Prodigies dance into the Big Apple

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2006, 12:00am

Students around the world would jump at the chance to be in William Wu Mi and Phan Van Luong's shoes.

In March, after two months of waiting, nerve-racking interviews and auditions, the two dance students from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts won places at the prestigious Ailey School in New York.

They left for the Big Apple last Saturday, after participating in the Ailey School's seven-week, intensive dance-training programme.

Ailey is one of the top five dance schools in the US, and among the top 10 worldwide. Its graduates have launched careers in companies such as the Netherlands Dance Theatre, Ballett Frankfurt and the Martha Graham Dance Company.

It is the official school for the famous Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, a 48-year-old company that has performed to an estimated audience of 21 million in 71 countries.

The two were granted their chance of a lifetime through the Citigroup/Asian Cultural Council Dance Fellowship organised by the Asian Cultural Council.

'This programme is something they could only ever dream of,' said Graeme Collins, head of ballet at the Academy for Performing Arts.

Since 20-year-old Wu arrived at the academy a year ago, Mr Collins said, his solid dance skills had improved enormously.

'Wu has a soft, but powerful, way of moving. And anything he doesn't understand, he immediately questions, calculating what he can do and how to do it.'

On the other hand, Mr Collins said, Luong, a 21-year-old Vietnamese, stayed calm, moving easily between classical and contemporary dance.

Luong has excelled during his 18 months at the academy, learning a ballet technique that is crisp, not flowery. Taking the lead in a recent production of Butterfly Lovers, Luong stole the show, despite suffering a fever the day before.

Luong, whom Mr Collins described as one of the school's top dancers, was only 12 when he was chosen from among hundreds of candidates to join Hanoi's Vietnam Dance School.

The youngest of five siblings, he grew up in Quang Binh, a small village 500km from Hanoi where his parents were farmers. As a chance for a better life, his father encouraged him to audition in the capital.

After two years at the Vietnam Dance School, Luong won a full scholarship for a further five years. Then in 2004, he danced with the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet Company for six months, where Mr Collins, on a scouting trip from Hong Kong, noticed his talent. Luong expects to rejoin the national ballet company.

'I didn't know I would like to dance ballet, but once I learned, I realised how I could use my body to tell a story,' Luong said. 'It's our job to dance and when I'm on stage, I love the movements. I'm not myself; you have to play a different person. It's very exciting.'

Wu started dancing at the age of 10. Two years later, he attended the Changsha Vocational Dance School to study Chinese classical and folk dance until he was 17. Later, he extended his repertoire to include ballet - learning at Singapore's La Salle-SIA College of the Arts on a full scholarship - before last year joining the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

In the US, the dancers hope to further broaden their skills.

'Ailey combines jazz, ballet, modern, and everything else into their own style of dance,' Wu said. 'It'll be great to experience their style, and to be in New York.'

Luong also sees the trip as an eye-opener. 'It'll be a good chance to observe other dance companies.

'I'd like to be a dance teacher, so I want to see how the Ailey School teaches, the way students learn, and different kinds of dance.'

Of their trip, the pair said they were too excited to be nervous.

'It's always been my dream to go to places like New York, Berlin and Paris,' said Wu, who plans to continue dancing outside China.

For Luong, his dance future lies closer to home. He will return to the National Hanoi Opera and Ballet Company after summer.