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Janek Schergen: preserving the legacy of Choo-San Goh.

LOS ANGELES--Legacies are always a mixed blessing, sometimes a joy and sometimes a burden. The responsibility for the legacy of Choo-San Goh's choreographic works and for the foundation that administers them has fallen almost exclusively to Janek Schergen. A close personal friend and professional associate of Goh, Schergen was ballet master during most of Goh's choreographic career, working beside him daily. Goh, a Singapore-born choreographer who died in 1987, left a considerable body of work that is presently performed by many dance companies in America and Europe.

"It has turned what was friendship into work," says Schergen with a shrug, "and that is sometimes good and sometimes difficult." For almost eleven years, Schergen has served as the sole repetiteur for ballets devised by Goh, traveling to set the works on companies that want to restage them. Sometimes, says Schergen, it is like coming home. Most recently, he set Unknown Territory on Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, where he had been ballet master from 1992 to 1994.

Born in Sweden, Schergen came to the United States as a child. He trained with teachers such as Benjamin Harkarvy and Lupe Serrano and with such companies as Pennsylvania, Harkness, and Washington. In 1971 he joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and in 1972 became a member, then principal dancer, of Pennsylvania Ballet. It was during his tenure with Pennsylvania Ballet that Schergen discovered his talent as a teacher and repetiteur and began his career with that company and its associated school. He was ballet master of the Royal Swedish Ballet from 1988 to 1991; artistic director of Nashville Ballet and its school from 1994 through 1996; and is known for his stagings of Petipa classics. He recently added author to his credits with the publication of Goh Choo San: Master Craftsman in Dance. The commemorative book was written with Madame Goh Soo Khim, Choo-San Goh's sister and current artistic director of Singapore Dance Theatre.

It was in 1981 that Schergen was invited by artistic director Mary Day to join the Washington Ballet as a teacher and, in 1983, as the ballet master and repetiteur for the company where Choo-San Goh was choreographing. In 1987, shortly before Goh's death, Schergen was given exclusive responsibility for staging and maintaining the integrity of the choreography. Since 1991, he has also been artistic director for the Choo-San Goh & H. Robert Magee Foundation, which awards grants for choreographers' fees.

Goh was among the most successful choreographers to combine Eastern sensibilities and Western contemporary ballet. Before his early death, he created nearly forty works for dance companies on six continents. Understanding that choreographing and producing new ballets is risky and time-consuming, he determined to provide funds to allow companies to take those risks. His estate, combined with money from his friend and business manager, Robert Magee, established the foundation in 1991. Funds from the licensing and performance of his choreographic works are now the basis of support for the annual awards.

"Early in his career, several individuals were instrumental in helping Choo-San Goh realize his choreographic visions, and it was his wish to give a similar boost to emerging and established choreographers," explains Dianne Brace, part-time administrator for the foundation.

"If people at the Dutch National Ballet and Mary Day at the Washington Ballet had not given Choo-San the opportunity to choreograph new work for about twelve years, his visions would have been just wishes," says Schergen more directly. "The volume and quality of his work is truly remarkable, and it was extraordinarily generous for him to consider that other choreographers would need the same opportunities."

The August 15, 1998, deadline for applications will mark the sixth year of the Choo-San Goh Awards for Choreography. The foundation begins soliciting applicants in May of each year to propose a newly choreographed work to be added to a dance company's repertory. Awards for choreographer's fees range from $5,000 to $15,000, and companies are encouraged to supplement their production budget with other funds.

"We are limited in our resources," Schergen says, "and some people think of us only as a granting foundation. The truth is that it is the income from the production of the licensed works that is all that is available to be directly applied back to new work. Everyone deserves support, but it was Choo-San's inspiration to support emerging choreographers, and that has nothing to do with age."

The foundation has awarded more than $250,000 in choreographers fees over the past five years. 'We have given incredible life to projects that might have had more difficulty being born, like Val Caniparoli's Lambarena for San Francisco Ballet or Graham Lustig's Border Lines for Sacramento Ballet. They have since been staged by many other companies. There have been less-successful projects of course. We try not to sponsor successes, but opportunities. We try to take some of the burden off the company by providing funds for the choreographer's fees."

Both national and international nonprofit dance companies are eligible, although the company must be professionally recognized as of high caliber in the field of dance and demonstrate a long-term commitment to the development of new work. The foundation judges applications based upon the artistic importance and impact on the company's performing artists, its present repertory, the educational development of its audience, financial feasibility of the production, and public performance capability of the organization. Guidelines are available after mid-April for awards during that year, and recipients are announced before the year's end. Companies and choreographers who have received grants must wait two years before reapplying.

"Choo-San Goh's gift was strong and bright, and it has been a privilege to carry that on," reflects Schergen. "It is a remarkable legacy. Most choreographers leave their estates to family and friends. Who else would have thought to have such generosity toward other choreographers and the next generation of dance?"

For information regarding the Awards for Choreography or the licensing of Choo-San Goh's works, contact Janek Schergen at (562) 981-9185 or fax (562) 981-9285. For applications, contact Dianne Brace, Foundation administrator, at (202) 234-2977 or fax (202) 234-7990.
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Author:Patrick, K.C.
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:May 1, 1998
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