[中][ENG]香港芭蕾舞團行政總監李藹儀專訪 — 開拓網上節目：是危還是機？ Interview with Heidi Lee, Executive Director of Hong Kong Ba
[中]香港芭蕾舞團行政總監李藹儀專訪 —— 開拓網上節目：是危還是機？
「港芭@家」- 港芭廚房「Nana 廚房」；舞者：（由左）酒井那奈、卡諾意；照片由香港芭蕾舞團提供
然而隨著拍攝與製作的愈發精細，線上與線下到底是相輔相成還是互相搶奪觀眾？討論愈發熾烈。從早年英國國家劇院現場（National Theatre Live）進軍戲院，到現在世界各大藝團紛紛開放線上資源，一時網上演出資源如井噴湧現，令人目不暇接。這讓人難免顧慮，劇場的現場體驗果真是不可替代的嗎？習慣了在線上媒體看演出後，觀眾是否還想入劇場？
[ENG] Interview with Heidi Lee, Executive Director of Hong Kong Ballet
Branching out into online platforms: risk or opportunity?
Original Text: Wei Wei
COVID-19 has stopped live performances worldwide. Arts organizations and companies have resorted to online platforms where they either play recordings of past performances or launch online programmes to maintain their connection with the audience. Hong Kong Ballet (HKB) is no exception in this respect. In the opinion of Heidi Lee, who has just taken over as the company’s new Executive Director, the hiatus represents risk, but at the same time opportunity, where making good use of online platforms can bring in new ways to approach the audience.
(From left) Paul Tam, Former Executive Director of Hong Kong Ballet; Cherry Wong, Assistant Project Director of WearDance; Heidi Lee, Executive Director of Hong Kong Ballet; Septime Webre, Artistic Director of Hong Kong Ballet; Photo provided by Hong Kong Ballet
“Any platform is a platform”
Since March this year, HKB has launched HKBALLET@HOME, a series of online shows divided into different themes, on both Facebook and YouTube, aired at various regular timeslots each week like TV. Apart from past performances, there is also a series of special programmes, such as Ballet Blahblahblah, a talk show hosted by artistic director Septime Webre, Ballerino Chef in which company dancers share their personal recipes and cooking tips, online ballet classes and Ballet 101 where they talk about some less-known aspects of ballet. HKB tries to minimise the distance between the audience and the company, and enable them to see the other side of ballet with an easy and friendly approach.
Lee stressed that the objective of making online programmes was to reshape the image of Hong Kong Ballet. “We did lots of planning on online programmes before, but the public rarely knew about this part of HKB. This time, I suggested that we must have a ‘package’ and a ‘label’ for branding. We tried different names for this new branding of HKB. The title ‘HKBALLET@HOME’ was coined by Septime. It’s a really good name.” Lee explains.
“For the performing arts, any platform is a platform.” To Lee, making online programmes was a crucial move to maintain HKB’s vitality and retain a connection with the audience despite theatres being closed and performances put on hold. This was not a reactive measure to counter the pandemic, but rather an opportunity for HKB to take advantage of the outbreak to explore a potentially promising platform and channel. “Even after the pandemic is over, we will continue with the online programmes. This will become one of our company’s labels. Internally, it gives my colleagues and our dance team a platform to showcase their creativity. Externally, the platform allows our audience to see our dancers from a variety of angles. I can also see a business opportunity coming from this. When we develop online platforms or channels, we can work together with different industries. I have a high expectation in this regard, as exposure for online platforms is continuously increasing.” Lee comments.
It’s not new for dance to collaborate with multimedia nor for arts companies to make use of social media. However, as Lee says, in the past online programmes were based on the company’s new productions. For example, when a production was coming up, they would film some behind-the-scenes or rehearsal footage and upload the clips onto Facebook. In future, Lee hopes that the content of their online channel can be more diverse and in depth. “We want to invite independent artists from different fields to participate in the making of HKBALLET@HOME. This will also provide artists affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with working opportunities. The barrier to collaborating online is much lower, as collaborations in stage production involves a number of costs. With an online platform and a brand on the internet, there are more possibilities and greater flexibility,” she points out. Regarding the limitations when using media technologies, the production team is encouraged to think how to use more creative angles to present the programmes. “It’s a personal development opportunity for the dance artists. One of our ballet masters, Yuh Egami, is very keen and has learned editing by himself. He’s creating a video showing all our dancers working from home, which will be very interesting, ” Lee says.
HKBALLET@HOME - Barre Class Online - Pre-Beginner class; Dancers: (from left) Leung Saulong, Stella Chang, Alice Fung; Photo provided by Hong Kong Ballet
Does “online” compete with “offline”?
Online programmes have limitations, such as the barrier to getting close to the audience. “What is the difference between ‘online’ and ‘on-site’?” Lee asks. “This is a good opportunity for all of us working in performing arts to reflect on the reasons why we perform in theatres in the first place. When the form -- the theatre -- is gone, what else can performing arts bring us? I still think that the core of what we do is the work on stage and the immediacy of that live experience, where the relationship between audience and performers is irreplaceable. The limitation with online platforms is the physical distance between the performers and the audience,” she reflects.
However, as shooting and production become ever more refined, are “online” and “offline” complementing each other or vying with each other for audience? The debate on this is getting heated. From early on when the first National Theatre Live in the UK season entered cinemas, to the opening up of online resources by major arts companies worldwide, new ways to watch arts shows online are springing up, suddenly offering viewers an abundance of choice of dance performances to watch. This raises a question as to whether the live experience in theatres is really irreplaceable. After getting used to watching performances online, will the audience still want to go to the theatre?
Lee doesn’t see it like that and approaches the matter from a different angle. “The question enables us to think in this way: artists must work to a high standard so as to compete with others. If the work is good enough and is then shown online, it will give viewers a reason to watch it again in the theatre. Like the Korean TV drama, Crash Landing on You, if now we say we will do a stage production of the show, will you want to see it? Certainly yes, even though you are already familiar with the plot. If the work is good in itself, it will pull in audiences. They will want to see the drama in the form of a theatre show to have the experience of a live performance.”
The pandemic has suspended activities even in major performing arts hubs such as New York or London, which is fair in a way. The situation in Hong Kong is now improving and arts performances may resume sooner here than in western countries. “Even if the theatres re-open here, does this mean we can get more audiences in theatres in Hong Kong than that in the US and the UK? When performances are available online, it’s like going to a buffet, people can choose whatever they want to eat. In Hong Kong, people have already watched most past productions by various companies. When the theatres open again, as a new theatre-goer, which company would you go for? In the end, it’s always about the quality of the work itself.” Lee points out.
High quality works are always the key. Original choreography from Hong Kong is still not strong enough. “If a person chooses Netflix over theatre shows, there must be something wrong with our work. Artists are concerned with the audience, specifically whether he or she can reach the audience. How evocative and moving is his/her work? How does relate to our daily lives? These are the questions we have to bear in mind. I think it’s good to have online platforms because it motivates us to refine our work.”
Is HKB worried about losing audience?
“Yes, definitely. Online resources are cheap and convenient, which is quite worrying,” Lee admits. “This makes us reflect on how we can make effective use of online platforms. For example, we hope to revive the prestigious image of ballet and unveil another side of ballet dancers, instead of just uploading videos of past performances. This also gives us a chance to reach out to new audiences. Nowadays, young people like staying home and are used to watching online channels. Through online platforms, youngsters can get to know about HKB and thus may be interested to see the company perform on stage. Also, will the old audience come back? It depends on whether the works excite and move them. This is down to how every department of HKB makes use of the platforms.”
WearDance - Variation in sneakers; Choreographer: Jessica Burrows; Fashion Designer: Yeung Chin; Dancers (from left): Leung Saulong, Erica Wang, Zhang Xuening; Photo provided by Hong Kong Ballet
Immediately after taking up her new post, Lee has had to cope with the setbacks of the pandemic, but does not see this as an impediment to the implementation of her plans for HKB. In her opinion, working in the performing arts is about coping with crises all the time. “We always have a ‘Plan B’ to fall back on,” she says. However, compared to dealing with unexpected accidents such as performances being interrupted, crisis management in the midst of the pandemic calls for a long-term plan.
In the wake of the pandemic when shows can be staged again, Lee prefers to aim high, even if it means coming back a bit later. She hopes that theatres will be open for full audiences. Opening with only partial attendance permitted is not ideal for the dance sector. “After a closure of over four months, the audience would rather see a full house than a quiet theatre when we open again. Otherwise, they will never come back. First impressions are important. Theatre-going is a transitory experience for the audience. The feeling is nuanced, subtle and hard to pin down. Imagine people with children go to see a kids show but end up in a dead, half empty theatre. They would rather go to a mall or Toys"R"Us and have real fun with their kids. Thus, we have to take this first impression seriously. Someone must step up and give a normal, fully attended dance performance to be the trailblazer.”
Regarding plans for the future, first and foremost Lee wants to find a “home” for HKB. “The pandemic has forced us to be passive and reactive. Companies like Hong Kong Dance Company, Hong Kong Repertory Theatre or Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra have premises where their artists can come to work in small groups. It’s ridiculous that we, as a 40-year-old dance company, still don’t have our own premises.” Secondly, she hopes that West Kowloon can provide more venue support for HKB and City Contemporary Dance Company. Thirdly, she anticipates more opportunities for the dance sector to work with the business sector. “Last year, we had a collaborative project, WearDance, with the fashion industry and make appearances in malls. This is Wan Chai was a project with the design centre and the MTR. Both had a good reception.”
Nevertheless, she wants to put her greatest effort into branding HKB and building up its identity.
“HKBALLET@HOME has already established that we are a premier ballet company and that we welcome bringing the audience closer,” Lee says. What is the “identity” of HKB in her eyes? Although “localization” has become a cliché, the unique culture of Hong Kong is the essence of the company. In Septime Webre’s new work Romeo + Juliet, the setting is 1960s Hong Kong. This background embodies the Hong Kong DNA of HKB. “Whether going to Mainland China or abroad, this trait has to be present. For a performance of Giselle, presenters can choose from any number of companies. Only HKB can perform Romeo and Juliet set in Hong Kong in the 1960s.”
Apart from these aspirations, Lee also reveals that HKB is planning to have its own training centre, working with the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts and other ballet schools, with the aim of nurturing capable new dancers. Details are still under discussion.
The video is available online from 14 May: https://bit.ly/2LZkJSZ
Editor’s note: Netflix is an online streaming service showing films and TV shows.
(English Translation by Pomny Chu)
feature journalist, dance lover.
焦點 FOCUS (22-3): 幕上之舞 Dance on Screen
While all performing venues remain closed, in the spirit of “keep dancing and carry on”, dance companies and artists all around the world are striving to explore new channels to keep creating new work as well as staying connected with their audiences. Video sharing and social media platforms have become popular stages for dance, and dance on screen is therefore getting the most attention it has ever had.
In fact, presenting dance with moving images is not a novel idea, there were movies on dance right after film had been invented. And in the past two to three decades, video shooting equipment has become more popular and easier to manage, resulting in a diversity of content, form and style in the dance film/video and screen dance genre.
In this issue, we have invited two local dance video directors, Maurice Lai and Wilfred Wong, to share their experiences in creating dance video works as well as their insights on this particular art form; while Chan Kwun Fee, the artistic director of Littlebreath Creative Workshop, will share her observations on online dance programme curation from an audience perspective.
In our previous issue we learned how City Contemporary Dance Company have found ways to keep dancing through hard times and in this issue we have an interview with Heidi Lee, the newly appointed executive director of Hong Kong Ballet. She will tell us her ideas about promoting ballet through social media, and how she sees innovative ways of putting dance on screen as a great opportunity during the COVID-19 pandemic.