An interview with David Liu,
Former Skater Turned
Ballet Dancer and Choreographer
December, 1999

By Kevin Ng



David Liu, in his early 30s, was born in Taiwan, then grew up in America, and is now based in New York. In an interview at Cova in Pacific Place in Hong Kong last Friday afternoon, I first asked this former skater about his scholarship at the School of American Ballet in New York and what he remembers of its founder George Balanchine, the greatest choreographer of this century.

“Mr. Balanchine created a new class for boys, and my classmates and I were the first generation of that class. I feel very privileged having worked for Mr. B. He used to come to class to watch and then lecture us.” One of Liu's classmates was Peter Boal, now a well-known principal dancer with New York City Ballet. Another was Gen Horiuchi, a former principal dancer of NYCB.

“Balanchine's presence and our awareness that he was actually watching – this was what made it so special. Mr. B used to say those little memorable little things. For instance, he once told us: 'Don't eat those hot dogs from the hot-dog stands because they are dirty.'”

I then inquired Liu about the new work choreographed by Helen Lai for City Contemporary Dance Company next March in which he is going to make a guest appearance. I was curious as to whether he will be skating or just dancing in Lai's work.

“Helen Lai is still shaping the piece as she goes along. Helen is fun to work with. In the beginning, she had reservations about the ice, since it's a different medium. I told her not to worry, and just do whatever she wants.

“She has now become more comfortable with it. She gives me ideas, and I give her feedback; it's a collaboration. We want to explore different ways of utilizing ice. You can slide on ice or fall on ice. I like to be able to put out what Helen has in her mind. I skate with one of the dancers who wears dance shoes.”

David Liu is actually creating three works simultaneously in Hong Kong where he is staying until March. His second work is for the Hong Kong Ballet and has an unusual title, 3's A Game, Now 4 Play.

“I use two male and two female dancers. The work is 20 minutes in length, and is divided into three sections depicting the complications of love and relationships. It is a modern work; the music is set to a saxophone concerto by Philip Glass, as well as to Wynton Marsalis. We have started rehearsing already. I want to give the movements a more earthy quality, as opposed to the more lifted nature of balletic steps.

“Actually, there is nothing really new. I just want to challenge these ballet dancers a bit by giving them less traditional steps. I want to change the image of these dancers slightly. But the girls still dance on pointe, because this is what Stephen Jefferies (the artistic director) would prefer.”

Liu also made an interesting remark about ballet dancers. “Ballet dancers often are not exposed to other forms of training. Actually, they can understand more about ballet when they see other types of dance.”

He drew from his own experience. “After I stopped ballet dancing, I studied with Martha Graham. My main sources of influence are modern dance choreographers Alvin Ailey, and Jirí Kylián (whose Netherlands Dance Theatre appeared in Hong Kong last March).”

The third project that Liu is working on is for an evening show at Festival Walk, Kowloon Tong, from 26 to 31 December in which he will also perform himself. “I am more of a coordinator here, trying to put together a show for 40 children. I am responsible for the opening and closing numbers. There is a guest skater from France, as well as a rhythmic gymnast from China.”

On the first night, there will also be a Chinese soprano, Wang Yen Yen, performing. Wang is actually Liu's neighbor. And Nancy Loo, the local pianist, will also appear.

Liu's impression of Hong Kong is that “it is a vibrant city, and as hectic as New York.”

I finally asked about Liu's future plans. “I don't want to compete as a skater any more; I now want to do things that I didn't have a chance to do before when I was a skater. I hope to do a play. I have actually studied acting for two years.”

David Liu's sojourn in Hong Kong will no doubt turn out to be rewarding for both himself and the local audiences.


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