Welcome to KQED Arts’ Women to Watch, a series celebrating 20 local artists, creatives and makers who are pushing boundaries in 2016. Driven by passion for their own disciplines, from photography to comedy and every other medium in between, these women are true vanguards paving the way in their respective communities.
As a dancer with a law degree, Oakland-based artist My-Linh Le is no stranger to being at the intersection of unlikely things. With her newest endeavor Mud Water
Theatre, Le takes turf dancing, ballet and poetry and weaves them together in her typical fashion: with passion, love and delight in the unexpected.
Where do you live?
Lake Merritt, Oakland.
Describe yourself in one word?
What did you do last night?
I paid my annual visit to the Homeland Cultural Center in Long Beach, CA. Every Monday night they have an open freestyle dance session where anyone can show up to dance, or just watch, or learn from some of the older street dancers who have been at it since the 1980s or even earlier. I learned a new trick or two from one of my favorite dancers in the whole world. Then I drove back to Oakland right after.
What can’t you live without?
Love, balance, nature, community/connection, all my limbs, music, inspiration, passion, clean water and air and food and so many other things that I'm realizing what a miracle it is that I'm alive.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Like if I were invincible and there were absolutely no limitations on my ability to travel to these places? I would say the bottom of the Arctic Ocean or the top of Mount Meru, maybe the jungles of Indonesia or the Amazon rainforest.
Who is your personal hero? Why?
My mom. She's the bravest, most resilient fighter I know. And when she loves, she does so fiercely, selflessly, and completely. And she just has an incredible amount of energy and strength to do most things herself.
How did you find your creative voice?
It found me! Somewhat late in life. I didn't start dancing until I was 17 and it only finally happened because of two things: one, my high school offered a dance class as an alternative to P.E., and two, I got a driver's license and my parents gave me a car which was sort of amazing given how strict they were. As soon as I gained enough autonomy, I learned to lie and tell them I was going off to do volunteer work, and then I would go to a dance practice or rehearsal instead.
What is something most people don't know about you?
That I am unlimited. But of course that is something even I myself don't know about me.
What do you do when you feel uninspired?
Wait it out. Sleep it off. Pray on it. Watch a movie. Cook/eat something delicious. Take a long bath. Visit a mountain. Let go and trust myself.
What's been your biggest 'learning moment,' and what did you you take from the experience?
That it's not about becoming "better" but rather becoming more of who you are. The problem with focusing on becoming better is that you're always comparing yourself to something else, even if that something else is your potentially "better" self. I once read a quote by Hayao Miyazaki that really spoke to this lesson: "To be born means being compelled to choose an era, a place, a life. To exist here, now, means to lose the possibility of being countless other potential selves." You have never been this you before and you will never be this you again. That's what loving yourself entails -- really taking an honest and extensive look at all that you are and all that you feel, really knowing, and being gentle and compassionate even after all of the terrible things surface.
What’s your greatest achievement, and how has it shaped you?
Probably getting through law school, passing the California bar exam, and surviving my first job as an attorney. The skills I picked up in that whole process really shaped the way I communicate, the way I listen or take in information, the way I write, the way I edit, the way I organize, the way I push attention to details, and so on. This affects not only my artmaking but also how I conduct myself in all of my relationships (professional and personal).
Coffee or tea? What kind?
Neither -- water, no ice. Sparkling if I'm at a fancy restaurant and I feel like the waiter is sizing me up.
What does a perfect day look like for you?
Not too big, not too small.. not too hot, not too cold.
Who are your local inspirations?
I find inspiration everywhere, from almost everything. Steph Curry -- I don't even care about basketball (or any other sport) at all, but I could find a whole world of inspiration in how graceful he is. Len Carella is an artist whose work I adore, I've seen his ceramics here and there and fall in love whenever I see them. The activism in Oakland has really lit a fire in me -- I work with the Center for Biological Diversity and I am inspired everyday by the fearlessness and genius of the environmentalists that work there. And of course the dancers here and all over the Bay Area who inspire me everyday, of which there are way too many for me to name. But the biggest influence on my own dance comes from the San Jose crew Playboyz Inc.
What upcoming show are you excited about?
Would it be self-centered to say the second iteration of Mud Water? Honestly, the project has little to do with me (I'm not performing in it), I just think the Mud Water dancers are so incredibly talented and they're all such beautiful and fascinating people. I'm really excited to see what else surfaces as they get deeper into this project.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Still doing what I'm doing now, I think, only with more certainty, skill, grace, and confidence, I should hope.
If you could live in a book, TV show, movie, play or painting, what would it be?
Oh my god, Avatar: the Last Airbender. But if you had asked me this 20 years ago, I would've said Anne of Green Gables.
Where and when can people see you or your art in action?
Mud Water will be performing later this year in November at the University of San Francisco, and at Dance Mission Theater. Visit us at mudwatertheatre.com to see some samples of our project and to subscribe for updates.
Check out KQED Arts' profile on My-Linh and her work with the Mud Water Project below: