FOR EVERY Spartacus or Turandot, both critically acclaimed Hong Kong Ballet productions, there's always a Tempo of Hong Kong, a Hong Kong Dance Company offering that was universally panned. And for every local dance graduate snatched up by companies such as Li Hwai-min's Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan and Akram Khan's dance troupe in Britain, there'll be a dozen or so who sign up for Hong Kong Disneyland. Nonetheless, the local dance scene is considered to be in good shape, and is expected to get a boost from a series of international dance events and local productions this year - particularly the Hong Kong Dance Festival, which returns in June after an eight-year absence. The 11-day event will be held in conjunction with the annual general meeting of the World Dance Alliance Asia-Pacific, as well as activities such as a festival of dance academies, an independent dance festival, a dance education conference, a dance film festival and a series of classes and workshops to be held at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA). The festival, which begins on June 8, also coincides with the 20th annual conference of the International Society for the Performing Arts, which is supported by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. In light of which, you might think that the Hong Kong Dance Alliance, which is organising the festival, would be over the moon. Not so, says chairman Tom Brown. The local dance scene will never develop fully until it's able to change people's perceptions - particularly a prejudice against home-grown talent, Brown says. And there's the problem of identity and permanent venues. 'The three companies - Hong Kong Dance Company, the Hong Kong Ballet and the City Contemporary Dance Company [CCDC] - are world class and the dancers are world class,' he says. 'But we have a problem in Hong Kong - which is the same everywhere in the world - that the local brand isn't appreciated. People automatically assume that international brands like the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Li's Cloud Gate or the Royal Ballet are better. This isn't the case.' Brown, who is also associate dean of dance at the APA, says the quality of Hong Kong companies is recognised overseas, and that local troupes - particularly the Hong Kong Dance Company - should perform abroad more often 'because they're just as good'. Lack of identity is also a problem. None of the major companies is associated with a particular venue in the way that, say, the New York City Ballet has Lincoln Centre or the Royal Ballet has the Royal Opera House. Such structural problems in arts presentation are being examined by a government committee, which has recommended partnerships between LCSD venues such as the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Hong Kong City Hall and Kwai Tsing Theatre and performing arts groups. Artists have until the end of the month to submit their views. 'I don't know where the government thinks it is going to get the audiences to fill the West Kowloon venues unless it starts cultivating audiences,' Brown says. 'The way every other country in the world does it is to teach it in schools. This isn't happening here. Appreciation takes repeated viewing.' Despite such obstacles, local companies are gaining international recognition, which Brown attributes in part to the dedication and longevity of their artistic directors and dancers. CCDC founder Willy Tsao Sing-yuen and choreographer Helen Lai Hoi-ling, for instance, have been with the company for 25 years. Most of their dancers have worked with them for a long time, also. 'They've had time to develop, to experiment and to grow up.' At the Hong Kong Ballet, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2004, Stephen Jefferies has been artistic director for the past 10 years. 'And I think that was the best 10 years of its history,' he says. Hong Kong Dance Company's new artistic director, Hu Jialu, still needs time to find his feet, Brown says. His first piece, Farewell My Concubine, was a critical success - in marked contrast to Tempo of Hong Kong. On the independent scene, choreographers/dancers such as Yuri Ng Yue-lit, Yeung Wai-mei, Frankie Ho Ching-yu, Andy Wong Ting-lam and Daniel Yeung Chun-kwong were prolific last year and will continue to be so in coming months. Recent works such as Yeung's Spiritual Girl and Ng's The Devil's Tale have been noted by critics for maturity of style and technique and for their depth. Although a lack of rehearsal space is still a problem for many independent dancers, groups such as Y-Space - founded by Mandy Yim Ming-yin and Victor Ma Choi-wo - are running their own studios in factory buildings. The pair will hold talks and performances at their Y-Theatre near Kwai Tsing Theatre throughout this year. They will perform a new work, Body, I.D., Space III, for the Julidans Festival in Amsterdam in July, and Yeung Chun-kwong has been invited to Berlin's Hebbel Theatre in August. Their efforts - and those of the major companies - are likely to be recognised when the Hong Kong Dance Alliance presents its annual awards next month, with the winners expected to be announced today. Brown says he's worried that Hong Kong may be becoming 'too jaded and too sophisticated. It seems to me there was a lot of excitement 10 years ago and we don't seem to have that any more. 'We're hoping the Hong Kong Dance Festival will help generate some kind of splash and impact in the community's mind. There's this diversity here - from world-class professional companies to cutting-edge performance and conceptual work, and top-level academic intellectual work. 'Hong Kong is a magnet not only because of Disneyland. It's a cultural hub - especially in the Asian-Pacific region.'