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Hong Kong
Since its beginning, the Hong Kong Dance Company has performed ninety dance works of varying styles

One step beyond

Hong Kong dance troupe puts a modern twist on tradition

January 19, 1999
Web posted at: 12:56 p.m. EST (1756 GMT)

HONG KONG (CNN) -- A production by the Hong Kong Dance Company begins with traditional red lanterns and period costumes. And then all links with custom are broken, and the performance breaks boundaries of the past.

The company prides itself on combining Old World themes with modern dance. Its artistic director, Jiang Huaxuan, cites an old proverb to explain the group's philosophy:

"We should say what no man has ever said before. We should do what others have never done before."

Since it was established in 1981, the company's mission has been to take Chinese dance to a new level through experimentation. Almost always, its efforts are an enormous success.

"Hong Kong has always been an international city. People here accept changes and embrace anything that is new and innovative."
--- Jiang Huaxuan, artistic director

Jiang, who joined the company in 1996, says the key to that success is understanding culture as well as dance forms.

"Before you come up with a concept, you have to have a strong understanding of Chinese culture and a deep appreciation of Chinese dance. At the same time, you also have to have a good understanding of modern dance, ballet and many other types of dance around the world.

"Only after you've absorbed all these artistic principles will you then naturally be able to come up with an innovative concept that incorporates all these elements. It is something new but not entirely nontraditional. It becomes a whole new type of dance," Jiang said.

Many of the dance company's works are based on traditional Chinese folk tales. This method of combining modern dance with traditional culture is not controversial today in Hong Kong -- but Jiang faced a difference response when he was experimenting with dance in mainland China.

"That was in the late 70s, when I just started to create new Chinese dance. Some people were not happy about that. The country had just opened up the West, so there were still people resisting changes and refusing to accept anything other than set, traditional ways," Jiang said.

As time passed, this new kind of dance gained acceptance. And, then Jiang joined the Hong Kong company.

"There was no problem here at all because Hong Kong has always been an international city. People here accept changes and embrace anything that is new and innovative," he said.

Jiang's company can be seen at the Hong Kong City Hall Theatre January 29-31 in "The Flowing Sea," "A Wanderer's Autumn Grief," and "Mayflies in the City." The company will perform "The Magic Lotus Lantern" March 19-21 at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre.

CNN Correspondent May Lee contributed to this report.

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