Hong Kong Ballet’s Pinocchio Exceeds Expectation

Pinocchio curtain call

The performance of Pinocchio by the Hong Kong Ballet earned enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Last Saturday I had a most enjoyable afternoon watching “Pinocchio,” a brand new production by the Hong Kong Ballet that marked both the start of the company’s 2015 fall season and the world première of the ballet itself. I almost didn’t go, as the previous couple of programs by the company made me close to lose faith in its future productions. Luckily, a review by art critique Carla Escoda in Backtrack and her personal recommendation with a simple urge, “Go!” made me change my mind. I am so glad I did purchase the tickets after all, as the production was anything but a disappointment. In fact, the highly creative elements—the engaging acting, the beautiful dancing, the fitting and grand musical score, the wonderful orchestral performance and the sophisticated and expensive costumes, lighting and set design—combined to give me an impression that this production was top-notch and meticulously put together, resulting in a strong emotional impact disguised in a child’s play. Instead of finding myself noticing flaws and yawning from time to time, my senses were delighted and I found myself pleasantly surprised again and again during the entire performance.

HKBallet_Pinocchio_PromoPhotoThe ballet started with a good pace, with a quick introduction by the Cricket (danced by Dong Ruixue) to the opening scene. The lack of a prelude as in other classical story ballets is a plus for today’s impatient audience, especially since an important target audience of this ballet are children. The lighthearted score by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi blends extremely well with the storytelling, putting the audience right into the mood for a series of intriguing adventures to unfold.

I laughed when a three-year-old seated next to me screamed to her mother, “I’m scared, let’s go home!” when the piece of pine wood from which Pinocchio would emerge arrived at the home of Geppetto (danced by Li Lin). Isn’t this ballet supposed to be made for children? Oh wait! Very soon, the kid calmed down and was engaged by the storytelling. The entrance of Pinocchio, danced by Hong Kong Ballet’s new soloist from Italy, Vittorio Galloro, who made his début with the company in this matinee performance, made a strong impression on me as his clumsy and stiff movements convincingly resembled that of a wooden puppet and the costume was masterfully designed to give the illusion of bulkiness and inflexibility.

Gradually, Pinocchio learned to move in a smoother fashion and then picked up a few dance steps. I don’t know how many others in the audience felt the way I did, but I could actually relate to this as I reminisce on how I initially picked up ballet steps when I started to take lessons as an adult!

Almost too quickly though, Pinocchio was given a book by Geppetto to head to school, and the audience most likely did not catch the transition well enough to make out the emotional development between the boy and his “father.” But given the fact that the complex original story had to be told in two acts with 20 different scenes, some of the nuances in transitions were sacrificed.

Jessica Burrows as Columbina, Xia Jun as Arlecchino, Hong Kong Ballet Dancers as Marionettes | Photographer: Tony Luk  Shen Jie as Pinocchio, Hong Kong Ballet Dancers as Marionettes | Photographer: Tony Luk

The next scene depicts a fantastically executed commedia dell’arte scene as observed by the wide-eyed Pinocchio at a marionette theater. The neo-Baroque music beautifully threads together the movements of the masked marionettes, with a clearly defined plot featuring the classical characters of the Arlecchino (Shen Jie), Arlecchina (Arianne Lafita Gonzalvez, also a new soloist of the company this season), Columbina (Jessica Burrows) and Pietro (Gong Yi Wen). At the end of the theatrical performance, Pinocchio went to join the puppets and released their hands from the ropes that tied them. To me, this act took on a profound philosophical tone. I am not sure if it was intended or not by the Swedish choreographer Pär Isberg. What came to my mind was the liberation of the slaves from their semi-conscious/zombie state, and Pinocchio suddenly became the hero as the puppets became aware of their freedom and independence! According to the story line, he took part in the performance, which earned him some gold coins from the theater director. Here I find a lapse in logic as Pinocchio is supposed to have done something naughty (selling his book to buy the theater ticket and forgetting the purpose of going to school). But I find him all the more likable for his heroic deed!

Li Lin as Fox, Shen Jie as Pinocchio and Liu Miao-miao as Cat | Photographer: Tony Luk

The next scene, featuring the Blind Cat (Vanessa Lai) and the Fox (Xia Jun), contains my favorite solo numbers. I was particularly impressed with the performance of Hong Kong-born Vanessa Lai, whose talent is obviously appreciated despite having only been in the company for two years (as apprentice and then as corps member). Her nimble movements reflect that of a cat so very well, with a tinge of sensuality and humor. Her pas de deux with Xia Jun was seamless and entertaining. And I really loved the backdrop showing the trees with Photographer: Tony Lukgolden coins! Kudos to the incredibly talented painter Jordi Castells from Spain. The plot of this scene was clearly played out, leaving no doubt in the audience’s mind with regards to what was happening. One can’t  help but feel pity for the wooden boy for being duped by these two cunning characters.

Starting from the next scene on, I had difficulty making out what happened that eventually led Pinocchio into such agony that called for the rescue of the kind-hearted Blue Fairy (Liu Maio-miao). In fact, the whole rationale behind the elongation of Pinocchio’s nose was not clearly expressed. It is understandable that certain details of the story do not lend themselves well to expression by dance movements, but even so, here is where I found the weakest part of the ballet. The transition was contrived and confusing, to say the least. The role of the Blue Fairy is not very strong either. Fortunately, the character was saved by the graceful dancing of Dong Ruixue, who exerted a calming energy throughout.

Shen Jie as Pinocchio and Hong Kong Ballet Dancers as Schoolmates | Photographer: Tony Luk  Shen Jie as Pinocchio, Jonathan Spigner as Lampwick, Ricky Hu as The Coach Man and Hong Kong Ballet Dancers as Schoolmates | Photographer: Conrad Dy-Liacco

The Land of Candy and Play scene made me laugh so much as the slim and muscular dancers suddenly appeared with gigantic stomachs at the verge of explosion! That was the result of ingesting too many giant-sized candies, another thing that triggered my laughter. How perfectly this Felliniesque scene depicts our time—the mindless addiction to all things sugary, until everybody goes into a trance without realizing the harmful effects on the mind and body. Of course, this is also my own interpretation,  a social commentary that wasn’t perhaps intended? Who knows! Something to ponder upon after the giggles.

Shen Jie as Pinocchio and Hong Kong Ballet Dancers as sea creatures | Photographer: Kitmin Lee

The underwater scene in the second act was the highlight in terms of the set design. Kudos to Bo-Ruben Hedwall, a set designer with extensive experience working for Swedish Television. It was so sophisticated that at times, it boggled the mind how the scenes were produced. For adults and children alike, the characters of all the sea animals—jelly fish, turtles, starfish, seahorses and little fishes—were all lovable. Liu Yu-yao as Cricket and Hong Kong Ballet Dancers | Photographer: Tony LukThe costume design by Jérôme Kaplan really excelled in this scene, although it is equally sophisticated and flamboyant in the other characters, especially the Cricket. Later on when Pinocchio found himself in the ocean waves looking for his lost father, the beautiful flowing blue fabrics weaved together a marvelous sight to behold. It gave me yet another Felliniesque flashback—one from the powerful, risqué and odd tale of Casanova.

The final scene with the score from Respighi’s  “The Pines of Rome” was nothing short of dramatic, and rightly so as we witnessed Pinocchio’s transformation into a human being after having learned the earthly lessons of what it means to be human—through being “naughty” and experiencing everything from deception, gluttony to betrayal, his triumph in rescuing and reconciling with his father ultimately made the audience’s hearts melt.

What I love about this ballet is that any bravura steps were not executed simply to impress. For example, when Pinocchio made his high jumps, he did them deliberately with a lack of precision sometimes to show that he was still mastering his movements in his adaptation to a human body. In a way, this takes the pressure off the dancer from the stereotypical demand for perfection and puts the focus on the storytelling itself.

Vittorio Galloro was tremendously engaging as a dancer and actor. Congratulations to him for a brilliant début! I certainly look forward to more of his performance with the company in the future.

I think the captivating power of the Pinocchio ballet lies in the emotional message in it—not so much the moralistic rendition of the Disney version of the tale, that telling lies leads to punishments and regrets, and a good child must be honest; but more about our ability to transcend and grow into our fullest potentials.

Like Pinocchio, every one of us goes through life with all its fascinating, gratifying, ecstatic, fearful, unpleasant and dark moments, yet we are not stuck in one state or another. Life keeps moving, and as long as we keep on exploring for ourselves and learn the lessons along the way, we will grow into who we are truly meant to be. The transformation of Pinocchio into a full-fledged human gives us a glimpse of that non-dying hope for humanity.

Hong Ballet's "Pinocchio" - Backdrop Painting by Jordi Castells

Backdrop Painting by Jordi Castells

Having led the Hong Kong Ballet for six years, Artistic Director Madeleine Onne from Sweden has finally created an original ballet that Hong Kong can be proud of. Sure, one can argue that it is a largely Swedish production with a strong Italian theme. But with the participation of local talents, such as Ava Mok working on props and Billy Chan working on lighting, as well as dancers from Hong Kong, mainland China and around the world, this production represents the international spirit of the city in its best light. I hope Pinocchio is not a one-time affair but have a chance to tour overseas and surprise the world what a high-calibre ballet company Hong Kong possesses. Rather than keep on producing the same-old, same-old classical ballets, why not devote more time to creating something original like this? Of course, a production like Pinocchio probably costs millions of dollars to create. But this is certainly a step in the right direction if the company is to do something worthwhile—something that will make a strong artistic imprint in the world.

Media articles on Pinocchio:

Hong Kong Ballet unveils a sumptuous and sophisticated Pinocchio (Bachtrack)

Hong Kong Ballet reinvents classic fairy tale Pinocchio (Preview by SCMP)

Interview: Choreographer Pär Isberg – Pinocchio (Time Out HK)

Review: Hong Kong Ballet’s Pinocchio has great dancing, costumes and sets, but is let down by score (Review by SCMP)

Photo credits: Except for the top and bottom photos, all are by Hong Kong Ballet’s commissioned photographers, Tony Luk, Conrad Dy-Liacco and Kitmin Lee.


Dancing off the Beaten Path: The Stories of Three Young Chinese Male Dancers

Photo credit: Self portrait by Mickael Jou (Click on photo to visit Jou’s FB page)

Male ballet dancers in Asia are a rare species. Not that they don’t exist. But generally speaking, parents do not encourage their sons to pursue the path of becoming a professional dancer because dancing is still very much considered a feminine activity and thus a dancing boy would be seen as a “sissy.” In addition, in Chinese societies, especially in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, where there is scanty government funding for the arts, dance is not regarded as a prestigious profession, as being a dancer does not equate a big salary and a “stable” future.

Against these odds, there are a few young male dancers who have followed a non-traditional path and carved a niche for themselves. By defying the skepticism around them, these young men have become a source of inspiration for many aspiring dancers.

Mickael Jou (周楷), an American-born Taiwanese dancer and self-taught photographer, has wowed the world with a series of selfies showing himself dancing and jumping around the world. His photos have recently been published in the Huffington Post (http://huff.to/1GEPiAZ) and the Daily Mail (http://dailym.ai/1IlaDER), in which he is described as “the man who defies gravity.” The Chinese-language Apple Daily newspaper has even met up with him in Berlin and done a video interview after observing the painstaking process of him taking self portraits (http://bit.ly/1LQc27y)

When you look at Jou’s “selfies,” it is hard to tell that he is not a professional dancer. What surprised me the most is that he actually did not start to take ballet lessons until he was 18. He studied business in university and started working in sales. His adventurous spirit brought him from the United States to Paris, France and later to Berlin, Germany, where he is now working with photography. His passion of dance+photography has taken him around the world doing crazy jumps amid wide-eyed and head-scratching crowds. He is a perfect example of someone who lives outside the traditional box—a box that is perpetuated among Chinese families. He is a true inspiration of creativity for us Chinese people!

Photo courtesy of Meng Ting

Another young Taiwanese man, Meng Ting (孟霆), grew up in his mother’s ballet studio and eventually pursued ballet studies at Taipei National University of the Arts. But after graduation, he has chosen to join the army’s Honor Guard. The Taiwanese media published a report on this (http://bit.ly/1eCjDJG). Why has he chosen this career path? “The main consideration was the practical side,” he answered, hinting at the uncertainties of pursuing the ballet profession in Taiwan. He said he did not audition for a ballet company after graduation. But he still practices and performs in his mother’s studio’s yearly school performance, and finds tremendous satisfaction in that.

In the video posted by Taiwan’s Security Department as a recruitment ad (above), Meng said that he has chosen to work in the Honor Guard as there is a chance for him to perform on stage and he finds a parallel between the work there and ballet dancing. Both have very specific and detailed demands for each movement and require a strict discipline. At the same time, there is a constant need to come up with new choreography for the Honor Guard, so it is just as challenging as dancing ballet. The “selling point” used by the Taiwanese military is that a man who can execute graceful movements can also be suitable for work in the military—a perfect harmony between the soft and the hard sides of masculinity. Meng told me that the job suits him because he can find the perfect balance between financial stability and an outlet to make use of his dancing talents, applying the spirit of ballet in his military work.

Kelvin Mak

Photo courtesy of Kelvin Mak

Back in Hong Kong, my home turf, we have a “miracle” created by Kelvin Mak (麥卓鴻), who started learning ballet at the age of 16 and has successfully become a professional dancer three years later. The 21-year-old started off learning hip hop and fell in love with performing arts, moving on to ballet and contemporary dance. He graduated from the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, majoring in modern dance, and in 2013, joined the City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), the most prominent contemporary dance company in Hong Kong, as a professional dancer. Why did he pursue dance? His answer: “I believe that dance has chosen me.”

Like so many Chinese mothers out there, Kelvin’s moother has never really supported his choice of becoming a dancer. But Kelvin dances on, in the hope that one day he will earn her support through his success. Among his numerous achievements so far is winning the third prize in the Classical Pas de Deux category at The American Dance Competition in 2013. Watch him dance in the YouTube links below.

Besides dancing for CCDC, Mak is also a dancer with the newly established Beyond Dance Theater (舞界限舞蹈團), founded by his ballet teacher Linus Kwok. When asked how dance has inspired his life, he said, “Although ‘impractical,’ dance gives me a strong sense of living in the moment…. The process is not painful at all, but rather, very joyful. Dance definitely brings me a kind of spiritual enjoyment. It gives me a channel to express my emotions.” When asked about his advice for students who are looking to develop a dance career, he said, “Be truthful to who you are at any given moment. Although you may be ‘imperfect,” you need to enjoy the imperfection, too. As a dancer, there is a bright spot in every step. Take in every moment carefully, and you will never regret the rest of your life!”

Attention Ballet Studio Owners: 5 Things You Need to Know about Adult Students

Recently I was invited to a press conference of a new ballet studio in town. Unlike most studios in Hong Kong, this one, SJ Ballet Des Arts, is relatively large in size (two 600+ sq. ft. studios), with an exceptional sea view to boot, and located in a porsche tourist district where the rent is predictably high.


I had the chance to sit down with the founder of the studio, Song Hai Feng, who has just retired as a coryphée of The Hong Kong Ballet. Song emphasized that his school will focus on nurturing students’ artistry and spiritual fulfilment through a holistic approach—ballet books and music will be available in the library corner, and lectures will be provided to parents in the art of ballet, nutrition and safety, so that they can become a source of support for their children’s artistic development. Song’s wife, Jin Yao, currently a principal dancer of The Hong Kong Ballet, explained the goal of the school is to build a solid foundation for ballet students based on correct methodology from Day One. She said that she has seen innumerable young ballet students who went on auditions for Hong Kong Ballet’s annual Nutcracker, and was surprised to find that most did not exhibit the basic techniques correctly.

It all sounds wonderful—not many ballet studios in this over-commercialized city would have this kind of lofty approach. It remains to be seen how these goals will be accomplished.


SJ Ballet Des Arts is going to offer two types of adult ballet classes on top of its elite pre-professional track, one-on-one coaching, toddler classes with parents and Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) track for young hobbyists. One type of adult class is for beginners who have zero experience in ballet. The marketing angle is “Beauty and Slimming,” and the content of the course is a combination of Pilates mat exercises, stretching and some basic ballet movements. The other type is for those who have some experience of ballet. While I think that it is a great idea to require absolute beginners to do stretching and floorwork—which are usually omitted in Hong Kong’s adult ballet courses, the marketing concept of “Beauty and Slimming” is geared toward a clientele who may not be seriously interested in ballet as an art form. And the fee of HK$350 per lesson (students must pay three months’ fee in advance) is really prohibitive for many. Perhaps I’m wrong about it and perhaps there are plenty of wealthy ladies out there who don’t mind parting with what is equivalent to about US$45 for each session. But I definitely cannot afford to do this. In terms of class structure, I would rather that the school offers adult classes divided into different levels, with Level 1 consisting of floor barre and stretching on top of the basic movements, and then progressing to higher levels thereafter.

According to the studio founder Song, the plan is to introduce ballet basics through this class, and those interested in taking serious ballet lessons can move on to the regular adult class. Well, over the past few years, we  have seen the growth of interest in adult ballet around the world as a result of non-traditional classes geared toward those who want to keep fit and achieve a beautiful body shape (such as Ballet Beautiful, Xtend Barre and Sleek Technique). So maybe this will create a similar effect. We’ll see!

When I introduced myself to Song, he asked me what the challenges for adult students are. One of the things I told him about was that adult students often get injured as most of us do not receive core strength training in class, and some of us are not taught the right placement and technique from the start. Instead, we are often just asked to copy the teacher’s or other students’ movements, without understanding how to use the muscles in a correct manner. He was very surprised to hear that adults could get injured in ballet class! He told me that children in China who receive professional training almost never experience injury until quite late in their training or during their career, when they over-exert themselves.

I realized that for experienced ballet dancers and new studio owners, there may be specific aspects of adult ballet training that they may not be aware of, given their professional background and their relatively young age. So I decided to jot down a list of things for them to take into consideration when designing course content for the mature group:

1) Adult students come in vastly different body types and physical conditions that may include serious muscle imbalances, inflexibility and even deformity or diseases that affect the body’s alignment or stamina. It would be helpful to observe and check our body conditions, talk individually about our needs and make some effort to give us exercises that cater to our specific conditions. Treating everyone equally—or worse, treating us as if we were kids or teenagers—would not necessarily yield the best result.

2) Adult students come with baggages in life. We may be parents with tons of obligations. Or office workers who have to put in long hours or overtime regularly. We may have to go on business trips from time to time. Or we may have illnesses or diseases that prevent us from attending class regularly. Heck, some of us may even have dramatic family or life situations that cast a shadow in our minds, making us a little less capable of focusing and fulfilling the demands in class. These are some of the things that a young ballet student would not normally have to contend with. So beware of adult students’ erratic schedules and the impossibility to attend classes regularly. Try to pace the classes in a way that allows for us to make up for our lost progress. Many of us adult students wish to do well in class so badly, that missing a class itself is a source of stress. And the more stressed up we are, the more easily we get injured. So putting adult students’ mind at ease by offering some make-up classes or words of encouragement would be highly beneficial.

3) As I mentioned above, most ballet studios in Hong Kong do not offer core and flexibility training as a preparation for ballet training. At the same time, most adult students in Hong Kong are impatient and want to learn those “stylish” and “tricky” movements right away—and ballet teachers would give it to their “customers” without hesitation. Unfortunately, skipping this crucial preparatory stage could lead to bad habits/wrong muscle usage down the road, setting the body up for injuries or even repeated injuries. A serious studio would insist on this kind of foundation training for beginners before they are allowed to proceed to the next level. In addition, even though we all know that warm-ups and cool downs are necessary routines before and after a class, how many of us really know which movements are safe and helpful to do? (Read this article about warm-up frustrations.) We need explicit guidance, so it would be a good idea to build those into the class time—and that may mean lengthening the class by another 20-30 minutes. Some teachers or adult students may appall at the extra time they have to put into class time (there are those who habitually show up in class after the plié and leave the classroom as quickly as the reverence was finished), but this is about changing the mindset and creating the right routine for serious and safe training.

4) Adult students can be serious about technique and artistry too! So don’t assume that we are in the studio just to pass some time, have some some fun or get some exercise done to lose weight. Yes, those are some of the common motives. But many of us really want to learn to do ballet properly,  seriously and beautifully. So correct us properly and don’t be stingy about it. Yes, some of us may be a bit sensitive about criticism. But only giving compliments would not help us improve. Instead, make it part of the education process to let adults know that constructive criticism is part of ballet training and necessary for progress. On the other hand, do give confirmations or compliments whenever they are due. I know some teachers who never openly give praises for fear that certain students may get jealous. Well, if you give compliments to individual students for the improvements they have made over time—whether obvious or small, and take turn in giving each student some attention and correction from time to time, I don’t see why there would be an issue.

5) This last point is as much for the studio owner/teachers as for adult ballet students. Interesting enough, many adult students in Hong Kong wish to take RAD class. Their goal is to obtain certificates to prove that they have achieved a certain level of technical ability and artistry. Based on my observation over the years, I have come to understand that some adult students take the exams so seriously that they would risk all kind of injuries to get enough preparatory training for the exams. And in some rare cases, angry birds might surface when their scores come out and they don’t get what they expected or if they get lower scores than their classmates! Perhaps due to the fact that Hong Kong is a former British colony, most ballet schools’ syllabi is based on the RAD system and would enroll their students—even adults—in exams. The system is also an easy way for studios to maintain profitability because students enrolled in the exams are told they would be required to take X number of classes per week to achieve the right amount of training for their respective levels. Of course adult students are easy targets because many of them are willing to splurge on a hobby that they were often denied of in childhood, now that they are earning money as adults. So, enrolling adult students in exam classes is a sure-fire way to maintain a steady stream of income. And many new adult students are so impressionable, that RAD exam classes are the only way of taking class that they know of. The truth is, not every adult does well in an exam-oriented environment. While some claim that they won’t be motivated to take class if it wasn’t for the exams, some thrive without the constant pressure in the back of their minds. Others really just want to take class and do well. Still some others want to have an opportunity to eventually dance en pointe or/and perform on stage. Regardless, it is important to provide a friendly environment to adult students in which they would not feel pressured to follow the exam track.

Oh, one more thing: As women age and go into the peri-menopausal, pre-menopausal or menopausal stage, some of us have to deal with hormonal changes, which affect us both emotionally (e.g. mood swings, depression, etc.) and physically (weight gain, loss of bone density,  hot flashes, etc.). These are things that most young teachers would have not experienced themselves. As more and more adults start to take ballet classes, and some of them do fall into the age groups that experience these symptoms (the onset of peri-menopause could be as early as in the late 20s but is most common after the mid-30s), there is a whole new area of knowledge that ballet teachers need to equip themselves with. When teaching those of us who are going through these stages of our lives, please try to add a little extra sensitivity and gentleness.

Congrats, Misty!

Photo by New York Dance Project


Congratulations to Misty Copeland, for having been promoted to Principal Dancer at the American Ballet Theatre a few days after she debuted her role as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. She is the very first African-American ballerina who has ever been promoted to the rank of Principal Dancer in ABT’s 75 years of history. A true historical landmark.

Besides her unique style of gracefulness and technical prowess, I really like her strength and her athleticism—qualities that the stereotypical ballerina does not and should not possess. Some critics have pointed at her muscular limps and disqualified her as a pure classical ballerina based on that! Others have argued that her artistry is not at a level where a principal dancer should be. Not having seen her perform live, I am not in the position to judge the quality of her presence and artistry. But summarizing the dance reviews I have seen so far and the videos of her dancing, I have no doubt she has great potential to hone this vital aspect and grow into her principal role. To me, a dancer’s evolution is even more interesting to watch than a “finished product” that is perfect and has no room to improve.

What truly excites me and thousands and thousands of audience members worldwide, is that she has opened a new window to who the modern ballerina CAN be. The possibilities are limitless. By far, the strength of Misty’s mind is her greatest asset, and she has become a true inspiration for so many people, especially aspiring dancers of color. Yes, her promotion is a complicated story and has generated innumerable controversies on whether she deserves the principal role just because she is a great black dancer, and whether or not ABT should be more inclusive in its dancer profile.

To me, it is too difficult to separate the underlying politics from the artist. But why should we? It is a healthy debate. Misty’s vocal and proactive stance on the need to make ballet more inclusive has created wonders. She is bringing in a whole new group of audience who would otherwise not have become interested in ballet at all. And needless to say, she has inspired countless little brown girls to explore and advance in the art form. Just that itself is no small feat.

Bravo, bravo, Misty!

Related articles:

Book Review: ‘Life in Motion’ by Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland Is Promoted to Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theater (The New York Times)

Misty Copeland’s success shows ballet leaping in the right direction (The Guardian)

Geeking Out With Misty Copeland’s First Ballet Teacher On The Bigness Of Today (Huffington Post)

Misty Copeland, New York Dance Project

Oprah Winfrey’s Supersoul Original Short on Misty Copeland

Conversations with Adult Ballet Students #5: Angel Chau

This is the fifth in the series of Conversations with Adult Ballet Students. Leave me a message if you would like to be profiled in a future edition.


Meet Angel Chau, who works with equity sales in a brokerage house in Hong Kong and finds her dream in the ballet studio, which she dubs her “wonderland.”



Q: Did you ever take ballet lessons as a kid? When was that?

A: I took my first ballet class when I was around 4 or 5. I was so young that I don’t remember the details. All I can remember is that the music my teacher used for our dance came from the movie “An American Tail”—the title song of which is “Somewhere Out There.” When I was in junior high school, I joined a dance troupe called Crystal Western Folk Dance. Before we rehearsed our dances, we were given some basic ballet training. It was informal though. At that time, Winghong Wa became my first ballet teacher. He was in the first graduating class of the first ballet school in China. When I started my lessons with him, he was already over 50. In him, I see someone who is truly passionate about ballet, and this passion is not limited by age.


答:四、五歲時學過。年紀太小甚麼也不記得,只記得當年課堂上老師排舞音樂是老鼠也移民的主題曲–Somewhere out there。後來是初中時加入旭穎西方舞團,排舞前會上一些芭蕾舞基訓,不過也不是正式的芭蕾舞課。當年的芭蕾舞啟蒙老師-華永康老師是中國第一間芭蕾舞蹈學校的第一批學生,他教我跳舞時也年過半百了。從他身上我看到一個真正熱愛芭蕾的人,絕對不受年紀性別限制。

Q: When did you start taking ballet class as an adult?

A: After university and having worked for two years, I suddenly realized that life was dry and boring—going to work day in and day out with the sole purpose of making money. So I decided to give myself the gift of dance as the birthday present for that year.



Q: What motivated you to study ballet?

A: I have always loved to dance since I was a little child. But I always have felt that ballet is the foundation of all dance styles. That’s why I chose the ballet studio to be my escape from the world of money—it’s my “wonderland.”



Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge or difficulty?

A: Time.  When it comes to good ballet technique and stamina, there is no shortcut. The muscle tone, each tiny movement of the hands and the feet, the grace—all of these must be built through continuous training, hour after hour, day after day.

Adults are often constrained by their work schedule. Sometimes they have to socialize for work purposes during afterhours or travel on business, so they can’t make it to class. Besides work, some of us need to spend time with our significant others or our family. Some classmates may have been going very strong in class until they get pregnant and need to spend a tremendous amount of time to take care of their children. They can’t afford the time to take class anymore.




Q: What does ballet bring to your life?

A: I have learned the importance of perseverance. I’m a typical Hong Konger, which means I want efficiency and cost effectiveness in everything. But when it comes to ballet, there are no short courses. To be able to dance well, you’ve got to put in a long period of training time. If you persevere, you will find yourself having improved after a few years.

Another thing I got from ballet is friendship. I have made friends who are younger than me, who share the same interest as me. We have gone through exams and stage performances together. All these years, my classmates are not only friends but my teachers as well.




Q: What is the greatest achievement in your ballet life so far?

A: Although I have performed countless times, I know that I still don’t dance very well, so I can’t really say I have any achievements. But, I’d get very emotional every time I have finished a performance after having worked hard with my teacher and classmates.

Last year, I took two coworkers who were absolute beginners to take class with me. Gradually, they started to fall under the spell of ballet’s magic. Having successfully promoted ballet is an achievement that I am very happy about.





Q: What have you gained that was out of your expectation?

A: Ha ha ha, well, I don’t have to spend money on pedicure. In the summer, I would still wear sandals. If someone criticize on the look of my toe nails, I’d explain that this is what lies behind the beauty of ballet.



Q: What have you lost?

A: What I have gained is far greater than what I have lost.



Q: Is it all worth it?

A: Sure is!



Q: What is your goal in ballet?

A: To stay healthy and dance until I die.



Q: You also have continued to perform folk dance as an adult. Having studied both folk dance and ballet, what similarities do you find between the two dance forms?

A: There are quite a lot of similarities. Take Italian folk dance as an example. A lot of its allegro steps are based on ballet.



Q: How has folk dance enriched your life?

A: I have traveled with my dance troupe to Inner Mongolia for an international folk dance festival, where I met many different dance groups from different countries. Later on when dance festivals are hosted in those different countries, our troupe will be invited to attend too. Two years ago, I also participated in a folk dance festival in Slovakia and made many friends.



Conversations with Adult Ballet Students #4: Shirley Poon

This is the fourth in the series of Conversations with Adult Ballet Students. Leave me a message if you would like to be profiled in a future edition.


Introducing Shirley Poon, a management trainee in a Japanese company in Hong Kong. Shirley is going to share with us her bitter-sweet life as a life-long ballet student, and how learning ballet has helped her build a strong character and face life’s various challenges.


Shirley Poon

Q: Did you ever take ballet lessons as a kid? When was that?

A: Yes, I started dancing when I was three years old.



Q: Have you ever stopped dancing since then?

A: No, except for a month when I was preparing for the public exams at the end of my high school term.



Q: What motivated you to keep on learning ballet?

A: I’m constantly attracted to ballet because every gesture and every step exudes a sense of elegance. Besides, the costumes in classical ballet are so beautiful.



Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge or difficulty for an adult ballet student?

A: I think the greatest challenge for an adult ballet student is how to keep up the spirit of perseverance. Many movements in ballet cannot be mastered in a short time. Rather, one needs to practice over and over to get a handle on them. Besides, ballet requires not only perfection in technique but acting skills and coordination with music. All of these make ballet an extremely challenging art form. During the learning process, there are many things that can lead to a strong sense of frustration. Sometimes you just feel like giving up. For working adults, it is doubly hard when you have to gear up to go to a ballet class after putting in a full day’s work, when you naturally feel like hitting the couch and having a rest! But ballet is an art that requires continuous practice to make it perfect, that’s why I think that perseverance is such a big challenge for adults.


答:我想對成人芭蕾舞學生來說,最大的挑戰是要時時保持堅持的態度。芭蕾舞的動作好多不是一時三刻就能練習到,總要經過一段長時間學習,然後不斷反覆練習,才可能學會。芭蕾舞不只單單要求舞蹈員有技術上的訓練,還要學習情感表達、與音樂配合等等,這些要素大大提升了芭蕾舞的難度。在學習芭蕾舞的過程中,時時會遇到很多令人沮喪、很想放棄繼續學習的時刻, 而且對大多數成人芭蕾舞學生來說,每天下班後已經很累了,要堅持著下班後用本應休息的時間去學習跳舞,的確很困難。所以我認為要保持著對芭蕾舞的堅持是成人芭蕾舞學生最大的挑戰。

Q: What does ballet bring to your life?

A: Throughout my life, ballet has helped me build character, making me a person who does not easily give up. As I said before, ballet is an art form that has extremely high requirements. Physical stamina, technique and aesthetics—take either one away and it’s not ballet. When you learn ballet, you must not be afraid of failing. Even if you fail, you must try and try again, because you might just succeed the very next time! So what ballet has taught me, is not to easily give up when I run into difficulties in my work. When I face challenges in life, I have taken what I’ve learned in ballet and used the same attitude to keep on learning and preserving.


答:這些年來學習芭蕾舞令我培養出不輕易放棄的性格。就如前題所說,芭蕾舞是一項要求很高的藝術: 體能、技術和美感缺一不可。學習芭蕾舞一定要不怕失敗,即使失敗了,要繼續嘗試,因為可能下次嘗試就會成功。直到今天我出來社會工作,碰到困難時,都習慣了勇於學習及面對,不輕易放棄。

Q: What is the greatest achievement in your ballet life so far?

A: Ha ha, I can’t say I have made any special achievements. But if you count them as achievements, well, I have gotten a number of awards when I and my ballet buddies competed in some regional dance competitions.



Q: What have you gained that was out of your expectation?

A: Sure! I have made friends with a big group of people who are just as crazy about ballet as I am. We often encourage and learn from one another. This is something that I didn’t expect in the beginning.



Q: What have you lost?

A: Because of the need to practice frequently, I have sacrificed time that could have been spent doing fun stuff with my friends outside the ballet circle.



Q: What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done for ballet?

A: There was a period when I was preparing for a ballet exam and rehearsing for a performance at the same time. At that time, I started practicing from nine in the morning till eleven in the evening. After a whole day’s training, my body was so exhausted that it became numb. But the next day I would return to the dance studio right on time.



Q: Is it all worth it?

A: It is! Because I love ballet so much, no matter how tired I get, it’s all worth it!



Q: Have you ever dreamt of becoming a professional ballet dancer?

A: Yes, when I was little, I did dream about becoming a professional ballet dancer. However, later on I realized that my physique is that of a professional dancer, so I did not keep my dream anymore. I am very satisfied that I can keep on learning.



Q: As an adult dancer, what is your goal in ballet?

A: Different schools of ballet represent different kinds of aesthetics. My wish is to travel around the world and study different kinds of techniques in various ballet academies, so I can broaden the scope of my knowledge in my beloved art form.



Conversations with Adult Ballet Students #3: Fannie Siu

This is the third in the series of Conversations with Adult Ballet Students. Leave me a message if you would like to be profiled in a future edition.


What does a female police officer and a ballerina have in common? Well, discipline and determination are the qualities that neither should lack. Introducing Fannie Siu, both a member of the Hong Kong Police—a Woman Constable at the Police Community Relations Office, and an adult ballet dancer. She likes to train at the dance studio in her free time. Let’s hear her unusual story of how she entered the world of ballet!



Q: Did you ever take ballet lessons as a kid? When was that?

A: I never learned ballet as a kid!



Q: When did you start taking ballet class as an adult?

A: I started at the age of 19.



Q: What motivated you to do so?

A: In the beginning, I was actually taking karate class. But because of the lack of flexibility, I was unable to achieve what I wanted to achieve during free fight. Determined to reach my goal, I found out that ballet could help improve my flexibility. So I started going to ballet class. Once I stepped into the studio, I fell in love at first sight. Thinking back, this is quite a hilarious story! 


答:說出來也覺攪笑•••當年正學習空手道,但由於柔韌度及靈活性不足,與對手打 free fight 時未如理想,決心改善的我在查問後得知學習芭蕾舞最能增加柔韌度,於是便開始踏進芭蕾舞的小小世界裡,而且一學便立即愛上了! 

Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge or difficulty starting ballet as an adult?

A:  For an adult, the biggest challenges are flexibility and coordination. In addition, the learning process requires a great deal of hard work, patience and perseverance.



Q: What does ballet bring to your life?

A: It allows me to understand and appreciate the art form. Although I don’t have the ideal physique for ballet, I have learned how to enjoy the process of the dancing. That’s why I have kept on dancing over the years and watching ballet performances. It is such a joy to surround myself in the world of ballet in my free time.



Q: What is the greatest achievement in your ballet life so far?

A:  While I can’t claim any great achievements in my ballet life, I consider myself very lucky to be able to get into the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA) to major in ballet after having started as an adult and trained for only four years in my free time. I have to thank my first teacher, Ms. Shum Ying-ping, who turned me into a dancer. She is a former guest instructor at the Hong Kong Ballet Company. Under her professional guidance and patient tutelage, I was finally able to get admission into the HKAPA. A special thanks to Ms. Shum!



Q: What have you gained that was out of your expectation?

A: My biggest gain was a group of friends whom I made during the four years of full-time studies. We stayed on as a closely knit group through thick and thin. I can’t even start to describe our friendship with words. Even today, after so many years, we still get together regularly and share a good time!



Q: What have you lost or sacrificed in your pursuit of ballet?

A: For me, I never feel like I lost or sacrificed anything for ballet. I have only gained! But for my family, as I was the breadwinner at the time when I decided to become a full-time student, I did create financial burdens for my family members. I really appreciate their understanding and support during that period!



Q: What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done for ballet?

A:  Oh yes! Knowing that I was a late-starter, I wanted to take the last chance to get myself up to speed right before my entrance exam for the HKAPA. So I signed up for the day-time summer intensive even though I was holding a full-time job. This course required me to take half days off on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during an entire summer. My boss didn’t approve. Without thinking twice, I just handed in my resignation letter, which shocked both my boss and my coworkers! In the end, some of my coworkers persuaded my boss to return my resignation letter and let me take a leave of absence. Others tried to talk me into taking back the resignation letter, as they understood that I needed to save money for my ballet studies—working three more months would help me save for my tuition. In the end, I got what I wished—I was able to continue working while taking the summer intensive! 


答:哈! 有!在將近入讀演藝的時候,當時仍在工作中,但我想把握最後機會,因為我明知自己遲起步,所以參加了演藝學院日間的夏季密集課程,那要每逢一丶三丶五上午要請半日假去上課,當時老闆唔批,我連想都唔想就立即打了封辭職信遞給她,嚇呆了老闆及其他同事呢!最後,要其他同事勸告老闆批我放假及交返封辭職信俾我,亦有勸我收返封信,因為佢哋知我要儲錢入學,做多三個月都好吖,到最後都如我所願,工照返舞照跳! 

Q: Did you ever work as a professional dancer after graduation? Can you share your experience with us?

A: No, I started working in the police force right after graduation, so I never worked as a professional dancer. But I did work as a freelance dancer in my free time while pursuing my ballet degree, so that I could pay part of my tuition fee. At that time, I would dance for singers on TV shows and concerts.  In the weekends, I would teach kids ballet. But all of these were part-time jobs.


答:我在演藝畢業後就立即當警察,所以也沒有任何有關跳舞工作擔任過!不過,在入讀演藝學院的那段日子,我曾用課餘時間幫補學費;我會間中接 job 做,如幫歌手伴舞及跳演唱會等,每逢週末亦會教小朋友芭蕾舞課的,但全都是 part time 工作!

Q: Is it all worth it?

A: Sure! It’s all worth it, as long as I can enjoy the process of dancing ballet with all my heart!



Q: As an adult dancer, what is your goal in ballet?

A: My goal is to continue dancing! This June, I will be participating in the Vaganova Ballet Academy International Seminar (Summer Course) in St. Petersburg, Russia,  as well as watch the performances of the Paris Opera Ballet in France. I hope that in the future, I’ll have more chances to visit various ballet schools, watch performances all over the world and share my passion with fellow ballet lovers!


答:繼續跳舞!在本年六月已計劃前往俄羅斯聖彼得堡參加 Vaganova Ballet Academy International Seminar (Summer Course) 及到法國欣賞 Paris Opera Ballet 的芭蕾舞演出;希望在往後的日子,仍有機會到訪世界各地,參觀及了解當地芭蕾舞學校及舞團的演出,一起感受各舞者對芭蕾舞的那份熱誠!

Fannie Siu_Siu Hak

Fannie Siu with her late beloved Ms Siu Hak, who was trying to figure out what pose she was striking in the middle of the road.