Spotlight Session: Mason Lee
What are the Spotlight Sessions?
I was the child who asked “why” 150 times in a row, to the dismay and occasional annoyance of the adults around me. That curiosity and need for discovery grew with me and became a guide on my artistic path. Determination, inquisitiveness, and the drive to connect with others led me to write, dance, choreograph, produce, and educate.
I started my company, Six Degrees Dance, with the mission of creating community. Embodying the theory that all people are connected through a social network of 6 or fewer degrees, we collaborate in an environment where the exchange of ideas is the building block for innovation and growth. We approach dance making with the belief that the contribution of the individual benefits the group, and results in a body of work reflective of the sum of its parts.
To that end, we have developed several initiatives that connect artists with audiences and with each other, maintaining the idea of six degrees of separation as the foundation for those connections. Our annual showcase brings together national and international choreographers, most of whom have never met. Our Choreographic Commission series allows the dancers of Six Degrees to work with a variety of choreographers in different styles. In The Spotlight Sessions, I will present a different artist each cycle, and through interviews, short feature articles, previews, and capsule reviews, offer a behind the scenes look into their work and their process. I hope you enjoy getting to know these unique, talented individuals as much as I have, and continue to follow them on their creative paths.
Mason Lee is a bicoastal interdisciplinary
based choreographer, dancer, and writer. He has studied at dance programs such as Center of Creative Arts (COCA), The Ailey School, and Professional Performing Arts High School, and most recently, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a Major in Dance and Minor in Prelaw.
He has presented work at Institute of American Musicals, Stomping Ground LA, Hollywood Majestic Theater, and COCA’s Catherine B. Berges Theater to name a few. He has created choreographed several dance films as well as participating in choreographic programs such as COCA’s Inaugural Choreographic Lab, Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company’s (LACDC) ChoroLab:03, Dance Lab New York’s Broadway Choreographic Intensive (BCI), and New York Theatre Barn’s Open Lab. He has also served as the Assistant Choreographer for Rodney Chrome’s set at AFROPUNK last year.
Mason has progressed into a person that pushes boundaries, asks questions, and continues to define the “human experience”. When encountering his work, you will be put into a headspace that makes you become more curious about movement, music, and identity.
1. How did your artistic journey begin?
My artistic journey began when I was very young. I played with action figures growing up so I began thinking creatively and how to build a story. As I became older and studied at institutions like The Ailey School and NYU my ideas were more refined and guided by teachers and instructors. I will say I did feel a shift in my junior year of college, where I was more intentional with my work, where I showcased it, and where I wanted to be artistically and creatively.
2. What drives you as an individual artist? What do you hope to express/convey to the world through your work?
Honestly, just being at the point where I no longer have to introduce myself as an artist continues to drive me. I want to get to a point in my life where people know who I am, what I do, and entrust me with opportunities based on this information. I say this humbly, but that idea wakes me up and gets me going as a choreographer.
In regard to what I want to convey to the world, honestly, I am still figuring this out. Sometimes there are deeper meanings behind my work, but other times, it is putting movement to music I love. I love when art strikes conversation and I strive for my work to do exactly that. Whether it is a post-show feedback session or a conversation that naturally comes when hanging with your best friend walking down a random street, I want my work to provoke something within people that makes them want to talk about it more.
3. When do you feel most powerful?
This is a difficult question for me to answer. I typically do not feel powerful when choreographing. I think as a choreographer, the goal is to make everyone look good doing your movement, so in a sense, you are catering to different people. Even if that isn't your approach, you have to make sure the work is something that audiences want to see. In addition, you collaborate with lighting designers, set designers, costumes, etc...where they express to you the limitations of your initial vision so it really is not a moment where I feel powerful. I do feel like I am respected and that has its own lane, however I do not think I have a powerful moment.
4. What has been your biggest challenge and your proudest moment during your artistic growth?
I wouldn’t say I have a biggest challenge but rather multiple big challenges right now. I struggle with finding choreographic opportunities that pay not only for me but for the dancers I am working with. I love that the dance industry is talking more about paying dancers / choreographers their worth, however there are not many institutions or programs, that I know of, that pay for you and the dancers you work with. And if so, they are highly competitive. Also, I will say that social media has become a huge challenge for me, because now it’s related to worth. I do not have a big social media presence and I feel that I have lost opportunities because of it. I understand that it is a good way to be discoverable and showcase one’s talents but for some reason, it now relates to worth which gets a bit disheartening at times.
As far as my proudest moment, it was being the first recipient of Center of Creative Art’s (COCA) Choreographic Lab. I was fresh out of college and I received the notice on my birthday. It was truly a memorable experience, especially since it was a full circle moment for me. The mentors were great. I keep in contact with them today! That was a cool moment and one I will cherish for a while.
5. Can you describe your creative process?
Usually, my process starts with either an idea I want to explore or a piece of music I want to dance with. If it is the first concept, I’ll find music to help support the idea. From there, the music guides me. I visualize different movements, formats, quality…I’ll either write this down, document the idea in a video, or I’ll remember the sequence. Then I’ll choreograph in the studio and apply it to dancers. Recently, as I have been working with dancers in my company, I’ve been working with folders that are filled with references such as movie clips, pictures, documents, etc… this has been an evolving process and an idea I got from a friend of mine. From this, the music, and the ideas I want to play with help guide me to create a work. Also, living life helps with my creative process too. Whatever I do in life at the time (surprisingly) has helped support the work I’m doing.
6. What do you do when you are not creating? What things outside of the dance industry inspire you and fuel your creativity?
When I’m not creating, I’m either resting or making memories. I love doing new things and having experiences with people that I love. This fuels my creativity as well. Having these adventures constantly changes my perspective. Also, I write.
7. What is next for you?
Currently, I’m looking for Board Members for my company, Mason Lee Dance Theater (MLDT), so we can begin the process of becoming a nonprofit. Other than that, I’m working on a couple of performances lined up in April and May including some performances at New Jersey City University (NJCU) and the Brick Theater. We’ll also be showing work at the New Wave Dance Festival at the Five Angels Theater and at the French Institute Alliance Française alongside Alison Cook Beatty Dance and some other amazing artists. The work we’ll be presenting will range in genre however it will be an experience, nonetheless.
Glimpse into the work and process of choreographer Mason Lee