Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Theresa Fung is a study in contrasts. She’s an arresting dancer on the stage . . . and a staid teacher in the classroom. She’s an uninhibited world-travelling scuba diver . . . who protectively holds her students’ hands. She rhymes off pedagogical theory in one breath . . . and whispers a naughty joke in the next. She is at once alert and carefree, potent and patient.
How can these paradoxes coexist in one person?
It’s difficult to say, yet these paradoxes are the allure that bridges stage and classroom, two venues that require equal levels of artistry. As anyone who knows Theresa can attest, her choreographed movements and lessons draw the eye of pupils and audiences alike. And no company or class that she is in is ever dull.
On March 13, audiences can see her perform in Little Pear Garden Collective’s (LPGC) critically-acclaimed production, “Bitter Tea.” Jointly choreographed by Jeffrey Chan and Jack Shi, “Bitter Tea” is a contemporary dance work based on the life story of Ruan Lingyu, a prominent Chinese silent-movie actress of the 1930s.
So…how can a life be “told” through dance? “Bitter Tea,” which Theresa describes as a “movement biography,” expresses Lingyu’s life experiences through a series of acts. Dancers coming in and out of her life, as abstract entities, reflect her many emotions, from love, lust to turmoil. Her life unfolds in a series of movement-based experiences that eventually lead to her demise. The main character/dancer Ruan, performed by Emily Cheung, tells her story through realistic acting/dancing scenes. “The interpretation of these scenes,” Theresa says, “is entirely personal. As with any type of performance, what an audience member takes away are their impressions and how they were able to connect to what they experienced.”
This performance marks Theresa’s return to the professional stage after an unexpected knee injury forced a hiatus last winter. After several months of rest, recuperation and physio, she’s back and ready to tackle the choreographic and acting demands of “Bitter Tea.” And this is a relief and thrill to Theresa who, having graduated from York University’s Fine Arts-Dance program in 2002, breathes dance. In fact, it was at York that she first met Little Pear Garden Collective’s founding artistic director Emily Cheung, her classmate in the program.
“Emily was auditioning dancers for the company several years back. Upon hearing about the audition and not having danced professionally for many years, I decided that I wanted to dance again, and this was a possible outlet.”
Though Theresa’s training is in western dance, her work with LPGC has allowed her to become versed in traditional Chinese dance while adding to her repertoire of contemporary dance. As Theresa is a Chinese Canadian, dancing with LPGC has also given her the opportunity to learn more about the traditional dances and the folklore within the performing arts of Chinese culture. “Dance is universal and accessible,” Theresa muses. “With LPGC, I’ve had the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of some Chinese dance-movement vocabularies as well as several theoretical frameworks, like breathing, balance, ying-yang, story lines, traditions, all related to traditional Chinese dance. I have also had the opportunity to share this type of cultural performing arts with others, which gives them a chance to learn about and take a small glimpse into the Chinese fine-arts culture.”
And how do dance and education intersect? They not only interconnect, Theresa insists. One informs the other. “The skills that dance training has taught me that I also use as a teacher would definitely be…to question, to be persistent, reflective, observant, a team-player and mentor.” Dance is also a confidence builder that inspires a healthy and active lifestyle. It teaches persistence, determination and to be hard-working because it takes time and effort to learn, remember and feel a piece of choreography. All of these are also keys to connecting with students, being a role model and inspiring a can-do attitude.
We can’t all be so lucky as to experience Theresa the teacher in her public school classroom. But after a long absence, we have a not-to-be-missed opportunity on March 13 to access Theresa the dancer in “Bitter Tea.”
News You Can Use
What: “Bitter Tea,” joint choreography by Jeffrey Chan and Jack Shi, performed by Little Pear Garden Collective
When: Friday March 13, 2015, 8:00 PM
Where: Flato Markham Theatre, 171 Town Centre Blvd, Markham ON
For tickets: MarkhamTheatre.ca or 905-305-7469
© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya