Catching Up With Richard

18 May

When the Paul Taylor Company appears on San Francisco Performances annual roster of events , it’s a safe bet that Richard Chen See will be around at some point, even though he no longer is a member of Taylor’s main company.  The reason is that Caribbean island-born Chen See has a fair portion of dance history in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Richard first came to my attention as a member of Oakland Ballet.  During his tenure in the East Bay I remember two dances he created, both danced at Laney College if my memory is accurate, and both concerned with his background as a Chinese.  The overseas inference was not explicit, but what intrigued me were two features, which I honestly forget appeared in one or both of the dances.  One was his use of Chinese theatrical convention; a red table fulfilling multiple uses, and the other a memory of and tribute to one of his grandmothers.  Mixed with his acrobatic-movement skills, I remember being satisfied and elated at seeing both works and wanting to see more.

I forget, honestly, what he danced in for Ronn Guidi in Oakland Ballet, although I seem to remember he participated in one of the seasons when Marc Wilde’s version of  Maurice Ravel’sf Bolero was part of the repertoire.  But what I clearly enjoyed was a very brief showing of Shan Yee Poon’s production of Fred Ho’s jazz score about Monkey, the beloved Chinese story of the trouble Monkey got into when he stole peaches from the Pear Garden in the West and was sent to India to bring back the Tripataka to China.  Jack Chen had commissioned the score and Poon danced Spider Woman, one of her last performances as she was starting her ballet school in San Francisco.  Richard was Monkey,a thoroughly engaging one;  I’ve longed to see a new production of the unlikely but lively score.  At one point after the production, I remember Shan Yee Poon and Richard discussing the rigors of their training at The Royal Ballet School at a time when being Asian permitted training but exclusion from becoming a member of the company dancing at Covent Garden.

Somewhere about this time Richard threw a party at his apartment, fashioned out of a spacious downstairs room of a Victorian home.  The edifice was tucked away on a narrow street in Oakland, ending in this surprising structure.  According to Richard, the house had been constructed by a retired sea captain on a lot which provided him with an unobstructed view to San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate.  Clearly time and real estate ventures changed the environment and the house.  But it was typical of Richard to know the details.

Shortly after that short jazz-based production, Richard  joined ODC briefly, before becoming a member of Paul Taylor’s group for  close to a decade if not longer. {My notes are scattered, the written ones not meticulous.]  On the side he took up kayaking, and, as his career with Taylor was winding down, Richard  became affiliated with the New York International Ballet Competition [NYIBC] and was slated to succeed executive director Ilona Copen, then dying of cancer. It seemed an obvious fit.

I don’t know how long he remained as executive director of the NYIBC but the reasons for the brevity seemed cogent and logical when mentioned in 2011. (This January NYIBC’s executive director  announced there would be no 2013 NYIBC competition.)  Richard then delved into a master’s program in dance with Hollins University and The American Dance Festival.  When he lived in the East Bay  Richard studied international business at U.C., Berkeley but did not complete that degree.

Chatting with Richard the final Taylor matinee in San Francisco he said he was heading to Beijing to set Paul Taylor’s Company B at the National Ballet Academy.  H expected to be gone four weeks, spending two weeks teaching the ballet, a week polishing the work and then a week exploring Beijing.  What a fitting chapter in Richard Chen See’s career.

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