Chinese dancer joins Nutcracker

Updated: 2014-12-24 05:05

By MAY ZHOU in Houston(China Daily USA)

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Chinese dancer joins Nutcracker

Chan Chunwai (left), performs the leading male flower in the Houston Ballet's Nutcracker this holiday season. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY 

Since 1988, the Houston Ballet has celebrated the holiday season with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, with more than 1 million people attending over the past 27 years.

This year's performance features a new star, Chan Chunwai, a young ballet dancer from Hong Kong.

Chan, who plays the leading male flower as well as a nutcracker soldier in the ballet, said he is happy to be part of a local tradition.

"We have to perform 35 shows in about a month, it is hard work," Chan said. "But when I see how the audience, especially the children, truly enjoy this performance and the holiday season, I feel that it's worth all the effort."

Chan said he has also had to rehearse for the main role of the Nutcracker Prince as an understudy in case he is needed to fill in and to prepare for the role for next season.

After training in ballet at Guangzhou Art School in Guangdong for six years, Chan was invited to the Houston Ballet II, part of the Houston Ballet Academy, on a full scholarship in 2010. That year, Chan participated in the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland — an international competition for young dancers — and got into the finals.

After the event, Chan had nine invitations from ballet companies around the world. "I eventually chose to come to the Houston Ballet because I had just watched the movie Mao's Last Dancer and was very impressed by the Houston Ballet's artistic talent," said Chan.

The 2009 film Mao's Last Dancer was based on former Houston Ballet principal dancer Li Cunxin's autobiography of the same title. Li, born into poverty and selected to study at Madame Mao Jiang Qing's Beijing Dance Academy, was the Houston Ballet's principal dancer until 1995, after first going to the US as an exchange student in 1979 after China and the US established diplomatic relations.

Chan has not been disappointed by the Houston Ballet. "The training is very rigorous, every tiny detail is paid attention to," he said. "The performance load is not light either. I have done 10 performances in five days. This gives us very good training."

"I have improved a lot in duet and modern dance since I came here," said Chan.

Diligent and eager to learn, in 2011, Chan's efforts won him the Houston Ballet Academy Award, which is presented to a dancer who exemplifies discipline, potential, talent and commitment to the art form.

As one of the five major ballet companies in the US, the Houston Ballet invites world class directors every year to work with the dancers.

"I feel like I haven't just joined the Houston Ballet, I have joined the ballet of the world," he said.

Chan has been a member of the Houston Ballet since graduating from Houston Ballet II in 2012. So far, he has performed all over the world, including China, Canada, Australia, Guatemala, Switzerland and many major cities of the US.

Principle roles he has filled include The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Sylvia, A Time to Dance, A Dance in A Garden of Mirth and Tales of Texas.

This year's Nutcracker, directed by Ben Stevenson and performed with a live orchestra, will run at the Wortham Theater through Dec 28.