Interview: Five minutes with... Julia Cheng

Thursday 5 October 2017

Julia Cheng Orlando Warrior. Image by Zsuzsa Zico

Julia Cheng talks Virginia Woolf, martial arts and the spontaneity of performing with live music. She’ll be performing her work Orlando Warrior this weekend in the Clore Ballroom of Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall as part of China Changing Festival.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’ve been up to recently?

I am dance artist with training in a wide variety of movement disciplines with a specific interest in inter-disciplinary performance. I have just got back from Egypt where I was invited to choreograph presenting new work with a cast of female artists from Cairo, teach workshops and judge a dance battle for Breaking Walls Festival was funded by the British Council Cairo.

How did you come to make your new work Orlando Warrior?

It is an extension to an existing work in development called Warrior Queens, a House of Absolute company work that has been in development since Oct 2015 which was supported in development at Open Arts Surgery and subsequently performed as part of Breakin’ Convention 2016, Move It 2016 and Resolution 2017. One of the themes of a ‘modern day Mulan’ has been developing as an idea since 2010 when I was shortlisted for Blueprint Bursary prize at Stratford Circus East London Dance.

Is there meaning behind the name?

Yes it inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando that spans 300 years of a writer poet that experiences life in different realms, genders and situations. I also have drawn influences as mentioned by the myth of Mulan and resonated with the inner battle that resides within this character and the warrior spirit of a woman amongst an army of men fighting in place of her father.

The piece examines displacement and hybrid identity – tell us more about how you approached these themes and what inspired you to explore them:
I approach these themes through my own biographical true experiences of being, my nature and exploring myself as product of post-colonial hybrid identity that has formed my upbringing and lifestyle. A lot of my work is inspired by the research of the multiple sides of my identity, the journey of my lineage and gender deconstruction in plight of challenging ideas of conformity/non-conformity, freedom and difference.

Talk us through your creation process for the work:

I like to research and read a lot beforehand to clarify some optional avenues from my trails of thought. I annotate a lot and come to the studio with physical and mental framework to share with my collaborators, on this occasion it is just one musician and I. Together we explore the themes and carefully share the personal areas of which to delve further.

Another component of this particular process is learning martial arts teachings from a Shaolin Sifu from Henglong Wushu Club which will inform my approach to movement choices.

You’ll be performing with live music – can you tell us more about that and how it impacts on your performance?

I am working with sound designer and musician Simon McCorry developing the live score for the performance. We have been collaborating since 2012 and so we bounce ideas off each other in the studio very comfortably, fine tuning ideas through improvisation and continuous openness in communication. He will be playing the cello and creating a live soundscape with looping station amongst other devices.

My choice is to always have live music in my work, I love the nuances that you get from in-situ space and audiences and how the musician and performer respond to one another. I have been focused on live sound scores for the past few years and this impacts the performance as there is always a real connection and conversation going on between the creator of the sound and the creator of the movement. In turn this gives an element of spontaneity, risk and challenge to be responsive to each others rhythms and textures.

You are performing your new work as part of the China Changing Festival, what are you forward to seeing as part of the festival?

Yes, thanks to Chinese Arts Space who commissioned Orlando Warrior with the support of the Southbank Centre and Arts Council England. I must give thanks as collectively, they provide platforms of this nature for artists like myself and other artists like Si Rawlinson’s company Wayward Theatre, who I am looking forward to seeing most.

Having met Si during Open Arts Surgery, sharing stages together and having deep discussions about art, we worked together earlier this year and persevered. I’m truly happy to share the double bill with him and see how his work has evolved!

Julia Cheng performs Orlando Warrior on Saturday 7 October at 5pm in the Clore Ballroom of Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall as part of China Changing Festival. Her performance is presented by Chinese Arts Space as part of Project New Sun: Sinosythesis (Part 1), supported by Southbank Centre.

For tickets and more information, see

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