• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 6:41pm

Free-form inspiration

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 December, 2008, 12:00am

While many Hongkongers find contemporary dance unstructured and bewildering, for Willy Tsao - often described as the 'father of modern dance in China' - it's an 'indescribable' obsession.

In fact, Tsao says it is the very free-form qualities of modern dance that first captivated him nearly 35 years ago, leading him to devoting himself to practising and promoting it in Hong Kong.

Tsao is the founder and artistic director of City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC), which describes itself as the 'flagship of modern dance' in Hong Kong. He is also the director of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company in Guangzhou and the Beijing Modern Dance Company

He first came across the art form at the age of 17 in City Hall, and was immediately overwhelmed.

'It's as if dancing resonates with me. It connects and moves me and I'm touched and inspired -a feeling that I don't get in conventional dance,' he says.

To understand modern dance, Tsao says, one needs to have an open-mind.

'We need to let go of the deep-rooted structures of conventional dance and learn to appreciate the uniqueness of every move.'

He says the letting go is essential, if you are going to allow dance to trigger sensations and the imagination. Once that happens, modern dance 'can be soul-stirring and can inspire self-reflection'.

Tsao's love of contemporary dance flourished while he was studying in the US in the mid-70s, and dancing increasingly took the front seat over his business studies.

But after his exposure to the west's diverse art scene, Tsao found Hong Kong culturally and artistically suffocating when he returned in the late 70s. In 1979, he convinced his mother to invest HK$500,000 to start a professional contemporary dance company, before taking over the helm of his family's trading business.

Tsao recruited a group of like-minded people and formed the CCDC.

After intense rehearsals, the team pulled off a show that only sold 50 tickets. Nevertheless, it was a show that gave the newly formed company huge satisfaction.

'It's never about making money,' says Tsao.

But money had a role to play in the company's development. As Hong Kong's economy prospered in the 80s, people began to look for more cultural richness, and the CCDC, along with other arts groups, started receiving government subsidies.

In addition to performing, the CCDC has played an active role in educating young people about the importance of arts and cultures. The company has a dance centre, visits schools and organises outreach programmes.

For Tsao, there's a sense of satisfaction and pride in realising that years of commitment and effort have paid off, and that Hong Kong now has a dance company that can stand confidently with other international troupes.

'Hong Kong's contemporary dance productions are among the world's best,' says Tsao. 'We always get a standing ovation every time we tour.'

Tsao's message to young people about the virtues of modern dance is it can help you 'learn to feel free and comfortable with being different, as well as respect the uniqueness in everyone'.

Co-organised by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (ADC), RTHK Radio 2 and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, the Arts Ambassadors-in-school Scheme aims to nurture young artistic talent and promote the arts in the community. To enjoy a series of fascinating art programmes, apply to be your school's arts ambassador before January 16. For details, go to www.aais.hk

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