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Lily Eng, Woman Warrior at Reel Asian Film Festival on Nov. 10th


donna g: Performance art is something that is often baffling to the public. How would you describe what you do to those who don’t have your artistic background and training?

Lily Eng: I am an experimental choreographer who uses the dynamics of martial arts to articulate movement in unique, emotive, and personal ways. At the core of my movement scope of practice is the desire to take my internal landscape and extract it externally.

donna g: You have training in more traditional dance forms such as classical and modern ballet. What drew you to this more experimental style of artistic expression? Did you have to “unlearn” traditional dance techniques? How the body moves in classical ballet is different from how it moves in modern ballet, let alone experimental dance, so how did you adapt to the new methods of movement?

Lily Eng: The common denominator that runs through my disciplined art/body-oriented forms is a strong disciplined foundation. I take everything (martial arts, modern dance, ballet …) I have learnt as my resource library of movement knowledge.

I have more upper body strength than say a ballet dancer because of my extensive kung fu training. The way I articulate my body in performance is very evident of how my muscles have developed to handle specific tasks of loading, and what it can and cannot handle.

For me, it was not a matter of unlearning dance techniques, but rather of encompassing and incorporating additional artistic and movement styles that presented themselves. My experimentation has allowed for advancement of a particular dance/movement personal style that is still highly relevant to me.

donna g: Growing up in Blind River, Ontario, did you ever dream that you would one day perform in such places as Sweden, Scotland, England and Italy? Or did that dream take form when you moved to Toronto at age 10?

Lily Eng: No, I didn’t know I would travel to such places when I was young, but I did know by 6-years of age, that I wanted to be a dancer. This was quite interesting because my small town and the surrounding areas did not even have a dance school. The travelling came about when I started dancing.

donna g: How supportive was your family/friends in regards to your career choice?

Lily Eng: I think they were rather surprised, as no one in our family came from a dance background or had dance training. However, my mother loved Chinese opera, so she had a very strong artistic slant. I got my love of the arts from her.

donna g: You formed Missing Associates with Peter Dudar in 1972. Where did the name come from and how was it different from other groups of that generation?

Lily Eng: Missing Associates is a tongue-in-cheek name and is a pun on my name. Peter Dudar and I are the constants of Missing Associates. Everyone else is missing until we ask him or her for his or her input.

Peter and I were able to explore creativity and the arts in ways that were quite innovative, and yet relevant to us. We were very multi-disciplinary in our approach and were rigorous in “pushing our own envelopes.”

There was a time when we used people who had no formal training to work with us so as to get to their “real and true” performance essence, albeit with their hesitant awkwardness, while being put on the spot in these speaking pieces that were unrehearsed and off-the-cuff conversations that enlightening and sometimes quite humorous.

A lot of my earlier works are endurance pieces. The audience can see me sweating, hear my laboured breathing; they can see I am getting tired. This runs contrary to what you would expect about “performance.” You are not supposed to see a sweaty brow because it is all effortless.

donna g: How was it, transitioning to solo performances?

Lily Eng: It wasn’t hard because I have always been very comfortable as a solo performer, and solo work has been my forte. However, this may change.

donna g: What inspired you to develop the piece, “But Women Did Come: 150 Years of Chinese Women to North America”? Was it a commissioned piece or something stemming from a more personal urge?

Lily Eng: "But Women Did Come: 150 Years of Chinese Women to North America" was a travelling pictorial show that ran concurrent with the American sister show, to promote the contribution of Chinese women in Canada. I was the opening performer for the show when it first came Toronto. My picture was included along with the other Chinese women in the show.

donna g: Congratulations on your work being highlighted in the festival’s “Lily Eng: Reel Asian Canadian Woman Warrior”. The dance/art world certainly knows your name, but how do you think your Kung Fu students will react to seeing your various performances on screen?

Lily Eng: They will love it and laugh when they see me sparring and kicking ass in several of the films.

Nov. 8 - 13 Toronto; Nov. 18-19 Richmond Hill
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