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Tribes of Hong Kong: Ballet Dancers

As they prepare for The Nutcracker, members of the Hong Kong Ballet reflect on dance and the kinship it creates

It’s just not quite Christmas without The Nutcracker. The two-act ballet, which is initially set in a home decked out for Christmas and transitions to fantastical lands and faraway countries, is an annual fixture in Hong Kong. Tchaikovsky’s score backs dancers of the Hong Kong Ballet, a company of artists from around the world.

Having danced on some of the world’s most prestigious stages, Venus Villa from Cuba joined the Hong Kong Ballet in July this year as principal dancer. ‘Septime Webre, the artistic director of the Hong Kong Ballet, has a creative style that fits me very well, so I decided to come here to work with him,’ she says. She might be on top now, but nothing comes easy for ballet dancers. ‘To be a professional dancer, you must be truly passionate about it because not only does your career take over your life, but dance brings injuries and failed performances. Not everyone can handle it emotionally, so perseverance is key.’

Sichuan native Chen Zhiyao, who has just danced the title role in Giselle, says one reason she loves her career is because it evolves year by year. ‘In the beginning I was focused on technique, but now I pay more attention to the whole performance, which includes emotional expression and stage presence. This is all part of the progress as I strive to become principal dancer.‘

The negative stigma attached to male ballet dancers has lessened greatly in the past few years. For Li Lin, who comes from Zhejiang province, dancing from age 12 kept him in line. ‘I was an overactive kid and ballet is highly disciplined, so it served me well,’ he says. Like many, he is away from home, but finds kinship among his colleagues. ‘I’m not from Hong Kong, so I see the company as my family.’

Villa echoes his experience. ‘The people I work with are respectful and courteous. I’ve only been here for a few months but it already feels like home.’ 

The Hong Kong Ballet performs The Nutcracker 14-26 December, 2018

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