Dancing to happiness
Yang Yuntao is assistant artistic director of Hong Kong Dance Company. A member of the Bai ethnic minority in Yunnan, Yang started dancing at the age of 11. The former dancer at Guangdong Modern Dance Company and Beijing Modern Dance Company came to Hong Kong in 2002 and was appointed to his current position in 2007.
What are your responsibilities?
I am involved in almost everything, from determining the artistic direction of the organisation to training and managing dancers. Part of my job involves handling administrative matters, and I try to clear away these complicated issues for dancers so that they can focus on their craft.
We have put in place public education programmes, including some for children. We are not trying to turn everyone into a dancer, but we hope more people will appreciate the art form, which can serve as a balance to the hustle and bustle of modern life. That, we hope, will contribute to creating a happier society.
What challenges do professional dancers face in Hong Kong?
The biggest obstacle is the small size of the market. To be frank, many people are not aware of our existence. While the government has been very supportive, the public does not care about, nor do they understand, art. This should not come as a surprise, though, as it is the case in many places.
But I am optimistic about the future development of art in this part of the world. As the economy grows, it is only natural for people to start desiring the arts or things that fill the spiritual vacuum in their everyday lives. Moneymaking will not always be the top priority.
What do you think of Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is a unique city. When you wake up at night in a big mainland city, you cannot tell where you are. The houses, the streets and the people look exactly the same in many places. And so does the culture. As an artist, I dread similarity. It is important for Hong Kong to hold on to its uniqueness, not only in terms of the political system or its geographical location, but also in its culture.
As an artist from the mainland, what is it like to work in Hong Kong?
What is special about Hong Kong is the degree of freedom that artists enjoy here. Some people complain about not getting enough support from the government. But they forget how much freedom they have.
It is the opposite on the mainland, where the government “feeds” the artists, leaving little room for individual development and independent thinking. Nowadays, art may be flourishing on the mainland, but much of it is related to [or used as a means to honour] the country. While the perspective of the group or the collective matters, we need individual voices in order to create art. It is only when the freedom to create has been secured that we can promote the arts and raise public awareness of it.
How would you advise young people who want to become a dancer?
We all need to make a living, and it is not easy to lead a life as a professional dancer. Compared with artists in other fields, the career development of dancers is limited by the physical decline of the body and the onset of ageing. Some artists or instrumentalists may get more skilful as they age, but not dancers, who suffer more injuries as they grow old.
The pursuit of the arts is not a game or something to be trifled with. Once you have decided to be an artist, you should persist no matter how tough the journey gets. Otherwise it would be no different from abandoning your personal values. So think twice before making a decision.
What is the key to success for artists?
There isn’t a method or a formula. Art isn’t about following a predetermined way of doing things. It is about breaking it. Someone who does not follow the crowd will succeed.
- Outstanding male performer in the sixth China Arts Festival, 1999
- Hong Kong Dance Awards, 2003 and 2006, awarded by Hong Kong Dance Alliance
- Best artist in the Hong Kong Arts Development Awards, 2009