10,000 Dreams Recognizes Asian Choreographers, Past and Present

June 14, 2024

This summer, a special program will grace The Kennedy Center June 18–23. A showcase of today’s leading Asian and Asian American choreographers, 10,000 Dreams: A Celebration of Asian Choreography will also honor the legacy of trailblazing choreographer Choo San Goh. Curated by The Kennedy Center and Phil Chan, a Kennedy Center “Next 50 leader and Final Bow for Yellowface co-founder, the event will feature a gala and two mixed-repertory programs performed by The Washington Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Singapore Ballet, Goh Ballet, Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company, Ballet West, Houston Ballet, and the National Ballet of China. 

“10,000 is the biggest number in a lot of Asian languages,” explains Chan. “It means an outlet for Asian American excellence, and that’s really what this festival stands for.” 

The festival has been three years in the making. In 2021, Final Bow organized the 10,000 Dreams Virtual Choreography Festival, which spotlighted an AAPI choreographer each day in May. With it came a challenge to artistic directors of ballet companies around the world: Commission an Asian choreographer by 2025. This month, each of those partnerships will be featured at The Kennedy Center as Ballet West performs Caili Quan’s Play on Impulse and Zhong-Jing Fang’s Somewhere in Time, and The Washington Ballet presents home-coming, by Brett Ishida. 

  • A candid black and white close-up photo shows Phil Chan laughing as he rehearses two dancers, one male and one female, whose backs face the camera.
  • Onstage in front of a light purple background, four dancers progress across the stage carrying large orange pieces of fabric, the two in the front leading with the female dancer lifted on her partner's shoulders.
  • Caili Quan leads a rehearsal at Ballet West, the bright studio packed with dancers in various rehearsal attire.
  • Onstage, a large group of dancers make the same pose: knees bent, tilting to the right, arms covering their eyes. They wear long dresses, shirts, and pants in various solid colors and antlers on their heads.
  • On a darkly lit stage, four female and two male dancers walk toward the right, the females on pointe and with their arms curving overhead.

The festival will also include works by Chan, Edwaard Liang, Georgina Pazcoguin, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, and Disha Zhang. Ahead of the program, a free film screening on June 14 will show 10 short dance films and documentaries that highlight the stories of Asian artists or feature directorship or choreography by members of the AAPI community. On June 19, Chan, Liang, Soon Burgess, and Pazcoguin will participate in a panel discussing how their identities and life journeys have shaped their choreographic processes. 

Celebrating a Ballet Legend

A greyscale headshot of a young Choo San Goh shows him smiling in a white button-up.
Choo San Goh. Photo courtesy Singapore Ballet.

A June 21 gala will honor the Singapore-born choreographer Choo San Goh (1948–87), one of the most sought-after dancemakers of his time. Goh danced professionally with Dutch National Ballet in the early 1970s, and in 1976 he began his nearly decade-long role as resident choreographer of The Washington Ballet, choreographing 19 ballets for the company and becoming its associate artistic director. He also choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Paris Opéra Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Boston Ballet, among others. In 1981, he was commissioned by Mikhail Baryshnikov to create Configurations for American Ballet Theatre. 

The gala will feature three of Goh’s works. Momentum, performed by the Singapore Ballet, won the first prize for choreography at the International Ballet Competition in Varna in 1983. Goh’s most well-known piece, Fives, will be performed by TWB and showcases his trademark dynamics, musicality, and fast pace. Ballade was originally choreographed on five young dancers, including Goh’s niece, Chan Hon Goh. Ballade has not been performed in the past 30 years, and, in a poignant gesture, Chan Hon has set the piece on dancers from the National Ballet of China to honor her late uncle. (Chan Hon rose to prominence in her own ballet career, becoming the first Chinese Canadian principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada.)

Janek Schergen, artistic director of Singapore Ballet and the Choo San Goh and H. Robert Magee Foundation, was Goh’s good friend and colleague at TWB. “He didn’t create in the mold of anybody else,” says Schergen of Goh’s choreographic style. “He had his own vocabulary. He was intensely musical; his structure was very symphonic. Because TWB was new [when he was chosen as resident choreographer], he had to turn them into professional dancers using his ballets, and he did.”

  • Six male members of Singapore Ballet are suspended mid-air in a split sissonne, wearing ombre white-to-grey biketards.
  • A sepia close-up shows Janek Schergen and Choo San Goh smiling together, pictured chest-up.

Maintaining Momentum

Chan recognizes the Oakland Ballet for being the first American company to feature a program dedicated entirely to Asian choreographers: the 2022 Dancing Moons Festival. Chan was recently appointed the company’s artist in residence, and he hopes to continue doing more festivals like 10,000 Dreams around the country. But his long-term goal is that special events just for AAPI choreographers won’t be needed.

“I want to get to a place where we don’t have to ask, ‘Do we have enough Asians on the program?’ ” says Chan. “Where it’s just not an issue, because of course [a company] would have an Asian [choreographer]—because she’s amazing and the company wants her in the repertory, not because they have a box to fill. The talent is there and is doing the work.”