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."
Fabiana Santiago (LatinX), from Crystal Lake, Illinois, started dancing with ZiRu in 2020. She began training at the age of 4 under Judith Svalander. She attended intensives with the Boston Ballet, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet Academy (BBA) resulting in a full scholarship to study in Moscow, Russia. Fabiana completed her sophomore year with BBA in Moscow training with the international training class under the direction of Marina Lionova and performed in the historical Bolshoi Theatre stage as the lead gypsy in La Fille Mal Gardee and the Spanish Duet from La Cachucha. She was awarded a talent scholarship to attend Butler University in Indianapolis where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Dance Performance. Upon graduating Fabiana began her career with Menlowe Ballet in the fall of 2017 where she performed ensemble, soloist, and leading roles as well as choreographing for the spring season of 2019. She is currently a freelance dancer throughout the Bay Area working with multiple choreographers such as Alyssa Mitchel Choreographer, Marika Brussels, Ziru Dance, and Em(body) Dance Project. Fabiana is also a dance instructor in ballet and contemporary as well as a choreographer for competition with multiple schools throughout the Bay Area.
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.
Jenna Marie was born in Philadelphia, PA and began dancing with ZiRu in 2020. She began her dance training at Olga Kresin's Ballet School and later attended The Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Jenna has participated in a number of dance competitions including The Youth America Grand Prix, where she was featured in the documentary “First Position.” As a scholarship student at The Ailey School, Marie became a member of Ailey II under the direction of Sylvia Waters. Following Ailey II, Jenna was a member of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Nai Ni Chen Dance Company, Momix, The Metropolitan Opera and Ballet Hispanico. She Has been a guest artist with The black Iris Project and has worked for artists such as Beyoncé, Romeo Santos, Nile Rodgers, and Betsey Johnson. Currently, Jenna is dancing with Post:Ballet and Robert Moses’ Kin and teaching at Berkeley Ballet Theater and Moving Arts Academy of Dance here in the Bay Area.
Sharon Kung (Chinese) was born in New York, and currently resides in the San Francisco bay area. She joined ZiRu in 2020. She received her early training at the Jean M Wong School of Ballet in Hong Kong, and continued in the bay area before graduating Magna Cum Laude from the University of California, Irvine with a BFA in Dance Performance and BA in Economics. She is currently a freelance dance artist in the San Francisco bay area, performing, collaborating, choreographing, and teaching. Her repertory includes works by George Balanchine, William Forsythe, Bob Fosse, Yayoi Kambara, José Limon, Graham Lustig, Dexandro “D” Montalvo, Robert Moses, Donald McKayle, Crystal Pite, and Amy Seiwert. Her experience includes Dance Theatre of San Francisco, KAMBARA + DANCERS (San Francisco), Thodos Dance Chicago along with freelance projects and film collaborations in San Francisco, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and Morocco.