Classical Connections takes a global perspective in comparing classical performance traditions, featuring three of the finest interpreters of these forms: Wendy Whelan, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet; Parul Shah, celebrated performer of India’s kathak dance; and Qian Yi, Chinese kunqu opera star. Each of these dancers has dedicated their lives to the study and performance of their form, and now are pushing the boundaries to explore new territory inspired by tradition. How will the future of these classical connections be influenced by these new directions? The program will consist of short dance demonstrations and screenings of footage from Slow Dancing by photographer/videographer David Michaelek, followed by a panel discussion with these three extraordinary artists.
Viewpoints is an annual series featuring prominent, visionary figures in the creative arts and is made possible by the generous support of Aashish and Dinyar S. Devitre.
About the Artists:
Wendy Whelan was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where at the age of three she began taking dance classes with Virginia Wooton, a local teacher. At age eight she performed as a mouse with the Louisville Ballet in its annual production of The Nutcracker. Joining the Louisville Ballet Academy that year, she began intense professional training. In 1981 she received a scholarship to the summer course at the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of New York City Ballet and a year later she moved to New York to become a full-time student there. She was invited to become a member of the New York City Ballet corps de ballet in 1986 and was promoted to principal dancer in 1991. Whelan has performed a wide spectrum of the Balanchine repertory and worked closely with Jerome Robbins on many of his ballets. She has originated featured roles in 13 ballets for Christopher Wheeldon, as well as in the ballets of William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky, Wayne McGregor, Jorma Elo, Shen Wei, Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp. In 2007, Whelan was nominated for an Olivier Award and a Critics Circle Award for her performances with Morphoses/Wheeldon Company. She has been a guest artist with The Royal Ballet and with the Kirov Ballet. She received the 2007 Dance Magazine Award, and in 2009 was given a Doctorate of Arts, honoris causa, from Bellarmine University. In 2011, she was honored with both The Jerome Robbins Award and a Bessie Award for her Sustained Achievement in Performance.
In 2012, Whelan began developing new collaborative projects. Her inaugural project, Restless Creature, which premiered at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in August of 2013, is a suite of four duets, created by and danced with four of today’s most cutting edge contemporary dancer/choreographers, Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo. Restless Creature will travel to London and Vail in 2014 and will tour in the US starting in January 2015. Whelan was recently appointed an Artistic Associate at New York’s City Center and for two years beginning November 1, 2014, City Center will be her home for developing future projects. The New York Times has called Whelan “America’s greatest contemporary ballerina” and “uncompromising, generous, bold, enthusiastic, adult, at the same time decisive and investigative” She resides in New York City with her husband, the artist David Michalek.
Parul Shah is an internationally acclaimed Kathak dancer and choreographer whose work is expanding the classical medium beyond cultural boundaries. With a dedication to excellence, Shah preserves the form’s aesthetic integrity while developing a unique and powerful vocabulary. Behind Shah’s work is decades of rigorous Kathak training under the world-renowned guru and choreographer, Padmashree Kumudini Lakhia. Ms. Lakhia’s pioneering work revitalized the form for 20th century audiences, and her training has produced forward-thinking Kathak artists with original voices. “Parul Shah …. brought the house down. Her sources are splendidly hybrid: contemporary dance, the Kathak technique of north India, the female temple-court artists of south India. ‘” – New York Times
Her work includes both traditional and contemporary solo and group choreography. Parul’s New York studio is home to both the parul shah dance company and her training facility. With an M.A. in dance education from Columbia University specializing in Indian classical movement, Parul has been teaching Kathak in the pure form for over 20 years. She has presented her solo and group works at major venues around the world, including City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, Asia Society in New York, Jacobs Pillow in MA and at the Japan Forum Foundation in Japan. She has collaborated on numerous international projects and presented in Asia, Europe, and North America.
Qian Yi is internationally renowned for performing the lead role of the epic 20-hour production of The Peony Pavilion, which was presented at Lincoln Center Festival in 1999 and Spoleto Festival USA in 2004. Her performance has been widely acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, garnering such superlatives as “radiant” (The New York Times), “incomparable” (The Wall Street Journal), and “spellbinding” (New York magazine). She has starred in numerous re-workings of Chinese opera for Western theater including Ghost Lovers (Spoleto Festival USA 2002), The Orphan of Zhao, and Snow in June; the Chinese Ministry of Culture recognized her as one of the country’s finest young kunqu actors. In 2008, she had her Western opera premiere, singing a leading role in the San Francisco Opera’s new production of Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter. She is currently singing the leading role in the new installation opera creation, Paradise Interrupted (Spoleto Festival 2015 and Lincoln Center Festival 2016). Qian Yi has written two plays: A Robe for the Moon, which was performed at The Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage festival; and Moonlight Meditation, which is currently in workshop development.
David Michalek was born and raised in California. He lives and works in New York City. Michalek’s body of work ranges from photography, drawing, video/sound installations and live performance to site-specific works of public art. His focus over the past ten years has been closely tied to his interest in the contemporary person, which he explores through the use of performance techniques, storytelling, movement and gesture. He conceives of the human body as a metaphor for society, religion, politics and sexuality.
Can’t make it to this program? Tune in to AsiaSociety.org/Live on Wednesday, June 24 at 6:30 pm New York time for a free live video webcast.
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