Journey of a Thousand Miles: Dance 902 Production Follows a Life Story from China to America

In a pyramid formation, dancers dressed in green jumpsuits thrust their arms and legs with sharp, rigid movements to the beat of “Seven Nation Army,” by The White Stripes. The piece ended with Katherine Wang ’21, portraying the grandfather of Emily Jackson ’19, standing alone at the center of the stage with the rest of the cast lying near her.

“Reminiscence of a Thousand Miles,” a Theater-902 dance production choreographed and produced by Jackson, was based on the life of her grandfather. The piece followed his story starting when he was forced to flee his home and family in China, and included his life with family and his battle with illnesses.

“Since elementary school, I have been in awe of him. I have always asked him questions about his life story because it’s so amazing. I think he is so powerful, so strong, physically and mentally… Come senior year, I was thinking about my biggest role models, and he is definitely one of them,” said Jackson.

When creating the piece, Jackson made decisions about costume and music based on personal experiences with her grandfather. For example, the dancers’ costumes included hats that Jackson’s grandfather often wears, and the ending song, “Peng You” (Friend) by Emil Wakin Chau, is one that he often sings to her.

Audience member Samantha Lee ’20 said, “It was inspiring because we knew that her grandfather is still here, and he was sitting right in the front row and watching it. Knowing that that is his life story coming to life on the stage, and the amount of effort Emily put into this show to make it come to life, that’s what made it amazing.”

Another piece, titled “Hospital,” symbolized Jackson’s grandfather’s struggle with cancer. Dancing to the soft piano music in a wash of white light, eight dancers lifted Lesley Tan ’22, the portrayer of Jackson’s grandfather in the piece, into the air above their heads.

“I think that part is really about the other people who have come to support her grandfather, and who are scared to lose him… I think that is shown through other people lifting him up. And he is just like in the air for a moment, and that represents him in the hospital, in between life and death,” said Tan.

Jackson portrayed a snippet of her grandfather’s love story through the piece “Beyond the Sea.” Featuring Anntonia Taylor ’20 and Henry Crater ’20, the classical jazz piece included aspects of ballroom dance and tap, and required dancers to show a lot of emotion. Jackson expressed that she liked how the two dancers developed their connection through the piece.

“There were a lot of times when Anntonia would walk around Henry, but she would keep her eyes on him the whole time. Or they would just transition and linger their hands and reach them out to each other. It’s just the little things that really brought them together,” said Jackson.

Jackson expressed that the meaning behind her piece is the inner strength and perseverance demonstrated by her grandfather. The back of her show’s program outlines the experiences of her grandfather’s life. Jackson hopes to inspire the audience with his story, just as she was inspired by him from a young age.

“I wanted to dig deep into my most vulnerable self and find something that I held close to my heart. I wanted it to be very emotional… I’ve been living by [my grandfather’s] story, and I just want to share what I look up to with everyone else,” said Jackson.