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Paris Conservatoire's exchange with Hong Kong Academy
by Kevin Ng, from Hong Kong

The Junior Ballet from France, comprising of fifth year students from the contemporary dance stream of the Paris Conservatoire, will give a performance in early June at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA) to close this year's French May Festival organised by the Consulate General of France. The programme includes Herve Robbe's Untitled for 10, Quentin Rouillier's Dub, Martha Clarke's Garden of Villandry, and Jo Stromgren's Fievre. The Paris students will also participate in the APA's annual performance The Rite of Spring.

The 13 students arrived in Hong Kong earlier this week for a week of workshops and classes at the APA, marking the first year in the three-year programme of cultural exchange between the Paris Conservatoire and our APA.

Yesterday I met Frederic Moreau, the Junior Ballet's production director, inside the APA building. Moreau led me to a studio where the Paris students were taking class together with the APA students. It was great fun to observe these Paris students seriously learning a Chinese ribbon dance as part of this cultural exchange. Later the Paris visitors led a technical workshop participated by the APA's own students. I was most impressed by the maturity of the Conservatoire's students.

The Paris Conservatoire, France's top music and dance academy, was originally founded in 1795 as a music school, and classical ballet classes only commenced in 1925 for women and 1947 for men. In 1990 it moved to new premises in the "Cite de la Musique," a vast complex devoted to the arts in the east side of Paris. Coinciding with its move, the Conservatoire's dance department also incorporated contemporary dance training in its syllabus in the same year.

The dance department is a state institution offering five years of secondary education for a total of 140 students aged between 13 and 21, who are separated into the classical stream and the contemporary stream. On-site accommodation is provided, and the pupils have access to specialist doctors, physiotherapists and nutritionists. Students in the first two years do dance training in the Conservatoire in the morning, followed by academic studies in a nearby secondary school in the afternoon; while the third and fourth year students do academic studies first and then dance studies later in the day.

After the first four years of training, the fifth year is devoted to gaining practical performing experience. All fifth year students aged between 17 and 20 belong to a performing company called the Junior Ballet, specially created for this purpose by the Paris Conservatoire. There are actually two streams of the Junior Ballet -- one classical and the other contemporary. Two series of four performances are held at the Conservatoire's own theatre, followed by tours within France and abroad. Similar to its partnership with the Hong Kong APA, the Junior Ballet's classical stream has an annual residency arrangement with a number of overseas ballet schools such as the Hungarian Ballet Academy, the Ballet School of Hamburg, and the National Ballet School of Toronto.

Both streams of the Junior Ballet, now directed by Quentin Rouillier, have a good reputation for commissioning new works by contemporary choreographers including Claude Brumachon, Donald Byrd, Carolyn Carlson, Lucinda Childs, Ashley Page, and Philippe Trehet. Needless to say, the repertoire also consists of ballets by the greatest choreographers such as Marius Petipa, August Bournonville and George Balanchine. The Junior Ballet's performances have been consistently praised by the French critics.

Final year students need to obtain five certificates before they can graduate. These certificates cover dance history, music knowledge, anatomy and kinesiology, technical training, and interpretation. Ballet graduates have joined the French companies like the Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet du Nord, Nice Ballet, Ballet de Bordeaux, and Ballet du Rhin; as well as a host of major international companies including the Royal Ballet, and the Netherlands Dance Theatre. The contemporary dance graduates have found work with Merce Cunningham Dance Company in America, Basheva Dance Company in Israel etc., and the various National Choreographic Centres throughout France.

Next May a selected group of Hong Kong APA students will in turn have the opportunity to participate in the annual "Danses de Mai" event in the Conservatoire's home in Paris, as part of this meaningful three-year exchange between both academies.

 

Please join a discussion on this topic in our forum.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.

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