Art and culture

Q&A With Hong Kong Ballet’s Paul Tam

Executive director of Hong Kong Ballet, Paul Tam, reflects on the future of ballet in the city

Can you tell us about your role at Hong Kong Ballet?

I’m the executive director of Hong Kong Ballet, and I’ve been in this role since 2014. Working closely with our artistic director, my job is to take care of the business side of things – marketing, fundraising, education, accounting, legal and more.

What was your vision for Hong Kong Ballet when you first arrived five years ago?

For many Hongkongers, their first impressions of ballet are the classics, like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. And since the artform dates back to the 15th century, not everyone immediately relates to it. When I first joined, the most immediate challenge for us was to figure out: how do we make ourselves relevant, and how do we grow the company in the context of Hong Kong? That’s the million-dollar question.

So how did you approach that?

Since 2015, I’ve been tasked to rebrand the ballet company. Besides trying to make ourselves more modern, we also wanted to expand our community reach in Hong Kong, as this is our home. For our 2018/19 season ‘Never stand still’ branding campaign, we featured our dancers dressed in very vibrant colours, striking interesting poses around the city’s iconic landmarks. It was a success and received a lot of attention because it got people thinking about ballet from a different perspective.

Credit: Mike Pickles

What is your working relationship with Hong Kong Ballet’s artistic director, Septime Webre?

Septime and I have a pretty similar way of thinking, from how to promote the company and grow the audience to how to move it forward. When he joined in 2017, we had an instant connection. He’s brought a lot of ideas with him from the Washington Ballet [where Webre served as the artistic director from 1999-2016]. Last year, we began inviting audiences, subscribers, donors and sponsors to come watch our studio rehearsals and meet with our dancers and musicians. These engagement experiences are part of a long-term cultivation process, and we’re willing to invest time and resources into attracting more supporters. We’re hoping to expand on these efforts in the near future.

How do you balance tradition and the drive to take the company forward?

First of all, you have to understand your strengths. For us, that’s classical ballet – the technique, artistry and style. On top of that, the variations are limitless. If you look at our programming last season, besides longtime favourites like The Nutcracker and Giselle, we also had Alice (in Wonderland), which pays homage to the classics with a sense of modernism inserted into elements of the show. Reinterpretations like this are a very powerful vehicle to transport Hong Kong Ballet into the 21st century.

What are your plans for 2019/20 – Hong Kong Ballet’s 40th anniversary season?

To paraphrase Walter Pitkin, 40 is a great number for us as life is just beginning. We’re investing in new and exciting productions with Hong Kong elements, and will continue to expand our community outreach and raise our visibility locally and internationally. I have this lofty yet achievable vision to see Hong Kong Ballet transcend the boundaries of arts and culture and become the pride of the city. It may take some time, but we are well on our way.

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