City Beat

Hong Kong needs to dance to the tune of attracting the very best talent

City faces challenges from the mainland, whether in ballet troupes or technological development

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 2:36am

“How come most of the dancers are from mainland China? What about those from Hong Kong?”

The question was raised by the audience during a sharing session with Septime Webre, the new artistic director of the Hong Kong Ballet, after it recently started its new season with the classic, Don Quixote, at the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.

“Hong Kong is such an international city, it attracts talent from everywhere ... Also, because in [mainland] China they have beautiful and systematic training [for dancers], so they are very good,” Webre replied.

“However, we also have local dancers, and those from other countries. I find Hong Kong such a vibrant city and that’s why talent comes here.”

The world famous Cuban-American director, who joined the Hong Kong Ballet barely two months ago and still looked excited to be here, was on stage reviewing the performance with his two principal dancers, who happen to hail from the mainland.

Webre, who was the artistic director of the Washington Ballet for 17 years before moving to Hong Kong, went on to tell the audience that he saw Chinese dancers joining ballet troupes in the US and the West as well. To him, that’s nothing unusual because “there is a talent pool there”.

‘Different crowd’ of mainland immigrants fill Hong Kong’s talent gap

One does not have to be artistic to fall in love with ballet. I try to find time myself to appreciate performances by the Hong Kong Ballet, one of the best in Asia.

Indeed, mainland dancers, male or female, are familiar faces to ballet audiences in the city, but there is no lack of dancers from the US, Russia and many countries in Europe and Asia, in addition to locally trained ones. Hong Kong is quite the little United Nations in this respect and lives up to its claim to be “Asia’s world city”.

Hong Kong urgently needs to catch up with world standards at a time when the mainland is taking the lead in many aspects

But a bigger issue is this “world city” needs outside talent, not only for ballet but especially in terms of hi-tech development, as it is public knowledge now that Hong Kong urgently needs to catch up with world standards at a time when the mainland is taking the lead in many aspects, including the field of artificial intelligence.

To be fair, Hong Kong cannot compete with the mainland in terms of economic scale, but the city does have its unique advantages under “one country, two systems”, such as the free flow of capital and information, as well as the rule of law. Only that it takes more to attract top overseas talent.

Over the years, neighbouring Shenzhen has become a major competitor to Hong Kong in this regard. Its municipal government in April launched a “talent campaign” by hosting an international conference which attracted thousands of professionals from 72 countries and regions.

Authorities at the same time announced a series of incentives for those willing to settle in Shenzhen, including housing allowances, education arrangements, subsidies for start-ups and supporting funding of up to 5 million yuan (HK$6 million) for each selected project ranked as “extra special”.

Talent shortage forces 40pc of Hong Kong app firms to outsource

Of course, Hong Kong is very different and there is no way the government can use taxpayers’ money to offer packages similar to Shenzhen’s – government housing allowances for outside talent, for example, would be mission impossible here.

But Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been sending out encouraging signals to related policy bureaus, and there is growing awareness of the importance of having the right talent in Hong Kong.

Policy aside, it is equally critical for Hong Kong to build up a more welcoming atmosphere for outside talent, whether from the mainland or other countries.