Peggy Choy in "Flight"
Transcendent Phases of Life
those two different groups together to perform ‘THE GREATEST!’”
Due to budgetary and other constraints, full-night dance productions involving several dancers can be like Buddhist sand
mandala that are created and meant to be enjoyed for the moment and then the sand is dispersed and the art never to be
“It’s difficult to continue to create full-evening works because you need the capital to mount productions,” Choy said. “Anytime
you wish to create work for a group, it is expensive. Of course, I would love to perform it ‘THE GREATEST!’ again. When there
was more money for the arts, I could tour my full-evening productions to several states. I would be asked to make multiple
performances in New York City. That was a different era, however. In these times, I feel lucky to have the possibility or the
opportunity to perform even one run. Since I don’t have a large team of people working for me, I am the publicist,
choreographer, director, and often perform. All of this takes time—to spread the word, to make connections to perform again
somewhere in the world.”
Choy continues to push the boundaries of her art.
“This past seven years has been a wonderful opportunity to further develop my dance style and to deepen my vision,” Choy
said. “At this point, my style fuses diverse forms of movement—from martial arts, contemporary dance, African and Asian
forms, as well as urban vernacular dance forms —including breaking, popping, and other forms that are usually associated
with ‘hip-hop’ culture. The dancers each have their own expertise in several of the forms I’ve mentioned. I have worked to
build an understanding that we’re all on the same level. There’s no hierarchy of ‘high art’ versus ‘low art’ as we view each
other’s expertise. We’re all on the same page and we respect what each artist brings to the table. Each artist comes with their
toolbox of skills. I structure the choreography such that there is room for dancers to deeply express their own unique sense of
what it means to move as an artist. The work comes from my vision but I acknowledge that we are building a story together.”
There is also a sense of spiritualism in her work.
“I have been building an aspect of my dance and choreography that integrates qi (inner life-force energy), that incorporates a
health aspect that perhaps can help people to live in a better, more healthful way,” Coy said. “The thread that continues for me
is that performance can inspire us to be healthier, to work for a healthier planet, that is inseparable from being part of a
movement towards greater social justice and social change.”
Choy’s newest production, FLIGHT, premiered in January at the Kumble Theater in Brooklyn, New York. FLIGHT, based on a
Persian poem, is a timeless concept that could even be applied to the immigrants of Central America and Mexico today. The
music was composed by Graham Hayes, the same composer who did the music for ‘THE GREATEST!’ Haynes had traveled
to Morocco to play with members of the sufi brotherhood. It was an experience that fit in well with the feel of ‘FLIGHT.’
“’FLIGHT’ is inspired by a 12th century Persian poem, Conference of the Birds, by Farid ud-Din Attar who lived in what is now
Iran,” Choy said. “His poem is a sufi allegory about the world’s birds going on a long journey to find their king. I was inspired
by the poem’s challenge of living with profound love at all costs. The focus of the scenario I created in collaboration with
poet/playwright Ruth Margraff—is the world’s birds take a dangerous flight to find the Wondrous Rose of Love. Leaving behind
their attachments, comforts and habits in search of this rose of ultimate love, only a few birds complete the journey. The
challenge is from a sufi perspective—who is willing to live a life completely devoted to selfless love?”
True art is ageless in its expression of the human condition.
Next issue: The creative process
UW Professor Peggy Choy
PART 1 OF 2
By Jonathan Gramling
There have been several phases to UW-Madison Professor Peggy Choy’s career,
balancing life and career. When she first came to Madison in 1982 as an
administrator at the Center for Southeast Studies, Choy had to balance career and
family, often times blending the two.
“When my children were coming up through the school system from preschool
through high school, I was committed to bringing dance into the schools,” Choy said.
“I also connected with community groups through my dance—for example with the
Mary Bethune Club, and with the Bayview Neighborhood Center in cooperation with
director David Haas. I had gotten almost every campus grant that was available to
non-faculty, and had already toured outside the state.”
As her children left the nest, Choy was able to devote more of her time to her career
|Peggy Choy performing in Flight
and began the tenure process as an assistant professor in Dance and Asian American Studies in 2009. It was time for Choy
to branch out and establish herself as a choreographer, dancer and artist in the international dance community.
“I had connections with artists in New York, and set a goal of starting a dance company in New York called Peggy Choy
Dance,” Choy said. “The past seven years have been about stretching my wings in that way and building a dance presence in
New York City. Alongside performing in New York, I also was fortunate to receive invitations to perform outside of the country. I
was able to perform in Prague, Havana and Germany.”
One of the pieces that Choy produced during this period was THE GREATEST, a
tribute to Muhammad Ali. Choy’s technique was grounded in martial arts and Asian
dance, but she was always willing to expand her parameters and explore new
dance genres and techniques.
“The Muhammad Ali project — ‘THE GREATEST! Hip Dance Homage to
Muhammad Ali’ was more than two years in the making,” Choy said. “I challenged
myself to be inspired by an icon whose life was not only about being a great athlete,
but also being a great human being fighting for justice for his community and for the
world. His energy came from a deep place of love; we can’t overlook this aspect.
That was part of his source of energy in the ring and outside of the ring. I chose to
pay homage to an African American fighter who was very different from me.
However, there were certain intersections. He danced as well as boxed. He was
musical in his movements, in his fighting style and the way he spoke. I think he was
a highly creative athlete and human being who felt a resonance with Asian culture,
Asian issues. For example, he wouldn’t go to Vietnam to kill his ‘yellow brothers.’
That was part of my choosing to pay homage to him because of his willingness to
step beyond himself and his own culture, and speak out without fear. He had a
profound, world-wide effect. In creating the dance, I jumped into the New York hip-
hop world and the boxing world. I chose to work with b-boys and boxers. I brought