Ballet ace encourages Hong Kong students of all ages, noting time is greatest challenge in city

Joffrey Ballet educator claims her method is uniquely relevant as she debuts her work locally with two productions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 10:39am

Young Hong Kong dancers have nearly everything going for them except time, an internationally renowned ballerina has observed.

Venezuelan-born Victoria Vargas, a globetrotting ballerina and choreographer, expressed sympathy over the sight of local children running on tight schedules filled with activities and carrying heavy school bags on their backs.

“The students here are very talented but they are very busy with school,” she said, recalling her first impression of Hong Kong from a visit last year. “Their mind is so tired after school that they have no energy for it even if they want to be there.”

Vargas, based in Chicago, noted that her students at the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet typically spent four hours daily in practice, but rental rates in Hong Kong were so expensive that only an hour was feasible. “So it seems to me ballet is not too important here,” she added.

Still, she returned to the city in March to conduct a masterclass on learning ballet following “The Fifth Position Method”, which she created to empower a healthy workout in the performing art.

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“I was in a car accident two decades ago and my legs were seriously injured. It was a long and painful recovery period for years,” she explained, recalling it was a Chinese driver who had hit her car.

Yet she is the opposite of bitter. “If I see him again, I would give him a big hug for what I got from it,” she said with a laugh.

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The lengthy healing process led her to study anatomy and develop a methodology that identifies “muscle codes” enhancing body coordination in a manner she claimed was faster and more effective than any warm-up exercise.

“I think this method will be especially fitting for dance students in Hong Kong who are always pressed for time and be a bonus for those with an injury.”

Vargas noted the experience of Erita Chen, a local 13-year old ballet dancer who had a back problem due to working long hours at a computer and carrying a heavy school bag. Lee went through therapy. After three months of training, she is slated to be the lead soloist in Marco Polo Goes to Carnival at City Hall on Saturday as a part of an annual festival presented by Musicus Society.

“I taught several summers in Italy and I got to see what a carnival was like there,” Vargas said. “Based on that, I choreographed a 40-minute ballet dance blending contemporary and traditional styles for Erita, who will perform with a principal dancer from Ballet Manila.”

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Vargas makes her Hong Kong debut with the play and her choreography on Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, also scheduled for Saturday. The play will feature an international cast and a live ensemble, masterminded by Trey Lee, a renowned cellist and the event’s artistic director.

But there is no slowing down for the 50-year-old diva after the two shows. In addition to a masterclass in Australia and a commissioned work to choreograph in Chicago next year, the Venezuelan has her eyes on helping Hong Kong again.

“It is my belief that each child, minority or not, deserves an opportunity to go on stage, and I hope my work will help that to happen,” she said, referring to her outreach programme in Chicago that garnered her government accolades.

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“When you change a child, you change the family.”

And the elderly can also benefit from her therapy, she added.

“Many seniors suffer from back problems, and I am sure my method would make them feel and walk better.”