Creative MVP: Sugar Vendil

Sugar Vendil

Sugar Vendil is creating in music and multidisciplinary performance.  

Sugar Vendil is a New York-based director and pianist lauded for “leading the unlikely intersection of classical music and new fashion” (New York Times). A first generation Filipino-American, Vendil grew up in El Sobrante, CA, a suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds a Master of Music degree from New York University, Steinhardt, and is the founder of The Nouveau Classical Project (NCP), a music ensemble that collaborates with artists such as visual artists, dancers, and fashion designers for its performances.

Vendil is currently commissioning a set of solo works for her first solo album. In addition to rigorous discipline as a musician, her artistic practice is strongly focused on multidisciplinary performance that incorporates movement and approaches the piano in unconventional ways. The piece “Test Site 1: In)habit”, the first part in a series of these explorations, she worked with choreographer Coco Karol and composer Trevor Gureckis, who has been her main collaborator for six years.

Prior to this, she directed “Potential Energies,” a hybrid work for five musicians and five dancers choreographed by Barbie Diewald, composed by Trevor Gureckis, and performed by NCP and TrioDance at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Fisher. Her present investigations revolve around the themes of identity and race, particularly related to discrimination as well as being caught in between two cultures. Vendil was recently awarded a Puffin Foundation grant, which will assist in generating a new piece that will confront these issues.

Vendil is a 2016 Fellow in the Target Margin Institute for Collaborative Theater Making and has a residency at National Sawdust in Brooklyn.

What are you creating?
I’m focusing on upcoming projects with my music ensemble, The Nouveau Classical Project, that include a multimedia collaboration with composer Nina C. Young and a concert of new electro-acoustic works by Olga Bell, Gabrielle Herbst aka GABI, and other amazing artists. In addition to continuing to grow what I’ve built, I’m also starting to focus on my solo projects, which is both terrifying and exciting. I’m working on a solo album and commissioning new pieces. The first two will be by Trevor Gureckis and Mary Kouyoumdjian. The other project I’m working on is still in its research phase, but it will confront racial issues involved specifically in being a Filipino-American that only recently, as they say, I’ve become “woke” to.

What inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who seem to have achieved success later in life, or who start something at a later age…anyone who isn’t afraid of doing when they haven’t had a straightforward trajectory. And that’s because I think that about myself, that I’m a late bloomer, and I need to see models of what’s possible.

I’m currently inspired by Asian American artists, particularly writers, who are addressing racial issues and bringing to the forefront the history of Asians in this country, such as Viet Thanh Nguyen and Mia Alvar.

Who has influenced your creative journey? 
I think my husband, Trevor, has been a huge influence. I started listening to and performing contemporary music after we met. But he’s also influenced the way I approach my artistic journey in regards to my career. He’s really taken control of his life as an artist in his own way. He’s also just been so incredibly encouraging, and having this sort of support is invaluable for an artist.

What’s been the biggest surprise?
The surprises keep on coming and more unexpected things keep happening. At the moment, the most surprising thing is that I didn’t think I would start pursuing any solo work. I thought I would only focus on NCP. I’m still completely committed to my ensemble’s success but I now also have this feeling in my gut that creating work on my own is something I absolutely need to do. I have so much to say as a multidisciplinary artist and I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m confident about my playing and my ideas. Goes back to that whole late bloomer thing!

How do you define success?
I used to think that success as an artist would be making enough to survive and make art, but as I’ve gotten farther along in my career my definition the goal post keeps changing. I’m not gonna lie, some awards would be pretty sweet because they just open so many doors. That’s how I feel most days. Then when I get out of the city, get a change of scenery and spend some time in nature, I relax and see success as just being happy. I think success is a temporal, ever-changing thing.

Explore Sugar’s work on her websiteTwitter, and Instagram

Photo by Michael Leviton

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