One hour after arriving in Prague - following a gruelling 48 hours in airplanes and transit lounges plus another two hours on a bus - students from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA) were on the stage performing a dance accompaniment to one of the most popular pieces of music to come out of China during the past century. Choreographed in 1997 by Jian Huaxuan, artistic director of the Hong Kong Dance Company, The Flowing Sea is from Yellow River, one of the best- known works in the Chinese orchestral repertoire. Composed by Xian Hinghai in the 1940s, it was adapted to be played on the piano with an orchestral accompaniment during the Cultural Revolution. With the fall of the Gang of Four in the 1970s, the piece was banned for a short time. It is now one of the most often played pieces on the Chinese musical circuit. 'The audience was overwhelmed,' Professor Susan Street, dean of APA's dance programme, said. 'They had never seen anything like it before.' Thirty-seven APA students - comprising 34 dancers and three technicians - were in the Czech Republic last month to take part in Prague Festival - Dance Prize 2000. APA came home with two awards. In addition to the Grand Prize for the best school or institution, Fuzuki Nakajima, a first year student, won an individual award for his solo ballet performance of Don Quixote. 'In my five years of seeing perfor mances in various theatres in the Czech Republic, I have never heard such acclaim as was given to your dancers after the final performance of the Yellow River,' Giorgio Mordenti, one of the festival's directors, said. 'Your dancers were wonderful and the Grand Prize Prague is really little reward for your work.' APA also performed a Miao tribal folk dance, Young Women Blues, and Dissolves. The two pieces were choreographed by APA senior lecturers Mohamed Drissy and Rosalind Newman, respectively. In all, 46 universities and dance schools from 20 countries on five continents took part in the six-day festival. Professor Street, who was appointed APA dean of dance at the beginning of the current academic year, was based in Australia for 17 years before coming to the SAR. She was formerly head of dance at the Academy of the Arts at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. She said that APA might well be one of Hong Kong's best-kept secrets. 'I do think people here have no idea how good this school is,' she said. 'It has an excellent reputation internationally.' But according to Singapore native Aaron Khea, a final year degree student in modern dance, the competitive side of the festival was something of a disappointment. 'The competitors we were up against were not as tough as we had expected,' he said. 'Most of the dance schools were quite amateurish. They were not of the same calibre as APA.'