Balancing Choreography with Dancing

Q&A with Soloist Wei Wang

SF Ballet has a well-earned reputation for commissioning new works, but the institution’s emphasis on choreography begins earlier—at SF Ballet School. Most recently, the School launched a pilot program for a traineeship in choreography to nurture up-and-comers and connect them with established professionals in the field. Also, as part of the Trainee curriculum, Trainees are guided by Associate Director Patrick Armand and Faculty Member Wendy Van Dyck to try their hand at choreography. The Trainees choreograph on each other and present their new works in the spring, to a small group of donors, volunteers, faculty, and staff.

Recently promoted Soloist Wei Wang was one of those School students whose interest in choreography began in the School, although he did not choreograph until he became a professional dancer. Even with a busy schedule performing as a full-time Company member, Wei has found a way to develop his craft during his limited free time. We sat down with him to learn what it’s like being a dancer AND a choreographer and to learn about his experience creating Focus for the Trainees’ 2016 Student Showcase performance. 

Wei Wang in Caniparoli's Lambarena // © Erik Tomasson

How does being a choreographer affect you as a dancer?
Now I fully empathize with the choreographers I work with—I can tell when he or she is having a difficult day and things aren’t coming together. Rather than getting frustrated, I can relate and realize that tomorrow will be better. I’ve had such amazing opportunities to work with all of the choreographers Helgi has brought to SF Ballet that I am inspired to do more. I would encourage any dancer who has an interest in choreography to just do it. You will find out more about yourself and how to express yourself to the world.

What inspired your interest in choreography?
I first became interested in choreography in 2011 when Disha Zhang created a piece on me for a competition. I became interested again when I joined SF Ballet and had the opportunity to be a part of the choreographic process with Yuri Possokhov and Liam Scarlett, when they created new works for the Company.

SF Ballet Trainees in Wang's Focus // © Chris Hardy

You choreographed Focus for the SF Ballet School Trainees. What was your inspiration there?
For Focus, my initial inspiration came from listening to Max Richter’s “The Trees,” and my movement inspiration came from observing people talk and interact. I feel my choreography expresses how one engages with his or her community or environment.

What did the Trainees bring to your choreographic process?
I enjoyed working with the Trainees because I could see myself in them. As a student, you’re so focused on executing each step that you’re not able to take a step back and see how they fit together. During rehearsals, I gave the Trainees some phrases to work with, and I watched how they interpreted the movement. Only afterward, would I pick and pull elements together.

The students had such a desire to learn and try new things, that without knowing it, they provided a huge source of encouragement for me.

How was the experience overall?
At one point in the process I became extremely frustrated. I was stuck. I had finished choreographing solos for each dancer and was starting a series of pas de deuxs. I found that the movement within them was not consistent with the movement in the solos, so I tried to go back and fix the solos. It was confusing and frustrating for me and the dancers to make all of these changes.

A friend and a fellow Company member who was assisting me in the studio told me to stop and just let it be. I followed his advice, moved on, and finished the final sections of the work. Ultimately, everything worked out with the original solos and I didn’t have to make major changes. During the final rehearsals I was very nervous, but when the performance came around, I felt relaxed knowing that it was in the dancers’ hands. Their performance moved me and left me invigorated to do more.