Meet The Team
Philein Wang - Artistic Director and Founder
An award-winning Chinese-American poet/choreographer and distinguished Artistic Director, Philein Wang leads ZiRu Dance.
Over the last half century, Philein herself has firsthand lived through racism as a native of Oakland, California. As a result, she has developed deep ties to African-American, Latino-American, and other Asian-American communities over several decades.
Philein’s exploration of her own Chinese-American heritage led her to create a new dance form for the Chinese body and identity. Her goal is to build cross-cultural bridges, uniting generations of immigrants through a unique blend of dance elements from Asia, Europe, Africa, and America, in tandem with original music. Using a distinct combination of influences – modern dance, ballet, martial arts, and hip hop – she hopes to create something unique to offer Asian Americans, so they have a way to feel at home in their bodies and minds.
Philein leads ZiRu Dance with an intrinsic understanding of how one experiences racism in this country. ZiRu is a company committed to continually bringing to light how we can grow and evolve in positive ways. This process of growth and healing from difficult, shocking, and divisive events and environments in the U.S. and worldwide is at the core of ZiRu Dance’s mission and work.
“When a young Chinese person is feeling confused as I was, and looking for answers to the question, ‘Who am I?’ maybe this dance can help them find their identity, their culture, and their strength. Help them know where they belong.” – Philein Wang
She was a soloist with several companies, including Janice Garrett and Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. She also received choreography mentorships from the late Bella Lewitzky and Lin Hwai-Min, Artistic Director of Taiwan’s world-renowned Cloud Gate Dance and Margaret Jenkins.
In 2016, she was recognized as an honoree at the first-ever Asian and Pacific Islander Heroes of San Mateo County reception. She has received awards from many foundations and institutions including the Community Foundation of San Carlos, twice awarded grants from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Apple, Microsoft, the Fleishhacker Foundation, and San Mateo County Strong.
Nancy Pellegrini of Time Out Beijing said, “Wang herself is a force of nature, raising money, creating projects, and sharing the stage with artists of every stripe. And that alone is well worth a look.” Pellegrini added that the multidisciplinary artist has a “…staggering level of broad-based talent… whatever you do, don’t miss her show.”
When she’s not directing, choreographing, or raising her young family, Philein is dedicated to building new investment and community bridges to support the company. Philein is also a partner at SV2 (Silicon Valley Social Venture Philanthropy).
Areta Wang (Chinese American) is a Visual Artist who has worked as a Key Creative Collaborator with Philein since 2007. Her visual works are often used as a backdrop for Ziru Dance's set design and color schematics. Further, she reviews drafts of Philein’s choreography and provides insight and constructive guidance as each piece of work takes shape.
As a Female Minority Artist with Disability and Illness since 2008, she has overcome many challenging obstacles to remain present and dedicated when focusing her limited energy on creating new work. Her art is the culmination of a life full of and informed by her in-depth study of human movement and the aesthetics and mechanics of action and expression.
As a youth, she pursued art out of pure enjoyment, a constant and continued center, her focus based on the human form. Her interests in martial arts and her training as an actor naturally combined in a pursuit of stage combat and fight choreography- the craft of expressing story and nuance of human experience through action.
Over the years, her consistent interest led her to study physical therapeutic art; thereby deepening her understanding of the body and its function. Over the past decade, even as injury and illness turned her sights to exploring the body and life anew, she continued expressing her internal drive and passion for movement onto canvas with paint and brush and digital art.
Areta holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boston University and has held solo exhibitions in prestigious galleries and Performing Arts Centers in the U.S. and China.
Sarah Bryce Mann
Sarah Bryce Mann (Lebanese/French Canadian) has been dancing since the age of 10, in a multitude of styles ranging from musical theatre to ballet to modern. However, her main focus and passion have always been for hip hop dance. Sarah studied at Chapman University in Orange, CA, from which she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance. After college, Sarah moved to Los Angeles to pursue a commercial dance career.
Since moving to L.A., Sarah's primary focus has shifted towards the fusion of aerial arts with dance, first with her company Jagged West, and now as a solo artist. Sarah has been featured on America's Best Dance Crew (with Jag6ed Crew), FOX's TV Show Mobbed (with both Jagged West and Mischief Makers), and in the documentary Off The Floor, which followed Jagged Contemporary Pole Dance Company.
Sarah has her own production company, THE MADMANN, which specializes in nightlife shows and events. She currently works as a producer for The Toledo Show in Los Angeles, CA, as well as the production assistant for D’Amour Creative in Hollywood. She is also the co-founder and co-director of Madcap Creative, an LA based alternative cabaret company.
Sarah began her journey with ZiRu Dance in 2013 when she joined the company as a dancer and Rehearsal Director for ZiRu's 2014 China tour. Sarah produced the 2017 and 2018 Silicon Valley Dance Festivals, and acted as Company Manager throughout the 2017 and 2018 seasons. She is always thrilled to work with Philein and the cast of talented dancers that ZiRu Dance draws.
Jennifer Harrison Newman
New York based theater artist Jennifer Harrison Newman works extensively with artists across disciplines, pushing the boundaries of dance, opera, and theater.
Recent site-specific and theatrical work includes: We Were Everywhere (Princeton University); The Infinite Hotel (Prototype Festival); Angel’s Bone (Hong Kong New Visions Festival); Place (BAM/Next Wave Festival); If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must be a Motherf*cker (Yale School of Drama); an installation/walking tour of Seneca Village in Central Park (Bard Graduate Center for Material Culture’s Focus Festival: Ritual and Capital); la ronde (International Festival of Arts & Ideas); Bread of Heaven (LABA Live); The Children (Yale School of Drama); Three Women (Ojai Playwrights Conference); The Geneva Project (Yale University, Central Arts Festival in Seoul, Korea, JACK NYC, and Bronx Academy of Art and Dance); Bulrusher (New Georges).
Jennifer has been an artist in residence at Princeton University, Yale University, Central Connecticut State University, The Field, Mabou Mines, Baryshnikov Arts Center, 651 Arts, and Sisters Academy Inkost and has led workshops across the United States, Sweden, South Africa, China, and Mexico. Jennifer received her B.A. from UCLA and her MFA from Yale School of Drama.
Jennifer first worked with ZiRu Dance from 2012-2014 as the Co-Artistic Director for ZiRu's successful multi-city tour of China.
Music and Video Producer
Philip Garcia (Filipino American) is a longtime collaborator with ZiRu Dance. He has produced all of the music and video content for ZiRu Dance since 2007. Philip is a music producer, blogger and media coach who was born in Los Angeles. Philip’s music has been featured on numerous spots for TV, Film, artists, and brands. His credits include NBC, Warner Bros, MTV, Fox, Miramax, and countless Grammy nominees. He founded VisionQuest Sound in 2010 and has been instrumental in helping artists and brands to share their art and stories to the world.
Erica Hartono (Indonesian/Dutch/Salvadorean) was born and raised in the Bay Area. Before receiving her BFA in Ballet from the University of Utah, she received her formative training at Ballet Arts in Oakland, the San Francisco Ballet School, and Berkeley Ballet Theater. In 2000 she co-founded Counterpointe, a dance company that fostered collaboration between Bay Area choreographers and composers to produce new works.
Erica's professional performing highlights include: Oakland Ballet, Fiddler on the Roof (40th Anniversary Tour/Chava) and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. In 2016 she was a Theater Bay Area Award-nominated choreographer for her work on The Producers at Woodminster Theater. Notably, she has been a faculty member at NYU-CAP 21, Berkeley Ballet Theater, and the Mark Morris Dance Center. Currently she is on the dance faculty at the College Preparatory School in Oakland, and is the Program/Outreach Coordinator for ZiRu Dance.
Administrative & Development Coordinator
Shaylen Keller (Filipino/Caucasian), raised in Orange County, California, has danced her whole life and has trained in multiple genres from contemporary ballet to hip-hop. Upon completing her B.A. from Chapman University, she continued to dance professionally, dancing commercially in Los Angeles in addition to dancing for both modern and hip-hop companies. Shaylen has performed, choreographed and taught in: the U.S., China, South Korea, Thailand, Mexico and has also been featured in news publications in Beijing, Daqing and South Korea with ZiRu Dance and Aerial Experience.
In 2014, after completing ministry work with human trafficking victims, she felt called to further serve socially disadvantaged children and thus, transitioned to a career in education by joining Teach for America, Los Angeles. Simultaneously, Shaylen earned her Masters in Urban Education with a focus on Policy and Administration from Loyola Marymount University. For the past 7 years, Shaylen has been teaching lower elementary and special education. She has taught in Atlanta, GA and in the heart of Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and South LA at two title-1 schools and was a founding teacher for Gabriella Charter School : a dance charter school.
Shaylen’s journey with ZiRu dance began in 2010 as a founding dance member for the 2010 Beijing, China tour. Shaylen continued her work with Philein and ZiRu Dance as a guest choreographer and served as the company Rehearsal Director for its 5-city tour through China for the 2013/14 season; which included teaching at universities in Beijing and Daqing. After 7 years, Shaylen is excited to step into her new role as Administrative/Development Coordinator with ZiRu. As Administrative/Development Coordinator, she will be able to utilize her passion for blending dance arts with education by creating and developing educational outreach programs and partnerships between ZiRu dance and community partners in the Peninsula/Silicon Valley.
Choreographers & Dancers
Vincent Chavez was born and started his dance career in Albuquerque, NM. At age 17 he began his pre-professional dance training, studying with several organizations including Dance Theatre Southwest, Ballet Hispanico, Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre and the LINES Ballet Training Program.
Drawing on the training, education, and experience he has gained, Vincent is currently a freelance dance artist in the Bay Area. He spends the majority of his time his time choreographing, teaching, and dancing.
Vincent is not only one of the founding members of ZiRu Dance, he is also one of the active company dancers for ZiRu Dance.
Vincent has enjoyed the opportunity to dance and collaborate on many projects and with many other companies, including New Mexico Ballet Company (2003-07), Nevada Ballet Theatre (2007-2011), Robert Moses' Kin (2012-present), and Oakland Ballet Company (2013-present).
Babatunji Johnson was born in Portland, Oregon and grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii. Though never formally trained as a child, Babatunji was always moving his body to the beat. At the age of 15, he discovered the art of hip hop.
Following over a decade of self-taught street performance, he has developed a unique approach to various styles of hip hop such as breakdance, popping, and krump.
While cultivating his own movement language, Babatunji began training in ballet, modern, and contemporary dance, going on to work and perform around the world with Alonzo King LINES Ballet for six years, among other inspiring companies.
Babatunji has been with ZiRu dance since 2011. In 2015, he was awarded a Princess Grace Award, as well as a Chris Hellman Award for his outstanding achievements and promise in the world of dance. Babatunji teaches the Break Dancing Basics and Breakdancing Skill Building classes for ZiRu Dance's new initiative Project Dance O.F.F.
"As a teacher my goal is to do for my students what my favorite teachers have done for me: provide a safe place to learn how to enjoy the beautiful struggles that one must go through to accomplish something that you never thought you would be able to."
Alysia Chang, born in Berkeley, CA, is a freelance dancer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She graduated from SUNY Purchase with a BFA in Dance and a Minor in Arts Management (magna cum laude).
Alysia was introduced to ZiRu Dance when she was invited to dance and tour to China with the company. ZiRu helped to create an exchange opportunity to enable her to study with Cloudgate Theatre in Taiwan.
Her professional experience includes dancing for Sacramento Ballet, The Metropolitan Opera Ballet, and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular in New York. In California, she has danced for Smuin Contemporary Ballet, San Francisco Opera Ballet, Oakland Ballet, DawsonDanceSF, SFDanceworks, and Red Brick Company. Alysia has originated featured roles in new works by Amy Seiwert, Helen Pickett, Gabrielle Lamb, Val Caniparoli, Jennifer Archibald, Yannis Adoniou, Melissa Barak, Graham Lustig, and Janice Garrett/Charles Moulton, to name a few. Her repertoire includes works by Ron Cunningham, Lila York, Paul Taylor, Mark Morris and George Balanchine.
Alysia loves teaching and hopes to instill the joy of dance in the next generation. She teaches the Ballet Barre Int. level class for ZiRu Dance's new initiative, Project Dance O.F.F.
"I think that the second we stop trying to be something we want to emulate or somebody else, we realize what we have to offer and I think that is true in the Dance studio and in life in general."
Amelia Eisen was born and raised in Nevada City, CA. She is a Freelance Dance Artist and Holistic Health Coach based in Mannheim, Germany since 2017. Amelia has trained at Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet in San Francisco, Alambrado Danza in Florence & Trieste Italy, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Northern Israel, and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City.
She has worked with numerous choreographers and companies including Green Flamingo Project/Elisabeth Kaul, Eric Trottier, Taulant Shehu, Catherine Guerin, Luis Sayago, Kinetech Arts, Project Agora, and Ben Bach. Since 2013, she has presented 10 of her own works in San Francisco, Israel, and Germany.
In Fall 2018, Amelia was involved in choreography for “Winterschlaf,” which premiered in Theater Felina-Areal, Mannheim. In the same year, she was one of three choreographers in the GUMMITWIST mentoring program for young choreographers, accompanied by Edan Gorlicki. Amelia also curated the first “Mingle Me Home” International Dance Festival in Nevada City, California in December of 2018.
Amelia's artistic mission is to merge dance communities worldwide and create empathetic connections between performers and audiences. She teaches the Creative Movement Expression class in ZiRu Dance's new initiative, Project Dance O.F.F.
"My aim as a Dance Artist is to create and participate in honest, intimate work which exposes my true character and the lens through which I view the nature of our world. I am interested in capturing the personalities and unique qualities of my collaborators/colleagues while creating environments together in which audience can empathize with us and are encouraged to engage in a topic at a deeper level."
Benjamin Warner is a white queer San Francisco based creative with a history and passion for ballet. After graduating from Indiana University, Ben had the privilege of a decade-long performing career with companies across the U.S. and Canada. Currently pursuing his master’s in arts administration at Goucher College, Ben is working to support companies and artists that are doing important work. Ben is excited to be working with a group of such creative individuals at ZIRU Dance.
Charles Roy Jr.
Not only has Charles danced with Rihanna at the VMA’s, but because of his versatility he has also performed internationally with world renowned companies like Amway, Rayban, MTV, and Nickelodeon.
After earning his Bachelors from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Charles has spent over a decade working professionally as a dancer, choreographer, and all-around entertainer! He’s performed at legendary venues for massive audiences and even choreographs for international pop stars. These days, Charles travels the world teaching workshops, producing films, and inspiring others through performance and creativity. Charles has been a part of Ziru Dance since 2014.
"I offer classes which are genuinely open to all persons. My teaching experience ranges from absolute beginners to technically trained dancers- and honestly everyone in between. I am classically trained while also being versed in many street styles. If you’re thinking about getting back into dance or even starting all together, this is your time!"