Christine Wu appeared in one of the year’s most viral videos thus far: Billy Ray Cyrus’ hip-hop remix of “Achy Breaky Heart.” She played the electric violin — while doing a backbend.
Wu, who lives in Santa Monica, is breaking new ground in the performing arts by combining dance, yoga and complicated choreography with the violin. Wu recently talked about how she trains, how movement fuels her creativity and how she’s carved out her niche career.
You do yoga and ballet as well as working out at the Venice Beach gym. How does your exercise regimen help with the physicality of playing the violin?
I have to stay fit, otherwise it’s hard on your body to sit there and play, and you also don’t have the stamina to play. You always have to be on the go, carrying your instrument and working out regularly really gives you that energy.
Plus you get muscle imbalance. I’ll be really skewed to one side from holding the violin — this [latissimus dorsi] is stronger than that [latissimus dorsi]. I know some violinists who get surgery because their whole body just gets cramped and out of balance. It’s asymmetrical. Plus, yoga strengthens your core and makes you more aware of your posture, which is important for violin.
You’re known for doing acrobatic-style moves while playing. How do you learn and practice that?
When I was a little kid, maybe 7, I would do dance positions and play at the same time. So I kind of took that idea another step. I just wanted to do something no one else did.
To practice, I’ll prance around the house on pointe shoes to see how much balance I can maintain, or I’ll drop into the splits and play. I don’t do Pilates anymore, but I refer to it. For instance, I’ll be moving my leg, but my core is staying still. I already have the strength, so a lot of it is trying new things with the violin to see how they work.
Does your physical exercise help you as an artist?
If I’m feeling like I sound bad playing something, I’ll just make myself go outside, get my feet in the sand. I try to enjoy myself like it’s recess. But I’m conscious to move every day because I know that that keeps my whole spirit happy and my creative juices flowing. And I try to challenge myself — if I were to just jog three miles, I’d be like, “Ugh, that’s nice, but ho-hum.”
What is it about yoga and ballet specifically that’s helpful for you in your playing?
Ballet is exercise, but it’s also movement to music, and it informs your musical phrasing. So it’s a two-for-one, at least for me. It’s like doing music with your body. It’s also good for the core and the form.
With yoga, it’s that mindfulness of breathing and that focus. If you’re trying to think about, “Oh, what was that song I was trying to write,” you’re going to fall on your face. You have to be in such real time — if you get into half moon and you’re like, “Oh, here I am in half moon!” Kaboom! You’re going to fall. With violin, there’s also that real time of feeling it against the strings. So if you’re super aware and you’re in real time, you play better.
You’re classically trained as a violinist. What made you want to start playing different genres and incorporate acrobatics into your playing?
A few years ago, I got divorced and I was like, “What just happened? How did I end up here?” So I thought, “OK, I can work through this mentally, maybe a little therapy,” then I thought, “I need to exorcise this by moving. I’m going to change my life and be as joyful as possible and attract other joy to me.” That’s another thing exercise is good for: You move your body and shake off all that stress. Yoga is heart-opening, which is good for creativity, which is good for your life. I had all that stress and negativity, and I wanted to process my divorce, not just mentally but physically. That was a turning point.