BEHIND EVERY GREAT performing-arts company is a team of determined volunteers who tirelessly fund-raise, sign up new members and providing structure to the organisation – and the Hong Kong Ballet is no exception. The Hong Kong Ballet Guild was founded in 2008 with the intention of raising the profile of Asia’s leading dance company, and its members are essentially “ballet ambassadors”, both popularising and supporting this most graceful of art forms within the community, according to co-chair Janice Chan-Choy, who is supported by Daphne King Yao in her endeavours.
Starting out with 14 members in 2008, the guild has doubled in size with 30 members – but Chan-Choy is keen to stress, “We need as many supporters as we can get. There’s no upper limit.”
What initially attracted you to the guild?
JCC: Ballet was my childhood passion so I’m very happy to help in any way I can. I’m a friend of Deirdre Fu, who’s also on the board, and she drafted me in. I started in 2009 when she asked me to get involved with the organising committee for the Nutcracker Christmas Benefit, which Daphne and I cochaired in 2010 and 2011.
DKY: Unlike Janice, I don’t have a life-long passion for ballet. I danced when I was young [at Jean Wong] but stopped because I didn’t like it – though I regretted it afterwards. I hit a wall where I thought it was really hard and there were other interests that I was pursuing too. But I’ve always gone to see ballet…I remember watching performances at City Hall on a really small stage in the days before the Cultural Centre.
What are the guild’s main responsibilities?
JCC: One of the biggest is organising the Nutcracker Christmas Benefit, in which we hold auctions and children get a chance to perform. We also organise studio visits and barre sessions, where guild members can observe or join in workouts with the dancers.
We also organise post-performance parties, so in November after the Ballet Soirée we hosted an event at The Peninsula sponsored by Bulgari, which provided a chance for the guild members to mingle with the company’s dancers and artistic directors. Last year, we had more guests than expected as Tan Yuanyuan and [principal dancer at the Hong Kong ballet] Jin Yao were both there, decked out in Bulgari jewellery and ball gowns. They looked absolutely amazing.
Do you think the Hong Kong community is more receptive to ballet than it once was?
JCC: Yes, partly because I think the Hong Kong ballet company has grown tremendously these past few years. We did a tour of North America last summer, and when we danced at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Aspen, we received standing ovations and rave reviews in the media. Ballet may be seen as something of a luxury, but when I saw the very humble office and the company’s very lean resources, I was keen to get involved, as you realise that they’re in need of money as much as any charity out there. I think Hong Kong has the potential to become Asia’s arts hub, but for us to realise that potential we need to become more world class. To achieve that objective, we need a lot more funding. Hong Kong is neither the American nor the European model – the European model is heavily subsidised, while in the US, private organisations give a lot to fund the arts. In Hong Kong, we don’t get enough money from the government or private sponsorship, so it’s up to us as the guild to raise those vital funds.
Hong Kong Cancer Fund’s Sally Lo previously told Prestige Hong Kong that individuals are usually extremely generous, but corporate funding is more difficult to come by here.
JCC: [Laughs] I think we’ve been incredibly lucky as we have the Ballet Ball each year and very generous donors and supporters. Last year, Dior sponsored the ball, and Baby Dior sponsored the Nutcracker Benefit. It’s great to have such big names involved but somehow it’s never enough. As with all charities, we’re always in need of more money and support. The more funding we have, the more productions we can put on, which can be tailored for Hong Kong audiences. It also enables us to do more touring, raise our profile and hire better dancers.
What are the biggest challenges you face in the coming year?
DKY: To attract more people. If we compare where we are now to a few years ago, there are more people interested, and coming along to see productions. I think they perhaps wanted to before but didn’t know about us. At the end of the day, ballet is a something of a niche in terms of people enjoying, so it’s a little difficult to overcome that.
How do you see the Hong Kong Ballet evolving over the next few years?
DKY: One of our biggest goals is to become a globally recognised ballet company.
JCC: There’s currently a focus on raising our technical abilities and sharpening our skills in related areas like costume, so we’re on a par with top ballet companies around the world.
Do you think it’s possible to become worldclass within the next few years?
DKY: Perhaps not in the next few years, but I think in the long run it’s certainly possible.
What lessons can the Hong Kong Ballet learn from ballet behemoths such as the Bolshoi?
JCC: I’m not sure if we would want to directly compare ourselves with the Bolshoi, as we want to have local significance – we recently hosted the world premier of [principal dancer of the National Ballet of China] Li Jun’s Dancing with the Wind, for example. While we strive to become a world-class ballet company, our identity has to be somehow linked to Hong Kong and the audience here. This has to be our role.
TEXT / HELEN DALLEY
PORTRAIT / SAMANTHA SIN