Am Here features her autobiographic story as well as the stories of other real life local immigrants. In the production, Shu-Chen collaborates with kinetic sculpture artist Kevin Reese to create a dynamic sculpture that the audience sees take shape before their eyes as the cast of dancers put it together on stage as the story unfolds.
ArtsFairfax: Shu-chen, thank you for speaking with us! You describe your repertory as deeply influenced by traditional Asian dance and Eastern philosophy while blending Western fluidity of movement and culture. How has your artistic practice impacted your community?
Cuff: I’ve got such an eclectic dance background. Growing up in Taiwan, I was heavily trained in Chinese folk dance and Chinese Operatic movements as well as Modern Dance. Having spent my college years and professional dance career in the States, I’ve developed a strong background dancing with both Modern and Ballet Companies. When I launched Gin Dance Company, a unique fusion of these varying styles naturally came through in my choreography. I think this blending of styles has opened us up to a more diverse audience within the community. Also, as a way of giving back to the community and in keeping with our philosophy that we can build a stronger, more connected community through dance, Gin Dance Company has performed in support of many worthy charitable causes through our Outreach Performance Program. Organizations supported include the American Diabetes Association, Child Rescue Center, Habitat for Humanity, The Angel Fund’s Remembrance Cabaret, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Catholic Charities U.S.A. Hurricane Relief, Life After Domestic Violence, Wounded Warriors, World Central Kitchen and many others.
ArtsFairfax: Speaking of “wherever you go,” GDC has had some remarkable performance experiences!
Cuff: Yes! We’re in our 13th season and have had incredible opportunities to present our works on some notable stages and at very special events, including the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, Sidney Harmon Hall, The 30th Annual DC Mayor’s Arts Awards at the Lincoln Theatre, CenterStage at RCC, The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival, The Lang Theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, and The Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relation between China and the United States at the Embassy of The People’s Republic of China, among many others throughout the state and region. Most recently, we performed I Am Here at Capital One Hall.
ArtsFairfax: I Am Here featured three World Premieres, each with very different meanings, cultural influences, and styles. Tell us about them.
The first is a collaboration with kinetic sculpture artist Kevin Reese titled “I Am Here,” in which I, myself as a first-generation immigrant to the U.S., delve into my experience of the desire, dreams, struggles, opportunities, and celebration of immigrating to the United States. Using the kinetic sculpture design and dance, the audience got a glimpse into immigrants’ life experiences and how they come together within the community.
The second piece, “A Cup of Tea,” is influenced by Asian culture and accompanied by Chinese dulcimer musician Chao Tian. We explore the culture and philosophy of the Chinese tea ceremony and reveal that tea ceremonies and rituals contain an adoration of beauty among the sordid facts of everyday life, as well as a sense of refinement, spiritual contentedness, humility, restraint and simplicity. By sharing this work with the community, we gave the audience an experience that inspired them to look first inwardly as they explore the introspective nature of the production, then outwardly to appreciate and connect with the people and possibilities that surround us all.
The third and final piece, “A New Day,” is a contemporary ballet with a fun, light-hearted ode to Schubert’s humor and playful score. I created it to encourage, inspire, and motivate everyone to have a positive attitude and energy to face whatever challenges come at us.
ArtsFairfax: What inspired the creation of this project?
Cuff: For a long time, I had been wanting to create a work to tell the story of my experiences and journey as a first-generation immigrant to the U.S. However, I somehow just didn’t feel the time was right until I met with Kevin, the kinetic sculpture artist. I immediately felt that it was the right time to create this story through a merging of art forms. By making a multidisciplinary work, I am able totake the audience to a deeper level of understanding the immigrant experience, while creating an unlikely and unique opportunity for Kevin and our dancers to collaborate. We all contributed different ethnicities and nationalities, bringing our communities and cultural influences together to create this stage production and tell this story.
ArtsFairfax: What do you appreciate about the community you serve?
We are so fortunate to serve a diverse community that embraces the arts and is so supportive of what we do. It’s our mission and desire to continue creating meaningful works that delight, entertain, and cause thoughtful introspection as we strive to expand our reach and touch more lives.
ArtsFairfax: How can Fairfax residents get involved, or learn more?
After the premiere of I Am Here at Capital One Hall last Fall (2022), we received so much wonderful feedback with requests for an encore performance. We are delighted to announce we will be bringing this production back for an encore performance at Capital One Hall this coming fall along with other brand new works! Please mark your calendars for the performance date of November 11, 2023. Of course, we can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as our website, GinDance.org.
ArtsFairfax: You also worked with Kevin to create a really special opportunity for kids at the Metropolitan School of the Arts.
Kevin and I offered a free, hands-on workshop at the Metropolitan School of the Arts for kids from differing backgrounds and ethnicities. They learned the techniques of making kinetic sculptures and creating dance as a way of sharing their stories. During the world premiere of I Am Here at Capital One Hall, we were so pleased to display the kinetic sculptures the students made and featured a performance of the dances they created in the Capital One Hall Atrium during the intermission. It was a very special experience for Kevin and me, as well as the students and audience!
Gin Dance Company (GDC) is a Fairfax County based performing arts modern dance company. GDC was founded in 2011 to provide a professional environment for artists to learn, grow, and express themselves and to bring refreshing and vitalizing works of Artistic Director Shu-Chen Cuff to the community. Learn more about Gin Dance Company by visiting www.gindance.org.