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Friday, April 13, 2018, 11:44
'I do not know when and where the seeds I sow will grow'
By Chitralekha Basu
Friday, April 13, 2018, 11:44 By Chitralekha Basu

This undated photo shows Yang Yuntao, artistic director of Hong Kong Dance Company. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

On choosing the story of Mulan for Hong Kong Dance Company’s educational program…

Mulan in the Xu Wei play is written in old Chinese. I read the story when I was in school. The story became quite pivotal in informing my sensibilities and value system. I was fascinated by the story of this intrepid woman warrior who sets herself goals that are hard to achieve. 

On tweaking the original production of Mulan for primary school students…

The All About Mulan show is part of our dance education initiative. Our focus is on education, we believe in nurturing children when they are young and open to new experiences. 

It was tricky selecting a show for educational purpose as not all dance shows we do are suitable for children. We introduced an element of theater where actors, (playing a schoolgirl and her father), introduce the story. We also added songs, as children may not be able to appreciate dancing without the aid of music or dialogues. 

(PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

On inviting young audience members to have a go at working the warrior’s weapon…

I borrowed the technique from the Chinese martial art style gun shu, creating a dance performance based on the moves. To me how well it works as a dance move is more important than its provenance. 

On whether young people today can relate to the notion of filial piety…

Family bonding and respecting one’s elders is very deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture but kids these days do not seem to feel as passionate about upholding those values. So it’s great to hear a small boy who came to watch our show say that he actually felt the emotion. This is the beauty of dance education. 

(PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

On the mixed audiences drawn by Hong Kong Dance Company’s educational programs…

My role is more like that of a sower of seeds. I do not know when and where they will grow. Do it now and maybe the results will start showing generations later. I don’t have any messages as such that I would like the audiences to get. I do not expect 3- or 4-year-olds to understand the values informing the story. I would just like them to remember a feeling, things like parents holding their hands, bringing them to the theater. When they are older and revisit the memory, something might spark in them. 

I would like the students from dance schools and secondary schools who came to the show to know that studying an ancient classical text is not that boring. Mulan is taught in schools and students who come to this show might start seeing the textbook story in a new light. 

As for the grown-ups, parents and teachers, they would perhaps rediscover a text they had read as young people and relate it to their daily lives. 

(PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

On plans retaking advantage of the recent government push to develop the arts…

We are very happy to see this push on the part of the government to foster growth of cultural activities as well as build an audience. That said I feel we are vested with great responsibilities, being a government-funded organization, and we have to constantly strive toward pushing ourselves forward. 

If we had more funds we would consider involving more local artistes, independent artistes and other professionals in our projects. Even this production of Mulan could be so much better in terms of theatrical skills involved, the quality of screen projections and design. That’s how we can push it to a different level artistically. 

Our tickets cost only HK$10 a piece, so it’s impossible to make an improvement in quality without government support. 

(PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

On the enduring appeal of Mulan…

Mulan is indeed the flagship show in our repertoire. Our original show was created a decade ago and has traveled to many places but I think there’s still room for improvement. Every time I watch the show I see scope for improvement so I don’t want to limit the possibilities as to how it could grow. It could be a lot more than just a regular dance-based show and an educational performance. This show should be evergreen and ever-growing and someone else who takes over after me will, hopefully, continue to develop this show and make it continue to evolve.

Interviewed by Chitralekha Basu.

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