Soraya Lee Wo: CCDT's Newest Ray of Sunshine

Soraya Lee Wo is a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Cawthra Park Secondary School, majoring in Dance at the school's Regional Arts Program. She joined CCDT as a full company member in fall 2019, and with a one full WinterSong production already under her belt, Soraya shares her reflections on the big shift into the world of

professional contemporary dance this year, along with some of her current obsessions and inspirations, both artistic and personal.

Photo by Francesca Chudnoff

What influenced and/or inspired you to audition for the company?

Initially, I registered to audition for the company because my friend Josh [Vilim] who is now a company apprentice was planning on auditioning. I knew a little bit about the company since we would go on field trips at school to watch CCDT perform and I had some friends in grade 11 who were already in the company. Natasha [Poon Woo, CCDT's Associate Artistic Director] came to Cawthra as a guest teacher and my teachers at Cawthra also encouraged me to go to the audition, so I figured why not? I knew that no matter what the outcome might have been, auditioning would be a great experience.

What excites you most about being a new CCDT Company member?

Everything! This whole year has been so new and different to anything I've done before. This year has been a year of firsts with new experiences. Personally, learning repertoire that is brand new to the company and learning pieces that have been in CCDT's rep since the 80's is very exciting. To think my name is added to the long list of talented dancers that have danced these pieces, many of whom I admire and look up to, makes me feel grateful and proud to be a part of this company.

Briefly describe your dance history.

This is my first year dancing with CCDT and summer 2019 was when I attended my first SunDance summer intensive. Before coming to CCDT, I danced competitively for 7 years at Studio A Dance Academy in Mississauga, I trained in ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary and hip hop. The teachers gave me a technical foundation and helped me find my love for dance. In grade eight I auditioned for the dance program at Cawthra Park, in my first year I met [Cawthra Dance faculty members] Ms. Lutes, Ms. Ju and Ms. Hollingsworth. I love going to Cawthra. Cawthra has helped me become more well rounded as a dancer. We have the opportunity to learn dance history, kinesiology, work with so many guest artists that are experts in certain genres and learn more about different creative processes.

Is there a particular piece in an upcoming CCDT production you are most excited to be a part of?

I'm so happy to be a part of all the pieces that I am a part of. I loved being a part of Les Belles Heures by Carol Anderson in WinterSong and being a part of the rehearsals for [CCDT Artistic Director] Deborah Lundmark's new work premiering in May. I really love the movement in both of these pieces. In addition, I’m very excited to be a part of Colleen Snell’s new site-specific work for CCDT’s 40th anniversary that will also premiere in the May show. 40 years is a massive milestone for any company, and I’m very thankful to be a part of CCDT in its 40th season.

From front: Paris Forbes, Soraya Lee Wo, and Kaiya Lee in a sculpted motif from Les Belles Heures (1994), choreographed by Carol Anderson. Photo by David Hou, 2019.

What skills do you hope to gain through training and performing with CCDT that will be transferable to other non-dance aspects of your life?

There are so many skills that you gain from CCDT that are transferable to other parts of life. I’ve learned hard work pays off, that being organized and time managing is the answer when I feel like I have a million things going on. I’ve learned how to be a part of a team, how to celebrate my own success and the successes of others. I think that staying positive is key in all aspects of life. Life is a long roller coaster with ups and downs, I’ve learned it’s best to try and enjoy every part of the ride and embrace new challenges with an optimistic attitude.

What's something interesting about you most people don't know?

Some people might not know that I have a tattoo, I have a tiny sun behind my left ear. My name means ray of sunshine or bright light. I really like my name's meaning, and for me the sun symbolizes many things: energy, light, warmth and happiness. These are all things that I desire to have in my life and that are important to me, so, I decided to get a little sun as my first tattoo.

What other hobbies or interests do you have outside of dance?

I can be a bit of a shopaholic. I love shopping and could honestly spend way too much time doing it. I love taking baths especially with fun bath bombs and bubble bars from lush. If I get to decide what we have for dinner it will usually be Korean barbecue or sushi. This is Us is my favourite TV series and recently I’ve been watching love is blind on Netflix. Khalid, Conan Gray, Lil Tecca, Harry Styles, Pink Sweats and Rex Orange County are my favourite artists.

Pictured: Soraya, bottom left, with artists of CCDT rehearsing Charles' Moulton's world-renowned Nine Person Precision Ball Passing (CCDT premiere 1986).

Who is someone who regularly inspires you as a dancer/artist/creator/human being?

My mom is someone that I am inspired by daily. She is the most supportive and caring person in my life. She looks at everyday as an opportunity to be better and is constantly looking for ways to improve her own life and our environment at home. She always does her best to help someone when she can, and is always willing to listen when someone else needs her. She has patience and is an excellent problem solver, she radiates good energy that will always attract people towards her.

What are you obsessed with these days?

Right now I'm obsessed with kombucha, it's my favorite thing to drink and I basically have one every day. Recently, I've also been really into layering turtlenecks under my t-shirts and wearing long dresses. My last obsession is suns. I love clothing and jewelry that has suns, like I said suns and sunshine make me very happy :)

What advice would you give to someone who is considering auditioning for CCDT?

Just do it! You’ve got it. It’s a great experience and at the end of the day you’ll always come out learning something new. Just by doing the audition you’ve already grown as an individual. Also know that even though it might be scary or intimidating, everyone is rooting for you! The teachers and other dancers in the company are some of the most encouraging and supportive people in my life. Remember that everyone on the panel wants to see you do nothing but succeed. Don’t be afraid to be confident and show off the best version of yourself!

A parting quote from Soraya:

Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning how to dance in the rain.

From Left: Jeffrey Lapira, Soraya Lee Wo, Uma Roberts, Claire Finlayson, Paris Forbes, and Lola Rose Jenkins performing Hanna Kiel's A Day of Light (2018). Photo by David Hou, 2019.

You can catch Soraya in CCDT's brand new site-specific work that gets up close and personal with our Toronto audiences, on the program of Gravity's Edge, May 22-23, 2020. Directed by Colleen Snell, the installation will animate Fleck Dance Theatre's unconventional spaces, with inspiration taken from CCDT's rich 40-year history and the choreographic legacy of Artistic Director, Deborah Lundmark. Visit ccdt.org/upcoming for all of the show details and ticket links.

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