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[Eng] The Professional Journey of Lam Chun-ho (林俊浩) -- an independent Hong Kong-based Dance Artist

Odd Couplings Choreographer: Lam Chun-ho Photographer: Katja Glass

Jane Chan (JC): How did performance come into your life?

Lam Chun-ho (LCH): I started with musical theatre at Hong Kong Children’s Musical Theatre (HKCMT) at the age of 12. It was my mom’s idea. I have always wanted to perform but never really had the chance. Also, I thought it was uncool to dance as a boy and hesitated. Thanks to my mom, at HKCMT, it was a perfect occasion for me to sing, dance and act, all my wishes came true.

At the age of 14, I started going to Starwave Dancing Academy for dance classes as one of close my friend was going. It was there I realised I had great interest in dance. I started with Jazz. It was an eye opening experience as I discovered the possibilities of how I could move.

I continued taking classes at Starwave Dancing Academy until Form 5 in secondary school. I lied to mom, told her I wanted to go to painting classes as art was one of the subjects I was taking, in fact I took the money to go to dance classes. My mom found out of course but it was too late. It was during those years, it became clear that I have a passion for performance and dance, so I applied to study at HKAPA.

Odd Couplings

Choreographer: Lam Chun-ho

Photographer: Katja Glass

JC: What did you study at HKAPA and why?

LCH: I applied for the Drama diploma. Till today I am not too sure why didn’t I choose musical theatre. I think one main reason was that I was still very much interested in acting. Also, sometimes life fall into places without you knowing. If I hadn’t done this diploma, I wouldn’t be creating works I do now.

The age range was wide within the drama course. Some course mates have degrees in other subjects, some were relatively younger like myself, some have worked for a number of years, we all had very different experiences. I definitely matured a lot in those years. It was a steep learning curve for me.

As I was about to graduate from the drama diploma, the courses were undergoing restructuring. I chose to transfer to the dance department. I had a direct entry onto the 2nd year of contemporary dance course. The reason I transferred was because of some of my very inspiring teachers: Tang Shu Wing (鄧樹榮), Lee Chun Chow (李鎮洲) and Chan Sukyi (陳淑儀). Although they were not trained in movement, they focus very much on the physical body in their works. Especially Tang, he stimulated my thought process the most. Also, the very same year Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s company - Eastman came to the Hong Kong Arts Festival. His piece Foi was another enlightening experience for me. The performers in the piece include actors and dancers. I have always had this idea to include actors and dancers in my work but Cherkaoui almost gave me the confidence and reassurance to do so as most his performers had both acting and dance training. Under these influences and my own interest in the body, I decided to transfer to dance school for further training. I graduated with double diploma in drama and contemporary dance after three years of studying at APA.

Alongside my course at APA, I continued going to class at Starwave Dancing Academy. I also started doing Chinese dance. Gradually, I was given opportunities to teach Jazz, choreograph snippets of sequences, to co-choreographing a piece with my teacher Elieen Li and by the time I graduate from my diploma I had the opportunity to choreograph a nine-minute piece for the Academy’s annual performance. It was an enlightening experience for me and that was the beginning of my journey as a choreographer.

JC: How was life after studying at HKAPA?

LCH: After I graduated, I was very confused as to whether I am an actor or a dancer because in Hong Kong, there was a very clear distinction between actors and dancers. That said, the distinction of the two have been merging and developing in the past years. I did not continue my studies because I wasn’t sure what I want to do and I did not want to continue studying just for the sake of it. So the two years (2006-08) after my diploma I worked freelance.

Odd Couplings Choreographer: Lam Chun-ho Photographer: Katja Glass

Odd Couplings Choreographer: Lam Chun-ho Photographer: Katja Glass

I was fortunate as there were work for me. I did many projects, but I was not challenged nor inspired. I was very lost. At the time, I think I wanted to fit in somewhere and I struggled to. I also felt I was not good enough in terms of my crafts. It was two very important years and that feeling of lost made me realised what I wanted. I wanted to be better. Although I was lost, I set myself a task to find a direction for myself. Having this direction did not necessarily mean I knew what my next steps were but at least I had my bearings. In autumn 2006, I decided to go to Europe for two months and that was my turning point.

One of my parents’ friend lives in Holland. We are very close. She treats me as her own. After saving some money from working I decided to see her and go for a holiday with the purpose of looking for a suitable course for myself. I have always had this idea that I wanted to study abroad. So there I went. I just fell in love with Holland. After that trip, I went home and continued working freelance. I then applied to Codarts, University of the Arts in Rotterdam and I was accepted.

Going to Codarts was probably the best decision I have ever made in my life. I did plan most of it but I was not rigid with my plans. My attitude have always been: ‘Will see how it goes and take it from there’. A lot of events in my life so far are by chance and luck plus hard work. Life does fall into place if you let it. That said, you do have to put in the hard work. For example when you are choreographing a piece, you need to be applying for funding, what artists you want to collaborate with and why, how many collaborators, etc. All these are part of a plan. But within the process, you do need to let some of these plans go, in order for some ideas or concepts to take shape organically, this applies to life too actually. It is a balance between going with your instincts and what you know and need to be done. Most importantly, you are listening and communicating with yourself. Also if you let go, let things happen, that’s when life becomes interesting and to me that’s the beauty of life.

JC: How was life at Codarts?

LCH" It was amazing! At Codarts, they have a four-year undergraduate course, due to my previous experiences, I went into the third year of the course. That year you choose which area you wanted to specialise in: dance education, performing or choreography. I chose choreography and there were only three of us on the course in my year. Unfortunately the choreography department no longer exists.

The two years at Codarts were really tough for me especially in the first year. There were many critical feedback and constructive criticisms. Of course at the time, it was hard to hear. The more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know. Also, it was the first time I was away from home and lived alone. I had to learn to live on my own, by that I mean spending time on your own and with yourself. I had all the time and space in my hands and at first I did not know what to do with them. At one point, it felt like myself against the world. But it was worth the struggle. It was through those two years, I learnt more about myself as an individual and a choreographer. In my second year at Codarts, I started to gain more confidence as my works were taking shape. I found my way of working and started to find my voice within my work. Thereafter, I received more positive feedback which was encouraging.

We had the opportunity to work with many different choreographers. We were exposed to different techniques and ways of working which was important for my professional development. Although we were specialising in choreography, we continued training our techniques. We had to take ballet (4 days week), contemporary (3 days a week) and Cunningham (2 days a week) classes and we would have a new guest teacher regularly especially for contemporary. I used to hate Cunningham class because my coordination was really bad. But I worked through it. There were also many different choreography workshops for us who specialised in choreography. Again, we had guest choreographers regularly. I learnt many practical skills in those years for example: writing proposals, concept development, choreology, Laban analysis and lighting just to name a few. These skills are all essential and till today these skills are a vital part of my work.

Towards the end of the course, I felt ready and excited to embark on the journey as a choreographer. I also had a very clear route and I knew I want to continue being a choreographer. I am grateful for the amazingly talented course mates that I had. They are all over Europe working towards their own goal. And because of them, I do not feel alone. We encourage and support each other. They inspired me. They executed some of my ideas whilst we were working together. I wasn’t sure these ideas would work as most of the time what you imagine would not be the same when it’s been done. It was very satisfying to watch them perform my ideas and pieces. Till today, in Hong Kong I struggle to find dancers that I have a strong urge to work with. There are a few that I have a good working relationship with. I think the main reason being our training were very different, hence mentality, perspective and the way we move are very different. It could also be a habit of mine too, that I prefer working with dancers with European training as that was my background. There is no right or wrong, it is always a learning experience working with different dancers and bodies.

Odd Couplings Choreographer: Lam Chun-ho Photographer: Katja Glass

The last semester at Codarts, I made a piece – 27 scenes and was premiered at International Theatre School (ITs) Festival. It is a festival that show cases the best pieces of the year from the dance and theatre schools worldwide which I am honoured that my piece was chosen. 27 scenes was presented again at Hong Kong Dance Festival the same year.

Soon after, I was contacted by Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) to create a full length piece in their New Force in Motion Series the following year. So in 2011, I premiered my very first full length - 27. I am currently working on another piece in the new series but this time, the series is for choreographers that have had some experiences. This piece will be premiered in October 2015.

From 2011-2014 I continued working freelance. In 2011, I collaborated with Lee Chun-chow and Kung Chi-sing and made Sucks – a multidisciplinary piece. I learnt a lot through collaborating with these two very well respected artists. It was a very open creative process. Lee and Kung were very generous in sharing their experience as well as open to different ideas. Another piece worth mentioning - Even ● Odd. It was performed at the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 2014 under Hong Kong Jockey Club Contemporary Dance Series which was yet another great experience for me. Odd Couplings

Choreographer: Lam Chun-ho

Photographer: Katja Glass

JC: You seem very clear about what you want for your career. Were there any frustration along the way that you could share with us?

LCH: Yes of course. Life always seem great and wonderful from others’ perspective, but in fact, it is seldom the way it looks. 2013/14 had been tough and overwhelming for me as my mother fell ill and passed away. It had an enormous impact on me, still has. My mother was a huge part of my life so is my work.

My mother’s passing put things into perspective. I started to reflect on my life and work and felt I haven’t been keeping to my artistic integrity. I felt I am losing my instincts and my works were becoming more superficial. I started to consider what the audience would like to see and allowing that to affect my decisions. Again it is about striking a balance. I am glad I had this realisation. It is easier said than done but since 2014 I have been trying to find out what went wrong and why. It is an ongoing process. I have been a lot stricter with myself in terms of making work and taking on projects. I try to really keep to my artistic integrity and focus on what I wanted to say with my work, keep to my concept and develop that.

Everything happens for a reason and I believe that. The past few months in Europe felt wonderful as I have the time and space to reflect personally and professionally. Allowing what had happened and what I learnt to reside within myself whereas in Hong Kong, I struggle a lot due to the fast pace of the city and my busy schedule. There were less scope for reflection and development for myself and my works. Of course my decisions play a big part. When I first started working freelance. I took on almost every job that came my way. But as my experience accumulate and knowing myself as a choreographer more, I have learnt what works for me, my way of working and the importance of time management so I set rules for myself. A lot of things take time before they flourish, dance works are no exception.

JC: Could you tell me more about you residency at Connecting Space HK – Zurich, City of Zurich Artist at Residency Programme?

LCH: It was a wonderful and invaluable experience. I came with the aim to collaborate with specific artists but when I arrived at the university, it was very hard to find the specific artists I wanted to work with as most of them are busy. Also, I knew no one at the time. So my plan had to change, I decided to meet artists first, make friends and get to know them and let them get to know me too. Then gradually I decided to work with artists who have the time and are willing to collaborate. To my pleasant surprise I collaborated with nine other artists who specialise in different area including: media, sound, visual, music, dance, theatre, interaction. Each of them and I created a short piece and then these glimpses of work were put together and became the bigger work titled as Odd Couplings. I worked closely with a scenographer who was my main collaborator to put together the final piece. It was a big and challenging project as I did not expect that many artists who would be interested to work with me.

Odd Couplings Choreographer: Lam Chun-ho Photographer: Katja Glass

I think it was luck and my training at Codarts. It equipped me with the skills to present myself, my works and concepts, to convince other artists to work with me. Another aim for me in this residency was to break my habits and to find new ways of working. Through working with ten other artists, there was no way I could have stuck to my way of working. It was challenging to find a narrative or connection in these smaller pieces. It felt like I was finding order within chaos and chaos within order; finding connection in disconnection and disconnection in connection. It was fascinating! There was no guarantee that it would work, but I thought it was worth trying an error and through experimenting, you find what worked and what didn’t. Also, I knew it would be hard work but so what? That also kept the process interesting, I keep surprising myself too. And the progress and the result of what we worked on was beautiful.

JC: Best piece of advice you have been given? Or anyone that inspires you?

LCH: I don’t think there is any one piece of advice. In fact artists that I worked with; some senior and junior to me, we worked together and became close friends. We meet up regularly. Their passion, love and energy for their art and life affects how I view art and life too. They are very generous with their time and experience, which in turn I become generous with my time and experience too if that makes sense. We affect and support each other. I wanted to give as much as I have received from others. The journey of pursuing a career in the arts can be lonely, but knowing I have these friends around, it doesn’t feel as lonely. So, I guess to answer your questions, people around me keep me inspired.

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