Kelvin Vu could be the next big architect. With a degree from Yale University and a mind full of ideas, Vu could very well reimagine the world of urban design. He could also be the next member of the Batsheva Dance Company. At 25, Vu’s life has taken many unexpected turns, from moving across the country to moving across the world.
Born to Asian parents and raised in the United States, Vu spent a good part of his childhood on the ice, training to be a competitive figure skater.
Next week Vu, along with the other members of the Batsheva Ensemble, will premiere Project Secus by Ohad Naharin. The piece is a new collage of sections from previous works of Naharin’s.
Outlining his journey from skater to student to professional dancer, Vu says with a hint of nostalgia, “I stopped skating when I went to college.”
At Yale, he pursued a degree in architecture.
“I picked up dance as a hobby because I needed something to stay active. When I was a freshman, I auditioned for a student company. I was an awful dancer,” he laughs. “I had no experience at all in dance. I was strong and flexible from skating and because I was a man, they took me on.”
The hobby gradually became more and more central in Vu’s life, propelling him to join a conservatory in San Francisco after graduation.
“While I was at Yale, I was certain that I was going to go on to get a graduate degree in architecture. I felt that I needed to continue to explore dance and that everything else could wait,” he says.
Luckily for Vu, San Francisco is one of the Batsheva Dance Company’s regular tour stops.
“I went to see a performance of Max during my second year in California. I loved the show. I had never seen anything like it. Our conservatory had a few teachers from Batsheva who came to give a class.
Even more than the show, I fell in love with the way they taught,” he says.
A couple of months later, in what Vu describes as one of the most reckless moments of his life, he booked a ticket to Israel to attend the audition for the Ensemble.
“I don’t really know what I was thinking. It was very out of character for me, but luckily it worked out and I was offered a job,” says Vu. That summer, having spent a total of 48 hours in Tel Aviv, Vu packed up his belongings and moved to Israel.
Now in his second season in the Ensemble, Vu has learned a lot both in and out of the studio.
“This whole experience has been a collection of firsts. It’s my first full-time job, my first war, and my first time living outside of the United States. It’s also my first time as a minority. Where I went to school and grew up, there were a lot of Asian Americans. Here, I stand out a lot more. I have come to love this place and the people here and to love Israel for all its contradictions,” he says.
At work, Vu takes every opportunity to soak up information, be it from Naharin himself, company members, fellow Ensemble dancers or rehearsal directors. With its high turnover rate, the Ensemble is notorious for giving dancers a veritable cram session in performance. “Our learning curve is so steep. You see people really grow up and change, which is amazing. I enjoyed the steep learning curve in college and I feel it here, where the momentum is palpable,” he says.
Learning Project Secus was no different. The first part of the piece is comprised of three sections: George and Zalman (2006), Park (1999) and Bolero (2008). The second half of the evening, or Secus, is one-third of Naharin’s 2005 opus Three.
“We’ve received so much information for each movement and for each piece. The challenge for any dancer is to take this movement and infuse himself in it. We’ve seen these sections done by former Batsheva superstars. It can be intimidating to try to fill these shoes, but it’s important to say ‘Now it’s my turn. I can bring something original to this material while keeping the integrity,’” he says.
Beyond learning the steps, Vu strives to understand the content of each phrase he dances.
“I develop my own ideas about each part. Bolero is about the different interactions between two peers. It can be competitive or cooperative. But it’s about finding two characters that can coexist. Part is wackier. It has singing and microphones; it’s like being a rock star, but an alien rock star. It has this sense of a very distinct groove and a coolness to it. George and Zalman is like five people going through five experiences individually. Secus, for me, is a whirlwind of movement. It’s a lot of dancers, a lot of movement and material and a lot of configurations.
It’s movement for movement’s fun,” he says.
Project Secus is the first premiere of the Ensemble’s 2014-2015 season.
Following these performances, the Ensemble will present Kamuyot, Deckaleh and, later in the season, Max.
‘Project Secus’ will run at the Suzanne Dellal Center on November 27, 28, 29, December 1, 2, 3, 17, 18, 19 and 20. For more information, visit www.batsheva.co.il.