Don’t let Steffi Cheong’s petite build fool you—onstage, she can unleash fierce physicality as readily as the most delicate gesture. Now in her third season with San Francisco’s ODC/Dance, Cheong is coming into her own in the intellectually rigorous, intensely technical works created by artistic directors Brenda Way, KT Nelson and Kimi Okada.
Cheong has been turning heads since she joined ODC in 2013. Photo by Andrew Weeks, Courtesy ODC.
Hometown: Murray Hill, New Jersey
Training: Ballet and modern at New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble; BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase
Becoming a collaborator: Cheong relishes ODC’s collaborative method, with the dancers generating movement for the directors to refine into new work. It’s a 180-degree change from the choreographer-directed rehearsals she was used to at her previous company, DanceWorks Chicago. The challenge has enriched her artistry: “I have to dig deeper,” she says.
Moving in the moment: During a Springboard Danse Montréal workshop in college, Cheong fell in love with improvising. “That’s where I really learned to let go and find myself,” she says. “Discovering different ways that your body can move, and listening to different kinds of music, creates a new tempo in your head.” She still takes classes when she has time.
What Brenda Way is saying: “Steffi is not just another dancer in a group—you feel her presence. In her first season, people said ‘Who’s the new girl?’ ”
Property master: ODC’s intricate multimedia works can include moving sets, wheeled vehicles, confetti and projections. Cheong says that rather than distracting her onstage, these props enhance her experience. “Dancers are so attentive to their surroundings during live performance,” she says. “If there’s another element thrown in, it just opens another facet of attentiveness.”
Inner strength: Way praises Cheong’s technical elegance as well as her emotional resilience, a prerequisite for ODC’s demanding creation process. She says, “The number of ideas we try and throw away—you have to be strong.”