Way Out West: Su-Feh Lee

Su-Feh Lee is this week’s WOW featured instructor, and she is a rock ’em, sock ’em, one woman wonder.

I met Su-feh over ten years ago, when she taught me Tai Chi, Pilates and Martial Arts during my theatre degree at Simon Fraser University. When she was pregnant with her son Junhong, we used to make jokes over beers that he was probably doing martial arts drills inside the womb, and that no matter how pregnant Su-feh was, she could still take on any asshole who tried to steal her purse in a back alley knife fight.

As one half of Vancouver company Battery Opera, Su-feh makes dances, teaches dance and Martial Arts, held the So You Think You Don’t Folk Dance symposium two years ago, and is touring with her own solo show The Whole Beast. Current projects include a duet for plastic orchid factory, a duet for Jung-Ah Chung and herself; and a couple of research projects involving objects and contraptions. Soon she will be working alongside Benoit Lachambre on a new duet version of their “audacious” work from 2008, Body Scan. Check out the awesome-ness that is Battery Opera at batteryopera.com

Below are some of her thoughts:

Why do you choreograph? What keeps you engaged in making dance?

These days I often wonder why I choreograph. I have many questions and conflicts about dance as an artform – I love it and I hate it.

I love it because I believe in dance as a practice of the body that connects human beings to the world around them – both the world they know and the world they don’t know.

I hate it because as an artform, dance is mired in the power structures and hierarchies of middle-class anxieties and consumption, and often seems impotent to challenge the assumptions of this world.

I keep making dance because I am engaged by the wonder of the human body.
And dance is the only way I know how to reveal this wonder.

When I say, “I am going to dance for you”, I would like it to mean not that “I will dance for your eyes” but instead, to mean, “I will dance on your behalf: I will dance you to the world around you”.
This quest is what keeps me engaged in dance.

How does improvisation influence your work as a choreographer / performer?

Improvisation is a tool for me to engage with the present.
In the studio, it is a tool to observe my body (or the bodies of dancers) in space and its impulses that day.

In performance, it is a tool to observe the space and the people in it – fellow performers and audience – and to negotiate between space and the space(s) found in the studio.

What’s turning you on right now? What are you doing, thinking, reading, dancing that is making you inspired?

I am reading “The Resettlement of British Columbia: Essays on Colonialism and Geographical Change” by Cole Harris. I am also reading Ryszard Kapuscinski’s “Travels with Herodotus” and recently finshed VS Naipaul’s “Literary Occations” – both collections of essays that deal with dislocation, colonialism, multiple views of the world.

I am thinking about the layers of history that I carry in my body as part of a diasporaic culture and I am thinking about how to negotiate that body with all the layers of history in the place where I am, say, British Columbia. I am arriving here after having been here for more thn 20 years and part of this arriving is realizing that much of the current mythologies we live with about BC and about Canada involve denying or forgetting much of what has happened.

I think about the things we choose to remember and the things we forget. Similarly, there are the things we choose to reveal as well as the things we mask. I am working with the gaze as a sensation to be danced with.

Layers of history, layers of coverings, the gaze of the world, as well as the gaze of the artist upon the world are what I am thinking of right now.

And of course, always, always, I am thinking about food and sex. These things can always be relied upon to inspire me. Because you gotta eat. Gotta fuck. Gotta dance.

Su-feh Lee is teaching The Mystery of Making a Dance, August 28th and 29th from 3-7pm at Way out West. She will also be a speaker August 25th from 7-9:30pm at Way Out West, where she will be discussing The Dichotomy of Creation alongside Susan Elliot, Jennifer Mascall, and Ruth Zapporah. Way OUt West is held at St.Paul’s Church, 1130 Jervis Street. For more info and to register email Tanya Marquardt at wowclasses@gmail.com or go to mascalldance.ca