Garry Corpuz and Wang Qingxin in an ad campaign for Hong Kong Ballet. Design Army and Dean Alexander, Courtesy HKB.

How Hong Kong Ballet’s Visibility Has Swiftly Increased Under Septime Webre

"Opportunities always come when you least expect them," says Septime Webre. In 2016, he'd left The Washington Ballet, after 17 years as artistic director, to focus on his choreography career. Halfway around the world in East Asia, Hong Kong Ballet was hiring a new director for its following season, and Webre's agent convinced him to submit his resumé. "I ended up on a call with leadership and the energy between us was great," says Webre.


Webre in the studio

Calvin Sit, Courtesy HKB

Now at the helm of Hong Kong Ballet as it heads into its 40th-anniversary season, Webre is poised to launch the company into the future with refreshed repertoire and increased community engagement.

Watching the 48-dancer troupe in Terence Kohler's The Nutcracker, Webre's influence is visibly evident. He has encouraged HKB's artists to deepen their acting skills, and he's pushing them physically with greater technical feats.

The company is quite diverse, with less than 14 percent of its dancers from Hong Kong. Nearly half of its artists are from mainland China, though others are from the U.S., Cuba and Australia, plus a handful from Europe and elsewhere in Asia. Classes and rehearsals are conducted mostly in English. To further enhance HKB's roster, Webre brings in guest artists, like former Royal Ballet principal Matthew Golding and former Washington Ballet star Brooklyn Mack. However, Webre is quick to clarify their purpose: "These aren't rental principals replacing my dancers. They're with us throughout the rehearsal process for an entire program. Not only is it exciting for audiences, it offers our dancers a new perspective."

Webre is also unafraid to offer younger dancers casting opportunities. One of these artists, soloist Chen Zhiyao, has been promoted since Webre arrived. "Septime spends a lot of time in the studio," she says. "He is energetic, and pushes us to try new steps and challenges our technique. My movement is freer."

To be a Hong Kong Ballet dancer means to share a hunger for diverse programming and the choreographic process. Webre curates fresh stagings of classics, original full-lengths and opportunities for local choreographers. He aspires to build a more international rep with works by renowned names, like Justin Peck, Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. While Webre has not completely overhauled HKB's repertoire, he is systematically introducing relevant choreography. He also continues to flex his creative muscles by crafting full-length productions, including an upcoming Hong Kong–based Romeo + Juliet set in the 1960s.

Venus Villa and Xia Jun in Terrence Kohler's The Nutcracker

Conrad Dy-Liacco, Courtesy HKB

During Webre's first season, the com- pany launched Ballet in the City, a government- funded outreach initiative which offers free outdoor shows. "Beyond outdoor main-stage performances, I commission short works to adapt to unusual spaces, like balconies, plazas and niches," he says. Ballet in the City's first performances—at a local heritage site—were attended by more than 30,000 people.

For their anniversary season starting this fall, HKB's celebrations include an International Gala of Stars and the company premiere of Balanchine's Jewels. Also on deck are Webre's Peter Pan, John Meehan's Swan Lake and the final run of Kohler's Nutcracker, which Webre will replace with his own interpretation set in historic Hong Kong.

HKB in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Sombrerisimo at Ballet in the City

Conrad Di-Liacco, Courtesy HKB

While the company does not have a school, it has a three-year agreement with the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts to support serious local dancers. "Since Septime arrived, we are developing a closer relationship with HKAPA, and also reaching out to other schools," notes Chen. Artistic staff teaches advanced students monthly, and dancers with professional potential receive paid summer apprenticeships. While the company is work- ing diligently to develop local talent, it still relies on open auditions. In the past two seasons, 17 new dancers have been hired, with about 90 percent coming from outside of Hong Kong.

With a nearly 130 percent increase in subscriptions since Webre took over, Hong Kong Ballet continues to grow as a gem of this East-meets-West territory. "I see the ballet world as a global village and approach directing from an international impact standpoint," says Webre. "How can Hong Kong Ballet become more important internationally?" With its forward-thinking director, diverse roster and increased reach, this company is aligning itself as one of Asia's leading arts organizations.

Audition Advice

Hong Kong Ballet holds an annual international audition tour and accepts video auditions. "Dancers don't have to be experienced, but need talent, training and coordination," says Webre. "I look for factor X, which while undefined is something extraordinary."

Hong Kong Ballet At a Glance

Number of dancers: 48

Length of contract: Yearlong

Starting salary: Competitive (undisclosed)

Performances per year: About 60

Website: hkballet.com

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Gavin Smart, Courtesy ROH

Calling All Ballet Lovers! World Ballet Day 2020 Is on October 29

While very little about this year has felt normal, we're excited to share that one of the dance community's landmark events is returning despite the pandemic. October 29 marks World Ballet Day 2020.

This year's iteration of the annual social media extravaganza features three of the world's leading companies: The Royal Ballet, The Australian Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet. Additional participating companies, which include American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and Boston Ballet, have just been announced. Last year's World Ballet Day was the biggest yet, reaching over 315 million social media users around the world.

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Are You Rethinking a Dance Career Due to COVID-19? Read This Advice First

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After graduation in 2019, Duran returned home to Hampshire, UK, for a few short months to wait for the contract to begin—but with the onset of COVID-19, cruise ships stopped sailing and the job never came to fruition. Her stay at home became far more indefinite, and she was left to consider a life without dance at its center.

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Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

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