||Translation: Joanna Lee|
||Reprinted from |
To demonstrate the general support for a ‘Hong Kong Dance Pavilion’ to be included in the Phase 1 development of West Kowloon Cultural District, the Dance Sector Joint Conference organized an open forum on 29 August 2011. About 60 participants from professional and community dance sectors joined and expressed their rationale for supporting the proposal.
The forum started with the introduction by Law Yiu Wai, Vice Chairman, Association of Hong Kong Dance Organizations. Willy Tsao, Chairman Emeritus, Hong Kong Dance Alliance, who also hosted the forum. Mr Tsao provided the background for the lobbying: “Having a ‘Hong Kong Dance Pavilion’ will have a long-lasting impact on the development of the dance of Hong Kong. Obviously Hong Kong is not the first city to have a ‘Dance Pavilion.’ In many of the world’s important cities there are venues dedicated to dance performances. Let’s take Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London as an example. It was built in the 17th century and refurbished about two decades ago to become a 1200-seat theatre especially for dance. Being an internationally recognized venue, many established dance companies take pride in the opportunity to perform at Sadler’s Wells, Next there is Theatre de la Ville in Paris, an 800-seat theatre built in the 18th century. Established companies, including Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, have performed there. Joyce Theatre in New York is a 500-seat theatre while in Beijing our capital, Tianqiao Theatre, which was once owned by the National Ballet of China, was made a public venue in 2007. It is now a dedicated theatre for dance. A dance venue like those I’ve just mentioned will place Hong Kong on the same level as other international cities.”
Law Yiu Wai said, “The Association of Hong Kong Dance Organizations believes that a ‘Dance Pavilion’ symbolizes respect to dance as an art form. We always speak of music and dance as if these two art forms go hand-in-hand, but we cannot see the same level of importance attached to them. Look at government-managed venues: there are concert halls, theatre and exhibition halls in the City Hall, but there is no ‘dance hall.’ It is the same for the Hong Kong Cultural Center. Ko Shan Theatre has already been recognized as a dedicated venue for drama. Sunbeam Theatre is now the home base of Chinese opera performances after the incessant lobbying of the Chinese opera field. However it seems that there is no place for us in the dance field. Some of you may think I am exaggerating because you may argue that companies such as The Hong Kong Ballet and the CCDC are pretty well settled in nice venues. I full-heartedly agree that large companies deserve such privilege. Even The Association of Hong Kong Dance Organizations has a full week of rehearsal time when we produce large-scale performances. But this is only true for companies of certain scale. The situation for small companies and independent artists is deteriorating. I have been involved in different dance companies and since 1989 we have been receiving HKADC grants. I would equate grant approval as a token of quality recognition to a more or lesser extent. But there is no venue for these productions. You have to apply for the City Hall one year in advance, and there is no guarantee you will get it. I later found out that there is a ‘scoring system’. I don’t know much about its mechanism. I only know that dance productions will not make the required score because they do not go very well with the requirement of a ‘concert hall’. This does not make a lot of sense to me because Cantonese opera or private concerts do meet the scoring requirement of Concert Hall. Even if we successfully hired the venue, we can only do our lighting plot on the performance day. This is a serious limitation. Dance performances require much more complicated set-up than concerts. The situation is getting worse day by day because government venues follow a decentralized management system. Someone suggested to me that I should build a good relationship with the management of respective venues. Does this means I have to befriend venue managers one after the other? And it sounds like disrespect to art practitioners. ‘Dance Pavilion’ is a symbol of the fundamental respect to dance practitioners. ‘Dance Pavilion’ is also instrumental to uplifting the ability of dance appreciation. The aesthetics of dance translates through movements as well as stage design. While big companies can cater for their own technical needs, small companies or independent artists can only work along whatever set-up there is in the venue. We have to accommodate even if the venue set-up is sub-optimal. We cannot demonstrate to our audiences what they should expect in a quality performance. There was once or twice when we could manage to work with a lighting designer. After the shows the audiences were so excited about the lighting effects and only then were they able to know that they could expect more in Chinese dance productions. The lack of appropriate dance venues triggers a vicious cycle of poor technical quality low expectation of audiences slow development of dance in Hong Kong.”
The next speaker, Tom Brown, Chairman Emeritus, Hong Kong Dance Alliance, said, ”Thank you Mr Law for being the convener of the Joint Conference this year. I think the forum is a wonderful demonstration of a sign of maturity of dance in Hong Kong. The Joint Conference representing the Hong Kong Ballet Group, the Association of Hong Kong Dance Organizations, the Hong Kong Dance Federation, and the Hong Kong Dance Alliance. We meet regularly to talk about issues related to dance. Individually, we might have influence on a few people here and there. But together, I think we have a stronger voice that reaches more people. It is essential that we have this kind of organization. So thank you Mr Law, and thank you Willy for suggesting this, and also Mrs Lo and distinguish colleagues.
This is my 26th year in Hong Kong, and it is the 27th year of the HKAPA. This is also the 30th year of the Hong Kong Dance Company, the 32nd year of CCDC and the Hong Kong Ballet, and close to the 50th year of the Hong Kong Ballet Group. It is obvious that Hong Kong has achieved a level of maturity, and a critical mass, in dance, that demand the kind of initiative that we are proposing - this ‘Dance Pavilion’.
Although I’m here to speak on behalf of the Hong Kong Dance Alliance, which nominally represents professional dance in Hong Kong, I’d also like to believe that I’m here to speak for myself personally as an independent observer, and myself of one of you, as a practitioner, as someone who has experienced difficulties in finding dancers, rehearsal space, lighting designers, costume designers, and always in a budget of nothing, to put on a show. Although the show I might put on is a little thing, it’s a lot of little things that help us access life in Hong Kong in a different way, in a more spiritual way, different from what we might get from watching a drama or movie, or listening to music.
Recently the HKAPA has been undergoing a position review. Many people have come to us to talk about the position of the creative industries in the society. I have always said and believed that although we are dancers, not brain surgeons or nuclear physicists, what we do is important. Maybe healers of the soul, maybe we are therapists of the heart. What we do is to enable people to appreciate their lives, in a way that I don’t think they could do as deeply otherwise. I know I am speaking to the converted, but it is important that we keep reaffirming these beliefs. Because of that, this proposal, this lobby, for the very appropriately named ‘Dance Pavilion’ is what we deserve. What we must insist on.
Willy has outlined this notion of branding Hong Kong. Part of the Hong Kong brand is and should be dance, embracing dance as a means of expression. It already exists - we know that we have a number of venues where dance occurs: the Cultural Centre, Yuen Long (Theatre), Ngau Chi Wan (Civic Center), the (City Hall) Concert Hall, and various places. Why do we need this ‘Dance Pavilion’ in West Kowloon? Because with a presence there, Hong Kong re-affirms this brand as part of the Hong Kong brand, we re-affirm dance as a cornerstone to the creative and culture industries in Hong Kong. Look at the counterparts that Willy has talked about. Joyce Theater is only about 30 years old. The Sadler’s Wells Theatre, even though it is much older than the Joyce emerged in its most recent incarnation only a little over 10 years ago. Those places have put, respectively, downtown West Side New York and the Islington borough of London, on the world’s dance map. They are places that present both traditional dance, for example Ballet Hispanico regularly performs at the Joyce, as well as the most innovative work.
That’s about it except to say that I really like this name ‘Dance Pavilion’ as opposed to the more common Tanz House or Dance House, which you can find in places like in Dusseldorf and Melbourne, to name a few. ‘Dance Pavilion’ really has a resonance in Chinese culture, which is quite fitting.
The next speaker was Ada Cheng, Chairperson, the Hong Kong Ballet Group. “The Hong Kong Ballet Group was formed in 1964 so we have been around for a long time. We are happy to be the only speaker representing ballet while I know there are different opinions from other ballet practitioners in Hong Kong. Recently we presented a production Polar Express and I felt strongly for the need of a ‘Dance Pavilion’ throughout the production process. Just like other non-profit making organizations, we face a lot of challenges in resources but the main one remains to be venue availability. As we all know, ballet production requires specific set-up. Let us just take marley floor as an example. We have been rehearsing in studios without any marley floor, such as at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium, Y-Square, etc. We had to spend a lot of time and money laying out and removing marley rolls. A ‘Dance Pavilion’ will make a big difference to this situation.
As Willy pointed out, very often, performing groups can only do their technical set-up and rehearsals on the day before the actual show date. All of you know that this is an impossibly tight schedule. I also second Mr. Law’s views about dance requiring a longer rehearsal time (than other art forms.) For Polar Express, I felt that we only had a full rehearsal on the first night of our production. This is such a shame and posed a lot of challenges to the presenter.
I also believe that a ‘Dance Pavilion’ will facilitate the sharing of resources. There may be materials that could be deployed from one stage set to another. We can keep these materials inside the ‘Dance Pavilion’ and share them among different companies. We can not only be more environmentally friendly but also together create more resources. ‘Dance Pavilion’ is also a physical location where we could meet and explore ideas. This is a place to which we could develop a sense of belonging and respect. It is there for ‘dance’ and dance alone. The infrastructure of ‘Dance Pavilion’ itself is also important to us because, remember, what dance needs is more complicated than Chinese opera or drama.
I am not a practicing dancer. I work in the commercial field. But I have witnessed the passion of Hong Kong’s dance over the past two decades and I heartily believe that we deserve a ‘Dance Pavilion’ and this is beyond the consideration of Hong Kong’s city branding.”
Following Ada is Lau Ting Kwok, Vice Chairman, Hong Kong Dance Federation. “Rehearsal venue available to the community dance sector has been less and less since the late 1990s. Since 2000, the HKADC Music and Dance Sub-committee has been advocating the establishment of a dance center to compensate the shortage but we did not receive any support even on the day this Sub-committee disbanded. In the past few years the venue shortage has been getting more serious because of projects such as LCSD ‘Venue Partnership Scheme.’ We have experienced difficulties finding performance venues even for established community dance events.
Dance is a very popular activity in Hong Kong but Government resources allocated to community dance are disproportionately small. The Government only thinks about us when they need someone to perform at the Olympics Equestrian, East Asian Games, Handover Anniversary, or National Day Celebrations. Interestingly the Government puts a lot more resources on professional dance companies but they hardly ever perform at the above events. Our performances at these events are highly acclaimed but the truth is they are not even rehearsed at a proper rehearsal venue. Without sufficient rehearsal venues, community dance will shrink and we will not be able to supply candidates for professional dance companies or the HKAPA. This contraction will also have an impact on the overall size of dance audiences. Therefore, there is an urgent need to set up a ‘Dance Pavilion.’ The ‘Pavilion’ should be equipped with multiple rehearsal venues, and fringe facilities such as fitness center, library, dance supplies, etc. The ‘Dance Pavilion’ is a space of solidarity and equal opportunity for dance companies of all scales. Hong Kong’s dance has been requesting for the ‘Dance Pavilion’ for over a decade and we really hope that finally our dreams would be realized in West Kowloon. The WKCD should not just feature elite performances to attract tourists. WKCD should be developed for Hong Kong people. A space for diversified development reflects the essence of Hong Kong culture. I am sure tourists will be delighted to see the different facets of the dance of Hong Kong. If we take the ratio of practitioners to Yaumatei Theatre or Ko Shan Theatre as reference, Hong Kong dance should really deserve three to four ‘Dance Pavilions.’ I also urge the Authority to involve us practitioners in the design of ‘Dance Pavilion’ so that you can build a space that is truly meaningful to us.
When speakers from Dance Sector Joint Conference had made their respective remarks, Louis Yu, Executive Director (Performing Arts), West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, described the perspective of the Authority: “I am Louis Yu. I am responsible for the overall planning of Performing Arts infrastructure of West Kowloon Cultural District.
Let me update you all on the progress of WKCD development. In the past two years, we have conducted two rounds of large-scale public consultation. The first was about 18 months ago, the second the end of last year. Some members of the public did bring up the idea of ‘Dance Pavilion’ during the consultation sessions, but the suggestions had never been as solid as what we now are discussing. We collected a wide range of opinions throughout the consultation sessions. Different sectors brought forward vastly different requests: some asking for bigger green areas, some asking for larger parks, some wanted schools, hotels, etc. Based on these opinions we settled on the ‘City Park’ concept proposed by Norman Foster. You probably know about this concept or have participated in workshops associated with this concept, and you probably will agree that ‘City Park’ has incorporated many of your opinions.
Our main task in the six months after selection of the Foster concept was to decide how to allocate the 40-acre space to different functionalities, for example the space for roads, for public space, for art space, so on and so forth. There are also residential space, office space, and commercial space in the original planning that we have to take into consideration when finalizing the allocation plan. During the process we tried to incorporate the artists’ request into our allocation, and in the last six months we tried to bring the bright spots in OMA’s and Rocco’s concepts into the Foster concept. But we must note that there is a limit to even a massive 40-acre space, even to a 21.6 billion budget. Requests keep coming in albeit the limits, such as larger parks, car-free street level, environmental landmarks. We have been making minor adjustment to our plans in the past six months and to incorporate further requests at this stage is somewhat late in the process.
Over the weekend, you might have noticed in the news that our CEO explained the limitations we face to LEGCO members. Even though 21.6 billion sounds like a large sum, there are items that could not be supported by this budget. Over the past three years, the inflation rate has been high. Construction costs went up while return on investment was low. We have problems making estimations to future economic environment but we believe we do not have enough money to say yes to every request. We are therefore keen to learn more about this ‘Dance Pavilion’ idea and understand how it is different from what has been talked about before.
Even though we face financial limitations, we will keep working hard on what has to be done. By this October we will release the final amendment of the Foster concept. By then we will announce the capacity and positioning of each venue. While we will be driving the capacity and positioning, we will be talking to practitioners in all fields on subjects including programming or ‘software’ of these venues. The Authority will discuss with practitioners issues such as the share of programs between local and international artists, between various art forms. We can only discuss the share of programs when we know the capacity and positioning of the venues, or whether branding ‘venue with personality is feasible at all.
We are also working on the preparation for the actual building of these venues. Some venues are designed to support both dance and music in our plan. We have to figure out whether we can really support both in one venue. Or can we build mixed usage venues so that facilities such as rehearsal rooms can be shared by art forms including dance and drama? We will take into consideration all aspects and discuss with art practitioners when we finalize the building plan. We are also planning to bring in resident companies to work with us to build ‘personality’ for venues. So while we are releasing a plan in October, we will continue our conversation with art groups on these details such as design, programming, and residency.
In the past two to three decades, that is, over the 1980s and 1990s, many new venues have been set up. Yet I can also be sure that the magnitude of your involvement in WKCD is larger than the sum total of that of the 1980s and 1990s. I cannot guarantee unlimited resources to entertain all requests but I can guarantee you that our sincerity to listen to you is immense. Some of you even feel that we have been having too many conversations with you. You may not get what you want over the next two years but let us keep talking. At least we won’t blame each other for making mistakes that are direct results of lack of communication. I am so happy to see so many of you here. I cannot reveal too much today because we are in the midst of our final stage but I promise I am and will be all ears.”
Willy Tsao then opened the forum to the floor. “This forum is about our lobby for a ‘Dance Pavilion.’ You are here today because you support this notion. Can you share what you think should be incorporated into the ‘Dance Pavilion’? For example, how should the facilities in ‘Dance Pavilion’ differ from other venues? Should there be a warm-up area? Dancers have a very different requirement from that of drama actors before stepping onto the performing area. Currently there is no warm-up area at the Hong Kong Cultural Center. It is potentially dangerous for dancers to go on to the stage without warming up. Also can the ‘Dance Pavilion’ be equipped with adequate training and rehearsal space? Drama actors can rehearse even in the dressing room, but dancers cannot. And how about the foyer? Let us bring forward our collective wisdom and brainstorm.
There is a misconception that dance audiences are very limited. I know for a fact that, over an average week, there are more people taking dance classes than football goers. Yet there are a few large-scale football fields but not even one specialized dance venue in Hong Kong. I therefore invite opinions on whether you think we have enough dance audiences to support a ‘Dance Pavilion’, nature of programs, share between different dance forms, and management model of ‘Dance Pavilion’, and so on and so forth. I sincerely wish that ‘Dance Pavilion’ can be a real place for us in the dance community. It is not going to be another white elephant. It should be a place to which we all feel a sense of belonging and pride. This is a place we visit often, perform often, and watch others perform often too.
We have made some high level suggestions in our statement but we invite your comments. I am positive that the ‘Dance Pavilion’ will trigger a lot of new ideas that may not come to mind now. It’s like 30 years ago when I tried to set up a modern dance company in Hong Kong. Seniors back then were telling me to forget about the idea. Yet 30 years from then we now have City Contemporary Dance Company. So what will happen in the future maybe unthinkable today but your ideas will make a difference.
Kevin Wong commented: “I want to clarify that ‘Dance Pavilion’ is one of Hong Kong’s performance venue but not THE venue for ALL dance performances. I agree we need a lot of rehearsal space. I would request HKADC and LCSD to include rehearsal venue rental cost in their project payment to artists. As the number of dancers varies from a few to hundreds in a dance production, besides building adequate backstage facilities, we can consider using black-box theatres as temporary backstage for large scale productions.”
From a Singapore-based member of audience: “When establishing this ‘Dance Pavilion’ I suggest you to be clear of you programming vision. In Southeast Asia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have strong emerging dance companies. Hong Kong can act as a center for exchange and progress for these companies.”
Willy Taso noted: ”We need aims and direction for ‘Dance Pavilion.’ It can go beyond the development of Hong Kong dance. As China and Southeast Asia are developing, ‘Dance Pavilion’ can be the gathering point of companies in these different areas. They can perform, exchange, or reside, at the ‘Dance Pavilion.’
Alan Wong commented: “Sometimes there can be a few hundred people at the backstage preparing for a performance so we must consider the need of changing rooms and warm up area. We should not reduce the size of the facilities because we do not have space because that would mean we are building something useless. Currently the rental for venues is higher than what small companies could afford. We must consider the needs of all.”
Miranda Chin commented: ”The reason Joyce Theatre and Sadler’s Wells are so famous is because they have an artistic director to review the quality of hirers. It’s the high quality of their programs that make these two places famous. The name ‘Dance Pavilion’ to me has a sports association. We should name this place when we have a clear direction. The building can have outlook that resembles that of Joyce Theatre, but we need a management that works for us. If ‘Dance Pavilion’ serves the needs of community dance, is that compatible with the overall direction of WKCD Authority?”
Willy Tsao responded: ”I don’t necessarily see a conflict between involving the community and international standard. If the community does not have sufficient time and space to rehearse, how could amateurs ever reach international standard? In 2008, I brought my Beijing company LDTX to visit Joyce Theatre. We were the only overseas group there, all other performers were from the USA. I asked the program director of Joyce Theatre why that was the case. He said that their focus was on local artists because they believed New York had the best artists in the world. So we should ask ourselves whether only internationalization brings us the best.
Francis Leung commented: ”There should be a clear directive on resource allocation when we have a new ‘Dance Pavilion.’ For small companies like ours, 400-seat is already a large capacity so let us think twice about the proposed 600-seat. The current governmental venue approval system is complicated and will the addition of ‘Dance Pavilion’ make it even clumsier? Will small companies be marginalized? Will we find ourselves always performing in the New Territories?
The programming window is quite small because major festival circuits have taken up quite a lot of performing days. Can we work out a system to solve the conflict of schedule? I am apprehensive of the same problem happening in ‘Dance Pavilion.’
Willy Tsao responded: “Let me clarify that the program recommendation on our statement is not a confirmed plan. We are trying to demonstrate that there are enough activities going on even as of today for ‘Dance Pavilion’ to be fully utilized. There will always be conflict of scheduling because there are only 52 weeks in a year. ‘Dance Pavilion’ is also intended to develop the dance audience base for us.”
Margaret Ho commented: “I am a fresh graduate so I am in no position to talk about international standard. I feel that as production cost is lower in smaller venues, we can lower the ticket price and attract more audiences. Young artists like me need these small theatres for us to experiment and improve. I also hope there will be more open area for community art. Young artists can perform in the open areas nearby the formal theatres.”
Willy Tsao responded: “It would be great if we could perform on the foyer inside and the open area nearby ‘Dance Pavilion.’ At the end of the day it is but one of the many performing venues in Hong Kong. And you should trust yourself about the quality you can bring to the audiences. One of the best performances I have watched at Joyce Theatre was the graduate show given by students of The Juilliard School. Why can’t the graduate of HKAPA reach international standards?”
Helen Ng added: “I know that there are black box theatres in WKCD that independent dancers can use and just as Willy said, ‘Dance Pavilion’ is not the only venue in Hong Kong! It’s just a place dedicated for dance. Some people said that the programs in the future WKCD have to be and could only be of world standard. I would like to know whether WKCD Authority sees its mission also to create an environment for the dance in Hong Kong to develop?
Ho Ho Chuen commented: “I support the proposed capacity of 600-seat. It is a good size for small to medium scale productions, but the infrastructure must be built towards a large-scale production standard. So that even international companies can use this space if needed. What worries me is the size of the audience. HKADC released a research report last year, in which dance audiences was described as the least among four main art forms. I am doubtful about that statement because I know for a fact that we had a total audience of 96,363 during last year’s Hong Kong Dance Festival. I have worked with Louis Yu before. He knows art very well, I believe he will speak for our benefit.”
Wong Chi Wing commented: “I am all for a ‘Dance Pavilion.’ It will be a place where we get together. I hope that this ‘Pavilion’ contains both large and small theatres: small theatres for small companies so overseas audiences will get to know them; large theatres for big companies so venues outside of ‘Dance Pavilion’ could be released for small companies. It would be nice if we could have a floor reserved for administration staff of different companies. That would facilitate exchange and interaction. I think we must come up with a non-debatable reason for needing a ‘Dance Pavilion’ to substantiate why we cannot settle with general theatre facilities that drama practitioners are now using. There was an opinion about storage of production sets. The Government may argue that we can store those materials in other locations and hence a ‘Dance Pavilion’ is unnecessary.
Josephine Wai commented: ”I have had experiences dealing with the Hong Kong dance in my current role. My understanding is that dance is diverse and needs are varied. I respect the dynamism of all of you coming together. My suggestion is that you need to back your suggestions up with vision and long-term planning. Don’t focus on what you are facing now. You should plan for how dance should be 20 years from now. Let go of your ego and try to contribute to the benefit of the future of dance as one single entity.”
Kirsten Ho commented: “This ‘Dance Pavilion’ is incredibly important for Hong Kong. What’s best about a place like this is that it provides confidence and encouragement for the next generation. This could be a great place for us to come together. And for the Hong Kong audience, at least it is a way to let them know where to go if they want to watch dance. We all know that the world’s focus is shifting from the ‘West’ to the ‘East’. Here in Hong Kong we have history, culture, and dance. Something amazing can happen here. All we need is just that bit of support from the Government. All we have to do is to step it up.”
Willy Tsao added: “I know we can do it. Let us look beyond what we are facing today. Without ‘Dance Pavilion,’ there will be no improvement to what we face today even 20 years from now. We should set our aim as taking over New York. In Hong Kong, the best will happen inside ‘Dance Pavilion.’
Louis Yu commented: “I have an idea of what you are lobbying for. This ‘Dance Pavilion’ concept requires a lot more discussion. I have to admit that we are now at the end August while our planning details will be announced in October. We will not be able to incorporate your request into that announcement. However, over the next couple of years, we can work together on many of the ideas you raised today, for example establishing a ‘personality’ for the venue, for example dance-specific facilities. Today is just the beginning. I am looking forward to hearing more from you all when we announce our plans in October.
Open Forum: Lobby for “Hong Kong Dance Pavilion"