Martha Graham Dance Company leading lady PeiJu Chien-Pott has been turning heads ever since she joined the company in 2011. Nominated this year for the Outstanding Performer Bessie Award, Taiwanese Chien-Pott is known for her striking lines and visceral power in both Graham and contemporary works.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series, and she told us the surprising story of how she earned her spot in the Graham Company:
What do you think is the most common misconception about dancers?
That dancers don't eat. Some of my friends cannot believe how much I eat.
What other career would you like to try?
Fashion designer and graphic designer. I enjoy compositing beautiful images and letting my creativity bloom.
What was the last dance performance you saw?
Mettawee River Theater Company at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. I'm a big fan of artistic director Ralph Lee, who is an amazing mask and puppet maker.
What's the most-played song on your phone?
Stravinsky's Rite of Spring is a great way to start my day and pump up my spirit! Martha Graham's Rite of Spring is one of my favorite ballets to dance, and I'm performing The Chosen One in April.
Do you have a pre-performance ritual?
I usually arrive at the theater much earlier than the call time. I set up my dressing room to create a feels-like-home space. I do my makeup and hair while I listen to some calm music. And right before I get onstage, I meditate for five minutes and "talk" to Martha. Finally, I give the stage a kiss.
What's your favorite book?
Mats Ek by Lesley Leslie-Spinks, which is a photography book I got when I was in Stockholm working with Ek and his wife Ana Laguna on the duet AXE. Another is Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer. The book is so useful—there's not only recipes but Western dining etiquette which is fascinating for me.
Where can you be found two hours after a performance ends?
If the performance is in New York, I run back home for my daughter. When on tour, if there's a show the next day, I usually head straight to my bed. If not, I hang out with my bestie at my hotel room eating and watching horror movies.
Where did you last vacation?
Mount Desert Island, Maine. I spend some time there with my family every summer trying to soak in nature as much as I can, while my daughter attends summer camp at Acadia National Park.
What app do you spend the most time on?
LINE, which I use to stay in touch with my family and friends from Taiwan.
Who is the person you most want to dance with—living or dead?
Man-fei Lo. She was one of my dance teachers at the Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan. She passed away on the day of my graduation performance. I wish she could see how I transformed through my journey from Taiwan to New York. She was a stunning performer, and I wish we could share the stage together.
What's the first item on your bucket list?
I'm going to start with a lighter one, which is to ride a camel. After that is skydiving.
What's your go-to crosstraining routine?
Bikram yoga, bicycling and climbing stairs. I live on the top floor of a walk-up apartment.
What's the worst advice you've ever received?
"You will never be able to dance again after you have a child." As a matter of fact, I auditioned for the Martha Graham Dance Company twice, two years apart. The first audition was before I had my daughter, and I was not picked. The second time was right after I had my baby, and I was hired!
If you could relive one performance, what would it be?
Last year I performed Martha Graham's Errand into the Maze at the Havana International Ballet Festival. That was the second time the company ever performed in Cuba. The first time was in 1943. It was amazing to be part of the historic event and to let the Cuban audience witness the power of Graham's work after more than half a century.