Pew Fellow of the Week: An Interview with Choreographer Leah Stein

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Leah Stein

Leah Stein, 2018 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Our “Pew Fellow of the Week” series focuses on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.

Choreographer Leah Stein (2018) spoke to us about the origins of her site-specific choreography, her present-day process, and the “inexhaustible” qualities of Philadelphia.

Stein’s choreographic practice intertwines improvisation and audience interaction in site-specific works that illuminate the connections among the body, sound, and location. In 2001, she founded Leah Stein Dance Company (LSDC), built on her commitment to making dances in unexpected sites—Bartram's Garden, Fairmount Water Works, and Eastern State Penitentiary, among others—and collaborating with artists across disciplines. Stein is currently working in residency at MacDowell Colony. In September 2019, she will debut new work inspired by artist Edith Neff at Philadelphia’s Woodmere Art Museum

Leah Stein Q&A: Content Block 1

Leah Stein Q&A: Content Block 2

Why do you choose to work and live in Philadelphia? In your experience, what makes this arts scene distinctive?

The people, the history, the landscape are deep and connected. I have made dances inspired by these sources throughout the city. I have danced in empty, abandoned lots, on the banks of the Schuylkill, in burial grounds, at historic sites, in parking lots, art galleries, and in collaboration with the city’s incredible artists, with the diversity of urban and natural spaces. The range of sounds and acoustic spaces inspires me. For me, there is something inexhaustible in Philadelphia. And the pace is slower than New York, for example. I like that so much of Philadelphia is residential. Center City is relatively small. The diversity of people, cultures, landscape excites me, requires me to pay attention.

What is your most treasured possession?

Well, I’m not sure I have just one. But I really like this ‘card’ my partner gave me for my birthday. It is made of flattened old rusted metal, thin as paper—so thin there are openings in places. It’s folded in half, like a card, with one ‘page’ of thin metal inside. He found it on the old railroad tracks in South Philly, where we live, way down near Delaware Avenue in that strange no-man’s-land area not so far from the Delaware River, surrounded by big box stores. It stands up and says something different every day.

In reflecting back to the beginning of your career, what is the most useful advice you ever received?

Whether reviews are bad or good, or you feel dumb or smart, or have a lot or a little to say, just keep going. Trust the process. Keep making work.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

To be able to sing, with a most natural, open, strong, and joyful voice!

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