Supporting Smuin Ballet: An Interview with the Chens

The holiday season is in full swing, and Saturday evening’s show of The Christmas Ballet at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts was a night to remember! This performance featured a walk-on appearance from Patti Chen, a member of the Golden State Warriors’ Jr. Jam Squad. At the end of our show, Patti danced a short hip-hop phrase with Company members Ben Needham-Wood and Weston Krukow.

Why did Patti grace our stage? As a nonprofit organization, Smuin Ballet relies on the generosity of patrons and donors. Patti’s parents—and longtime Smuin fans—An and Clement Chen bid on a Christmas Ballet walk on role at our 2015 Gala.

The Chens’ relationship with Smuin Ballet runs even deeper. Clement and An were first entranced by the 1999 performance of Smuin Ballet’s Carmina Burana, which they learned about in an ad in the newspaper. The Chens initially connected with Michael during a dinner conversation, but a real friendship blossomed after he met their daughter Patti, then age 2. An commented, “We didn’t know she was going to be a dancer, but Michael saw something in her. He wanted her next to him at the ballets, and onstage with him.”

Clement recalled a special moment with Michael during The Christmas Ballet, several years after they began supporting the Company: “We were seated in the third row to hold the umbrellas for the snow during “White Christmas.”” An noted: “After the show, we toured backstage and Patti had a snowball fight with Michael!” Sharing other stories of the Company through the years, she noted: “Smuin Ballet has watched Patti grow up. It’s more than just a company–it’s a family.” Patti said her relationship with Michael inspired her as a dancer: “He’s the one who pushed me to start dancing.”

Clement recalled concern following Michael’s passing in 2007: “Would the company be able to keep going and thriving?” The company’s resilience and growth following the tragedy continues to inspire An: “We still feel Michael’s presence in our lives. We want to help

[Artistic Director] Celia [Fushille] continue to see Michael’s dream played out, and be a part of that next step.”

The Chens support Smuin Ballet and are excited to see where the company will go in the future. “We think the company is a great asset to the community. It still has a lot more opportunity and potential to grow and build a bigger audience,” Clement commented. “The great thing about Smuin Ballet is that it is accessible to everybody.”

The Chens hope to support the company in the creation of new work and to spread the Smuin style to up-and-coming dancers. An shared, “The company is doing a great job of retaining Michael’s work while bringing in work from new choreographers. The fresh work [that Smuin Ballet presents] keeps us coming back, like pieces by Amy [Seiwert] and Ben [Needham-Wood].” Clement added, “I think it’s fascinating how the company just keeps growing and becoming more innovative and more current.”

Donors like the Chens are essential to ensuring the future of dance in the Bay Area. Please join them this holiday season by giving to Smuin Ballet and making a difference in the San Francisco arts community.


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