Ballet Careers

East Meets West: A Look Inside the Multicultural Hong Kong Ballet as it Makes Its Joyce Theater Debut

Spigner in company class while on tour in New York City. "Culturally, how the dancers here think and work is very different from the West. You learn to respect that and take a little bit for yourself." —Jonathan Spigner

Photos by Kyle Froman for Pointe

As Hong Kong Ballet corps member Xia Jun rehearses his solo from Krzysztof Pastor's In Light and Shadow, a distinct Eastern flavor of movement exudes from the suppleness of his port de bras and the articulation of his à la seconde extension. The ballet master calls out corrections in Mandarin, and Swedish-born artistic director Madeleine Onne offers critiques in English.

The company, just hours away from its March debut at The Joyce Theater in New York City, is a reflection of the international diversity found in the cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong. In addition to full-length classical ballets, Onne—who was the artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet prior to heading Hong Kong Ballet—has brought in more Balanchine repertoire and contemporary works from Europe, as well as new commissions by Chinese choreographers. From its repertoire to its roster, Hong Kong Ballet is a mix of East and West. “The majority of the company is Chinese," says Onne, “but I like to spice it up with Western dancers, too."


Corps members Jiang Xin and Chen Zhiyao.

Those hoping to dance abroad may not immediately think to launch their career in Asia. But corps de ballet member Nicole Assaad and coryphée Jonathan Spigner are two Americans thriving at Hong Kong Ballet.

“My plan was to dance in Europe—that was my dream," says Spigner, who joined the company in 2010. But when HKB offered him a corps contract at the Monaco Dance Forum, he was impressed. “We work on a 12-month contract, so I feel more secure," he says. “A lot of my friends in the U.S. have six- or eight-month contracts and have to guest or freelance in between."

"I love the diversity and energy of Hong Kong," says Assaad, left.


Assaad was a student at the Gelsey Kirkland Academy when she submitted an audition video to HKB last year. She'd never been out of the U.S. before, but after thoroughly researching Hong Kong and the company, she felt safe starting her career abroad. “I thought, Why not?" she says, noting that the company's expansive repertoire was a big draw. “I gave my parents a huge speech about what a great opportunity it is—I had to warm them up to the idea."

Though neither Assaad nor Spigner speak Mandarin or Cantonese, they don't feel the language barrier affects their growth. English is a common second language in Hong Kong, and the Chinese people are happy to converse with foreigners in English. “Being a dancer is fantastic because you don't fully get how well you understand body language until you're thrown into a mix of people where there are all sorts of languages," says Spigner.

“Don't underestimate what the world can offer," he continues. “We are much more connected now, East to West."

Show Comments ()
Viral Videos

Dreams, drama, and capital-D DANCE: The brand-new High Strung Free Dance trailer just dropped, and it is chock-full of everything we love.

Keep reading... Show less
The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Getty Images

Do you have any tips for starting at a new studio? How can I impress the teachers and make friends? —Jaclyn

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
American Ballet Theatre corps member José Sebastian (center) is launching the Hamptons Dance Project with a cast of fellow ABT dancers this August. Rochelle Brodin, Courtesy Hamptons Dance Project.

From coast to coast, and on the shores of Lake Michigan in-between, professional dancers and choreographers are going one step beyond putting together a summer pickup company. Some are now curating multi-evening festivals in their hometowns and beloved vacation areas, and featuring an impressive range of companies, dancers and dance styles. So get ready to plan your next trip—here are three dance fests in beautiful resort areas to keep on your radar.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Behind-the-scenes shot of NYCB dancers on set. David Alberda, Courtesy Emily Kikta and Peter Walker.

Tonight, New York City Ballet opens its 53 annual summer season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. But if you're away at a summer intensive or busy rehearsing at your home studio and can't make it to a performance, we have the next best thing: seven new site specific videos made by and featuring NYCB dancers.

Keep reading... Show less
Sasha De Sola and Carlo Di Lanno in The Sleeping Beauty. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

The first time I saw Sleeping Beauty was on video, the Kirov version with Larissa Lezhnina. The music for the first entrance gave me butter- flies. Aurora comes out, and it captured my heart. Larissa coached me for my first sea- son of Aurora, and just the fact that we were sharing the same studio—I couldn't get over it. One of the things she encouraged me to explore is after Aurora faints: You get back up, you look up at your parents and re- center yourself. For me, what feels natural is that you don't want anyone to worry. Maybe there is a moment where you get a little embarrassed. It's those small moments that make it feel very personal to me.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Maria Kochetkova presents Catch Her If You Can at the Joyce Theater this week. Manfredi Gioacchini, Courtesy Joyce Theater.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Quinn Wharton

Candy Tong is Complexions Contemporary Ballet's resident fashionista. "I'm known in this company for bringing too big of a suitcase," she says. Tong shares her style tips (and life on the road with Complexions) on her vlog, Candy Coated, and notes that her style is always changing. "I like to switch up my look depending on my mood or where I'm going to be or what city I'm in."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox