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[Eng] Searching for New Dynamics in Dance - Interview with Vangelis Legakis

Vangelis Legakis, the producer and instructor of the Hong Kong International Collective Artist in Residency for Opportunities and Sustainability (Residency) and Hong Kong International Choreography Festival (Festival), is a passionate dancer focusing on various dance languages including Flying Low and Passing Through, Gaga, and Contact Improvisation and blending these with elements of Yoga, Chi Gong, and Martial Arts among others. The Hong Kong Dance Alliance is a promotion partner for the Residency and Festival.

Akama Chin(AC) : Can you tell us about yourself?

Vangelis Legakis (VL): I am originally from Greece. I started to dance late, at 22 years old, one year later, I was accepted to Trinity Laban in London UK from which I earned a BA in Dance Theatre (2006) and an MA in Choreography (2007). After a few years of research and development and exploring more Chi Gong, Yoga, and Vipassana, I pursued further studies at The University of Hong Kong in 2015 where I received a Master of Buddhist Studies.

I have had four major inspirations in my life to develop my dance and choreography career, Gill Clarke, William Forsythe, Julyen Hamilton, and David Zambrano. In the early period of my education, I focused on somatics, experiential anatomy, Laban, and release technique and was very inspired by my great teacher, Gill Clarke. Thereafter, I pursued more choreographic and improvisation research when I encountered William Forsythe and Julyen Hamilton. Bill (Forsythe) taught me how to ‘read choreographies’, how to coordinate my body and mind whilst improvising, how to compose, and how to feel the environment I am in so as to take in information and express it in motion. On the other hand, Julyen Hamilton offered me a philosophy of life within dance. He is one of my greatest improvisation teachers and a performer to whom I owe, to a great extent, [the knowledge to have] the presence and readiness a dancer should have at any moment. Lastly, another great teacher and mentor, David Zambrano, offered me the speed, physicality, and technique, organicity of body and mind, and expansion of possibilities in motion and flow in all possible directions. For the last seven years I have also integrated the philosophy of Chi Gong and Yoga so as to provide a holistic approach in dance pedagogy, choreography, and performance.

These influences and inspirations have been a hallmark in my career [enabling me to] offer a holistic and integrated dance practice to the world.

I have been teaching in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, and aim to spread interdisciplinary practices through dance since I feel that dance is my life; or even that dance is life. The festivals and projects I create focus beyond dance and choreography, they are workshops of human development by fusing dance, Chi Gong, Yoga, performance, and choreography. I have dedicated my career to offer my knowledge and experience to assist in the growth and education of young artists, the general public, as well as professionals in dance and the arts.

1. Vangelis Legakis teaching a workshop during the Residency Photo Credit: Don Zhen

AC: What motivated you to spend so much effort in organizing the Festival again this year? What difficulties did you encounter?

VL: The main motivation is to offer more choreographic opportunities to local artists by having space and time to research and develop, as well as to interact and work with international visiting artists. Having worked in Hong Kong for a few years, teaching at HKAPA, CCDC, and at open workshops, I experienced a lack of international platforms with a collective spirit. What I mean by this is that artists involved in the Residency and Festival can be part of more than one piece, or create their own piece, and dance for others too. Moreover, I invited all artists to meet every Thursday night to share the process of their works and all artists would offer feedback to each other. These sessions where open to the general public as well to come, experience, and offer their point of view. Because I wish to bridge the gap between the student dependent-life and independent professional life for young artists to grow quickly and safely in their careers.

I encountered a few difficulties. Firstly, I did not have any government funding or sponsorships to financially support the artists and the whole Festival. I had to reach into my own savings to be able to cover expenses of flights for the teachers I invited to teach master workshops, accommodation, theater hire, rehearsal studios, advertising, and much more. Another difficulty was to find early enough a local artist who would be willing to volunteer for the administrative and promotional work, as well as help with the translation of some promotional material. In the end, I was happy to collaborate with Idy Lam who assisted me greatly in this journey. I feel another difficulty was to put the word out there for the local community and artists to know more about what we do and offer. I am still new in Hong Kong, just teaching over four years, but I keep traveling so I am not continuously here throughout the whole year. We had master dance workshops every weekend, I invited dancers from the Forsythe Company and Akram Khan Dance Company. Unfortunately, I didn't see any of the local artists participating. We only had the resident artists and students from HKAPA.

I have to say here, although there were difficulties, I had great support from CCDC who offered us studio and guest housing for the international resident artists, and HKAPA for offering their studios for the weekend workshops. Without this vital help, I wouldn't be able to produce such a demanding festival. AC: You taught the dance method Flying Low and Passing Through during the period, can you talk more about this? Why is it attractive to you? And do you think it is important for dancers?

VL: Flying Low and Passing Through is a unique dance language that has sculpted the movement style of many companies and dancers for over 25 years. I feel there is a great organicity of expansion and contraction in this technique, especially in how to effortlessly go to the floor and out of the floor, on how to interconnect the whole environment (dance studio or site specific space), and how to find a group consciousness; whether it is improvisation or set dance sequence. It incorporates three basic principles: gathering, sending, and passing through that connotes the behavior of the body in relationship to the environment, inside and outside of the body. It can be used in set sequence but also in improvisation. It is a profound technique that opens up your senses and enhances perception and awareness of body, mind, space, and rhythm. When I teach, I also integrate somatics and experiential anatomy from my previous practice before I began to embody Flying Low and Passing Through, which makes the actual technique more accessible for students and beginners in dance. I like it so much because there is a certain freedom within the set dance sequence. The dancer can go ‘wild-without-losing-it’ within a structure that makes it easier for the dancer to let go and open up to new dynamics, body coordinations, and above all, expression. It is quite a unique practice that stretches the limits of a dancer.

2. During the 5 Element workshop Photo Credit: Vangelis Legakis

AC: For those eight international and Hong Kong artists you invited for the residency and performance, can you share more about your selection criteria and what is so special about them/their dance styles?

VL: I have very basic criteria to choose the artists. First, is the innovative choreographic idea that is the starting point of their piece. Second, is whether they focus on theatrical aspects or on pure technical dance skills. It is not that I favor one over the other, it is just that I had to find the balance and harmony among all the artists. Some proposed pieces that were more theatrical in nature, others were more technical in dance skills. My goal was to offer variability to the Hong Kong audience in terms of performances that I value the most. Equally my goal was also to support the local and international artists without being biased on the style, medium, or nature of movement an artist wished to focus on and use to express their ideas.

For example, Rebecca Thomas (UK) interacted with the audience bringing them up on the stage so as to have a unique experience. Jukstapoz Dance Company were theatrical and physical in their dance vocabulary using text and movement in a way that guided the audience in a unique narrative vivid story. Babel Laboratory, a Hong Kong based theater collective, expressed their experience by visiting and interacting with local residents of Sham Shui Po. Sarah Xiao (CN) and Sascia Pellegrini (IT), both based in Hong Kong, blended technical movement and music that let audiences witness the artists’ unpredictable interactions. Another great choreographic work was by Marah Arcilla and Jethro Ponquito, both from the Philippines but based in Hong Kong, who greatly entertained the audience by offering four different moods whilst changing their outfits on stage. This clearly conveyed how we perceive movement and meaning differently by just changing an outfit, which was a very creative choreographic choice.

3. Here We Are, Choreographer: Becca Thomas Photo Credit: Twinkle Ngan

AC: As you mentioned you will organize the Festival next year, what is your blueprint at this stage and what kind of new element will be included?

VL: For next year I have already planned the Festival to be around early June and have the residency during May. I again plan to invite eight international artists and those who live and work in Hong Kong, and eight local artists. This creates a great dynamic within the group having very versatile cultural and artistic backgrounds. I will try my best to have better promotion so more local artists can benefit from the activities we offer. Also, something new I wish to include next year is an open application for a dance-film choreographic work that will be developed and presented in Hong Kong. I should also note that this year I invited one well-established dance company, likewise next year I will again invite a professional company to perform their creation in the Festival. This is not necessary to be part of the Festival.

AC: As you have been to Hong Kong several times and have gotten to know quite a few Hong Kong dancers, how would you describe them and also what are the differences about the Hong Kong dance culture compared with those in other countries?

VL: Hong Kong dancers are great, very much focused on technique and expression, on virtuosity and artistry in dance. However, what is missing is the feeling from within and education on choreographic process.

In other countries, dancers spend more time on somatosensory activities that enhance the inner sensation of the body, feelings, and interconnectedness of the musculoskeletal system. The dance education in Hong Kong is more of a speedy process in which the artists don't have enough time to integrate and process the information from their education. In Europe and Australia where I have been teaching, dancers have an immense exposure to dance workshops and all sorts of other somatic practices throughout the whole year, and that is during their education, their graduation, and as professional dancers. Their ongoing dance development does not stop. Whereas in Hong Kong, as soon as dancers graduate, if they don't find a dance contract/work opportunity, which is very limited, they end up teaching in small dance studios or even working on commercial dance shows. These are their possibilities after only three or four years of dance education. This does not offer them any opportunities to integrate what they have learnt and keep developing in dance!

This issue could also be changed if there were more work opportunities, however, there are not enough dance companies to hire dancers who have just graduated. Therefore, on choreographic process, I feel that there is a lot more to be taught for local artists to be able to think creatively, to find their own voice and tools to choreograph so as to create innovative choreographies, and eventually create new dance companies to offer more dance opportunities to local artists.

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