Blossoming Stars

The China Post, PrimeTime, published August 1, 2008

It’s the members of Chamber Ballet Taipei. They’re lively, they’re enthusiastic. They work hard and they love what they do. They want to dance to a score that hasn’t been performed for 100 years. But they can’t do it alone.

Luckily, for the dancers in “La Dame aux Camelias” (The Lady in the Camellias), homegrown choreographer Yu Neng-sheng, who studied at the Royal Conservatory in Holland, has gracefully stepped in to guide his budding comrades in tights.

During the earnest interview that follows, Yu tells The China Post that although what he can do for the dancers is limited, he’s fighting to give them much more.

To begin with, he knows exactly what they need. “Elegance is not enough,” says Yu, also ballet master and deputy director of ballet at the opera house of Graz, Austria. “They need to work on their acting; one has to learn to dance from the heart,” Yu explains. This is part of the reason he’s brought in international soloist stars from the National Theatre in Prague, as well as guests form Germany and the Czech Republic. “Grace, childishness, sorrow – they can do it all.”

Yu seems confident in his students, pointing out just how enthusiastic they are. Even if there’s much room for improvement, “it’s inspiring, how they work so hard,” he smiles.

The youthful dances do prove to have fallen head-over-heels in love with their art. While waiting for rehearsal to start, a few ballerinas playfully show off their flashiest moves, bowing for their peers. When it comes time for photo opportunities, the female lead feigns frustration when her male counterpart poses to kiss the hand of another male dancer.
Yet, despite a healthy appetite for play, Yu approaches his job with an obvious interest of getting down to work and advancing the young troupe.

“Not everyone is so lucky to be able to go to Europe,” he reasons. “I was given a scholarship from Taiwan in 1983 to study there, so now I want to do something for my country.” However, besides knowing what his dancers need, he also understands providing them with it isn’t as simple as a couple of drama lessons.

“I still have my job in Europe, so it’s hard,” Yu says. He explains that the dancers practice and improve significantly when their teacher is in town, but slow down when he’s away on the job. To awe the audience to the best of their abilities, the dancers need to train daily.

“The government also has to understand that the dancers can’t just have one show,” Yu pinpoints another obstacle. “You can’t educate them, then not let them be able to find a job. That’s not a great system.” In addition to learning technique, the dancers also must have opportunities to perform. And for them to do so, he says, ballet needs the government, society, and those with money to support it, like with any other art.

Despite all these challenges, Yu has been trying his best. “I still pay my dancers – not a lot, but I do – to build up a system,” Yu shares, so that the dancers can receive something for their hard work. In fact, he pays them out of his own pocket, but brushes the fact off quickly, declaring that’s not the important part. He urges the public to do the same and support them by buying tickets. A couple hundred NT, or even a thousand, is not too much in return for a life’s worth of training, he argues.
Fortunately, Yu has promising ideas for the future. In particular, he hopes that the highly advanced technology in Taiwan can be paired with the arts. This way, there can be a more cultured purpose to technology, while the arts can work towards becoming more innovative.

And there is hope. “Taiwan has really tried and been very supportive this year,” Yu says, grateful and excited all at once. He recounts his one-hour meeting with an administrator of oil company CPC Corp. The administrator had listened to his pitch for the entire 60 minutes, then agreed to sponsor his company straight away, no questions asked. Sounding somewhat incredulous still, Yu adds that MOTEC has also lent a very helping hand.

The fruits of all this passion? For a span of ten days in August, the Chamber Ballet Taipei will showcase it’s truly unique production in three cities: Tainan, Taipei, and Hsinchu.

Unlike other opera ballets, this dance is much more heavily focused on the story. “La Dame aux Camelias” is a wildly popular and romantic show, Yu admits, but he also spent an entire year picking his own music to fit the moods, making adjustments and creating sections where lyrics would have been.

Some strike pretty poses, several stretch their long limbs, and others twirl and prance. All 25 dancers of the Chamber Ballet Taipei are swathed in colorful brights and pastels, flowers and jewels adorning the ladies’ costumes. They’re ready to go – as long as they’ve got a stage.

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