There is a lot that must be done behind the scenes to make a world premiere happen. Especially when that premiere is being produced between two cities; Cleveland and New York. Phil Chan, General Manager of Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), the world’s largest student ballet competition, is making The Ashley Bouder Project a reality. Chan and Jessica Wallis (Director of Ballet in Cleveland) have exchanged endless emails and texts and have spent hours on the phone putting together the pieces of the puzzle that take shape before a Cleveland audience on October 25th.
Ballet in Cleveland intern Christina Uehlein spoke with Phil this July to learn more about him and how The Ashley Bouder Project is becoming a reality.
Christina Uehlein: How did you first become interested in dance and what is your dance background?
Phil Chan: When I was young I was on a flight with my mom and she sat by a dancer from Hong Kong. As a kid I had a lot of energy and a friend told my mother to put me in a dance class and every since then I have been dancing. I started to dance and got a scholarship with The Alvin Ailey School and have danced with several dance companies, I have been the producer of events, and worked with other dancers to help them find opportunities to perform.
CU: Who has had big influence in your career?
PC: My parents and Sergei Diaghilev because he took art, music, fashion, and dance and found a way to collaborate and unify all of them to work together. Also, the energy of New York City because it pushes art and dance beyond its limits and makes us ask questions such as “who are we, what are we trying to do, and how are we trying to answer those questions through art?”
CU: What is your favorite part about being in the dance world/industry?
PC: The strong community, everyone involved in the dance world is very passionate about dance and the art form. From the people behind the scenes to performers, the passion everyone shows being a part of the dance world is refreshing.
CU: Could you explain your day-to-day work with dancers?
PC: It changes everyday, working with YAGP funding, scholarships, videos, social media, and finding resources. As a producer, I am a communicator, I communicate with Ashley, Josh Beamish, and B Michael America. I communicate what Ashley’s ideas are with what Josh sees for the dance so they can share the same artistic vision and inspiration and work together.
CU: How many dancers are you the manager of/ I read that you manage individual dancers, can you tell me about the other dancers that you manage and what you do?
CU: What is it like working with Ashley Bouder? How do you both work together?
PC: I make sure she is able to focus on what she does best, dance, perform, her costumes, pointe shoes and I focus on everything else. I used to find opportunities for her to be a guest artist and perform at galas. She is a good friend, I believe in her, and we work together to make art.
CU: What is something that inspires you and motivates you in your career and day-to-day life?
PC: To think beyond myself and think bigger, how can I help others be successful. The spirit of service motivates me and drives me.
CU: Writing for the Huffington Post, do you feel you are able to inform the general public about dance and what is happening with Ballet?
PC: Definitely, it is a great platform and a mainstream way for people that may not know about dance to be informed. Read Phil’s article about the collaboration of Ballet in Cleveland and The Ashley Bouder Project here.
CU: What is the Youth America Grand Prix? And what is your role in it?
PC: In YAGP I am the general manager. I work as a producer, with social media, funding, grants, and donors. YAGP is a dance charity that finds ways to help the next generation of dancers. YAGP works to support future dancers and give them opportunities.
CU: The documentary First Position provided an inside view of YAGP, even though you were not a part of it during that time, what are your feelings of how that film showed ballet and YAGP?
PC: It is visible and accurate of what is it like for kids trying to make it as professional dancers and it shows how helpful YAGP can be for the kids. The film is emotional and you feel a connection to the dancers. It can be viewed on Netflix. Read more about First Position.
CU: Tell me the story about how you got connected with Ballet in Cleveland?
PC: Ashley reached out to Jessica after connecting through social media in July 2012. Ashley and Jessica stayed in touch and then Ashley and I did a master class with Ballet in Cleveland and we talked to Jessica about doing a work for Cleveland. We talked to supporters about it while we were there last November. We wanted to do a fresh piece. Ashley was able to pick what she wanted the piece to be and whom she wanted to work with. She is able to show her artistic side and her presenter side of classic ballet and contemporary ballet. Ashley is showing her love for ballet and she is being a guide to teach people about ballet.
CU: How would you describe The Ashley Bouder Project performance? What can the Cleveland audience members expect to see in the performance?
PC: The first half of the performance is classical ballet including work by Marius Petipa and neoclassical ballet by George Balanchine. The second half of the performance is a world premiere of 21st century ballet. It explores new ways of moving and seeing the human body. The relationship between the body and art is engaging for an audience to view. Cleveland audiences can expect to see how ballet has developed over the past 200 years. The first act will expose works of the past and the evening will culminate with the world premiere of Joshua Beamish’s brand new ballet in 2014.
CU: How did you come into contact with Ashley Bouder?
PC: At the YAGP Gala in 2007 when Ashley performed.
CU: How many years have you worked with Ashley?
PC: Since I met her in 2007.
CU: What is your favorite memory of working together?
PC: Every time I see her dance, I am inspired by her artistic ability and the way she moves and performs. Watching her perform and shine is something special. She is nothing like I have seen before. She pushes art in a new direction.
See Ashley Bouder dance here.
CU: How do you feel about bringing a world premiere project to Cleveland?
PC: I have family in Cleveland so I am very excited. It is a special treat for me to bring this to Cleveland. When I would dance in the Nutcracker it was always really exciting for me. I always thought someone in the audience could be viewing ballet for the first time and thinking this is the coolest thing I have ever seen or just become inspired by what they see from the experience. Everyone can understand dance and get something out of it. This performance is a high quality product that we are excited to bring to Cleveland.
CU: What is your favorite moment when viewing a ballet?
PC: When I am able to view a ballet performance and I can forget about the costumes, lights, and rehearsals and just enjoy the piece and see it all come together. I am able to see the magic and how beautiful it all is.
CU: If we were to look in your dance bag, what would we find?
PC: Dust, but when I used to perform you would find two pairs of shoes (white and nude), tights, a tennis ball, aspirin, and a book that has nothing to do with dance. I think it is important for dancers to know about history, sociology, and science because all the different knowledge lenses help them enhance their dance ability.
Phil’s dance background, admiration for Ashley, and bringing a high profile ballet to a city in which he has roots are all evidence that The Ashley Bouder Project will be epic. This exposé is a premiere that will give Cleveland audiences a look into the magic and beauty of ballet.
Written by Christina Uehlein, senior at Ohio University studying Dance and Communication Studies, her goal is to work in dance administration. This is her second summer as an intern with Ballet in Cleveland.