What could make one exchange a stable, remunerative banking career for a livelihood in the performing arts? City News brings you an exclusive interview with Erika Chen, the official sand artist of Cirque du Soleil.
Contributed By Esther Ang
|PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIKA CHEN|
A first-class honors Quantitative Finance graduate, song composer, singer and sand artist, 26-year-old Erika Chen could be described aptly as a woman of beauty and brains. She started composing music when she was 8 years old and has composed 300 songs and more than 20 sand artworks to date. However, success did not come easy for Chen who was torn between her parents’ wishes and her own passion for art.
Chen’s parents had great hopes for their daughter to become a doctor or lawyer one day. To fulfill her parents’ wishes, Chen pursued a degree in Quantitative Finance. With little interest in this subject, she relied on sheer diligence and hard work as she struggled through her undergraduate studies. Her efforts paid off when she graduated with first-class honors.
Right after graduation, Chen was engaged by a renowned financial institute as a fund analyst. It was a great relief as she had finally fulfilled the mandate from her parents and did them proud. However, this glamorous life on the high end of the corporate ladder did not satisfy her. Deep inside her heart, she felt a strong urge to do something involving the arts.
One day, she decided to call up her friends in the arts industry to volunteer for an arts-related job. Philip Tan, a friend and mentor, roped her into a cultural dance performance he was staging. While they were brainstorming for ideas, Chen remembered a sand art video she had seen and decided to create her very first sand painting. She made a light box and developed a story that tied in with the theme of the dance. The story would be told using sand to draw characters, buildings and animals. Chen carefully planned each transition scene to ensure that the audience will understand the story, gradually leading into the climax of the performance. This idea was accepted by Tan and on January 2009, Chen made her debut sand art performance.
Though the show was well-received, sand art was not popular in Singapore then. She waited 10 months before another opportunity came along for her to perform. In November 2009, Chen did her first event performance, an opening show for the APEC CEO Summit Singapore. This opened many doors for her and in a year, Chen had taken on so many projects that she could finally quit her banking job and embark on her journey into the performing arts full-time.
Chen attributes her success to a strong passion in the arts. Even while she was studying finance and working in the bank, Chen never gave up on her pursuit of art. In her heart, she knew she would do something with her talents one day. Thriving on an undying passion and a determined heart, she constantly tried to improve herself in every way, even by writing with her left hand to boost her creativity.
Feeling that sand painting lacked interaction with the audience, Chen combined singing with drawing to make her show more entertaining and to hold the audience’s attention for a longer time. This wonderful idea not only enhanced her performances greatly, but also made her the first singing sand artist in the world.
The most memorable and significant moment of her career was the day her mother gave her nod of approval toward her career. At the Shanghai Expo Singapore National Day performance, for the first time, Chen’s mother watched her perform. During the show, her mother was moved to tears by her talents and the skills she displayed. Gaining her mother’s support gave her greater courage and confidence to take bigger steps in her career.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAM ARTISTES|
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
It did not take long before her next big break appeared. Chen received an e-mail from Cirque Du Soleil inviting artists to audition for their Europe tour performance. Being new to the industry, Chen did not think that she stood a chance to be part of the prestigious group. However, under strong persuasion from friends, she sent in a demo video of her sand painting. A few weeks later, she received a call saying that she came in second for the audition and someone else was selected for the role. As she did not harbor high hopes of being selected, Chen was not disappointed, but glad that she had tried.
Then a pleasant surprise came. The chosen candidate could not make it for the tour and Chen was selected to replace her. Without any hesitation, Chen accepted the job. “It’s my dream come true,” said Chen, who is excited to embark on a new chapter of her life performing with Cirque Du Soleil in a production that will tour New York, Montreal, Moscow and other cities from 2011 to 2012.
Chen hopes to gain a lot of experience from this trip and her ultimate dream is to cut her own album with songs composed and sung by her. To all aspiring artists out there, Chen’s advice is follow one’s heart and be realistic. “I hope they’re not going to quit their jobs after hearing this,” she jokes. After all, she felt this is her calling from God and she wishes to put her talents to good use.
To find out more about Chen, visit http://erikachen.com.