Wun Sze Chan – Profile of a Professional International Dance Artist
Interview and text by Amanda Graham
A born dancer
Born in 1985 in Hong Kong, Wun Sze began her dance career at age 5 with the Jean M Wong School of Ballet. Recognising young Wun Sze’s potential very early on, the teacher paid special attention to Wun Sze’s development, moving her into the scholar class to train more intensely once she turned 11. From this time, until Wun Sze began her professional career, she was performing every summer, attending extra classes in classical ballet and other styles with a variety of professional teachers and choreographers. At age 15 Wun Sze had her first opportunity to train internationally, spending two weeks in Wellington New Zealand with the New Zealand school of dance.
Going out into the world
Turning into 16, Wun Sze began applying to academic performing arts universities. After applying both locally in Hong Kong, and internationally in London, Stuttgart and Hamburg, Wun Sze was offered places at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and the Hamburg Ballett School. Her early experience training abroad as well as encouragement from her ballet teachers inspired Wun Sze to take the leap and enrol at the Hamburg Ballett school. The ballet school of her youth enabling her international studies by providing her with a scholarship.
A long way from home
The first year of her studies abroad was particularly trying for Wun Sze. It wasn’t so much the fact that she was living in another country so far away, learning German and at the same time attending all her classes in English. Rather it was the frequency of injuries she experienced. This would be a catalyst for Wun Sze in her future professional direction. At the time however, it was disheartening and frustrating! Within her first month at the new school Wun Sze was injured while practicing an external rotation manoeuvre. This took her out of action for 6 weeks.
“Three months in I wanted to quit…
I told my parents, ‘I want to come home.’”
Knowing that she didn’t have the ideal physical proportions for a ballet dancer, and struggling to perform in line with the instruction in the new school, Wun Sze was ready to give up.
A turning point
Lonely and disappointed Wun Sze found the support and inspiration she needed in the form of a senior ballerina whom Wun Sze had met in Germany over Christmas in 2002. This experienced and supportive ballerina encouraged Wun Sze to push through until the end of her education. This turned out to be exactly the right advice at the right time! During the next years of her studies Wun Sze had a much better connection with the school. She was performing regularly and exposed to a much broader variety of dance styles along with influential and inspiring teachers.
“It was only from the time I was in Hamburg that I began to learn modern dance. I realised that my body was much more connected with modern dance.”
This realisation changed everything for Wun Sze. Working with one of her modern dance teachers to create her final examination piece Wun Sze got in touch with the Cloud Gate Company of Taiwan, her dream dance company, and learnt a solo extracted from Moon Water.
“From that time on, I understood how much capacity my body has for dancing and I knew: to continue dancing would make me happy because I enjoy creating movement.”
A Chance Encounter
During the second year of her professional education, Wun Sze began to audition for a place to begin her career. Amongst the companies Wun Sze approached was The Bavarian State Ballet, at the time under the direction of Ivan Liška. Initially Wun Sze was not accepted to audition as she did not fit the profile the company was looking for. Receiving this information late in her contact with the company, Wun Sze already had her train ticket, so she asked and was allowed to still join the training day preceding the formal audition. It was here, after the training with the dance company at The Bavarian State Ballet in 2004, that Wun Sze met Mr. Liška.
“..he assumed that I would attend the audition and said ‘I will see you tomorrow.’ I explained that I wasn’t invited. He said ‘Just come tomorrow.’ So I went. The director was there, he gave me a number and I auditioned. Then I got the job!”
Love of Dance Rekindled
Wun Sze spent the next four years dancing with The Bavarian State Ballet, where she was introduced to dance improvisation. Building on her love for modern dance, improvisation was the perfect expansion to Wun Sze’s repertoire.
“I realised I like to improvise. I enjoyed the freedom to move and think, to break habits, to expose unconscious patterns, to find joy in improvisation.”
From this moment on Wun Sze’s passion for dance was rekindled.
The ballet master believed in Wun Sze’s abilities and, despite how new she was to the company, he put her forward for the main role in the ballet ‘Apartment’ by Swedish Choreographer Mats Ek. At the time Wun Sze didn’t realise just how significant a part this was. Naturally this was intimidating, but Wun Sze recognised how lucky she was to have this opportunity and decided there was nothing to lose!
“I’m still quite fearless sometimes. I do things that I don’t know, later I realise I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I just did it.”
It was really only when Wun Sze started to dance professionally that she began to experience any fear about being on stage. She felt such pressure, as many performers do, that she had to be perfect or else she would be ashamed to call herself a dancer. This, as many fears, is naturally limiting, causing Wun Sze to lose her joy for dancing at times if she didn’t feel that her performance was perfect.
A dark period
After such a positive and highly successful beginning, Wun Sze again experienced a series of hip injuries which stopped her from dancing for weeks at a time. Regularly being out of action and in recovery naturally led to difficulties in maintaining the physical standard Wun Sze would need to perform. This led to another low point for Wun Sze in her career. Enveloped by feelings of negativity due to her inability to fully perform as she would wish too Wun Sze again was on the verge of quitting altogether and going back to Hong Kong.
“I truly felt at this time that I just wasn’t good enough.”
Little did Wun Sze know that exactly know that this difficult period would be the inspiration for her future career direction. Feeling that there was a lack of support and information on proper post-injury rehabilitation available to her, Wun Sze found her own way. She worked hard together with her physiotherapist, to build strength and to understand how to do her work as a professional dancer safely going forward. Putting a lot of focus on technique to ensure that Wun Sze would stay healthy and active.
Time for a change
Rather than continue on where she was, Wun Sze decided it was time for a fresh start and began auditioning. Accepting an offer from the Nederlands Dans Theater II in the Hague turned out to be exactly what Wun Sze was looking for. The company was completely different to those Wun Sze had been working with up to this point. A modern, neoclassical company with positive youthful attitude. During her time in Den Haag Wun Sze discovered and learned a lot. Travelling often with the company Wun Sze was exposed to more incredibly gifted and inspiring choreographers.
“The technique was more focussed on an inner quality of movement. Your inner quality of movement. You will never feel you are imperfect, you always feel you are powerful. You are inventing art constantly, because you decide on the texture you want for your movement, for your dance, all the time. This was so inspiring! For the first time in my career I heard people talking about the texture of YOUR body, of YOUR dance.”
This opened up an entirely new perspective on dance for Wun Sze, one that has stuck with her to this day. Two years on, eager to build on this valuable experience and continue developing in different environments with different choreographers, Wun Sze joined the Ballett am Rhein Düsseldorf Duisburg.
Energy and Authenticity
Wun Sze’s decision to join the Ballett am Rhein was highly influenced by her great respect for the Director at the time, Martin Schläpfer. Fascinated by how powerful the dancers were in his company, and by the energy he and the ensemble were able to create on stage, Wun Sze found herself in a position where her ability and perspective were valued. With the support of her director, Wun Sze had the opportunity to work closely with visiting choreographers. This enabled her to further honing her unique approach, and better understand herself as a dancer.
“I’ve learned a lot, I don’t compete. At the same time, you have to put yourself out there, to present yourself. I know what I’m good at. I never needed to be a soloist or to have the main role.”
In her early days in Hong Kong Wun Sze already felt that the main role wasn’t necessarily for her.
An inclusive approach to choreography
For many dancers the solo is the only role that matters. Not for Wun Sze. While she has a deep understanding of the importance of solo performance for a dancers career it’s not what her heart beats for.
“I’m a person who, when given a part other people would consider small, I don’t care. If you give me a small part – I will make it beautiful.”
As a choreographer
Wun Sze knows that everyone has the ability to do a solo. It’s really about which movement, which element she wants to use for a particular part. When she has a vision of the part Wun Sze chooses different people who could create or express that particular element as she envisions. Outside of this all dancers are equal. Wun Sze believes that, although dancers are often classified as classical, or modern, if you give them a chance to try even outside of their known specialty, they will make something of that.
Contrary to the usual practice among choreographers of choosing the best of the best, Wun Sze often goes the opposite way. Preferring to involve dancers who will work hard and grow, who will value the opportunity and use it.
“For me every part in the choreography is important. I want everyone to shine.”
For me every part in the choreography is important. I want everyone to shine. Wun Sze puts particular consideration into her placement of dancers. Particularly ensuring that someone explosive in their movement is placed at the back of the stage, to ensure that they will be seen. In this way Wun Sze makes the whole stage spark.
What is next for Wun Sze
During the periods where Wun Sze was unable to perform due to injury in year 2017, naturally she couldn’t just ‘sit still’. Realising that she still had limited knowledge about the body, Wun Sze considered studying sport science before deciding on gyrokinesis. Wun Sze had already begun teaching ballet during an earlier recovery period from another injury and found a lot of satisfaction in teaching. Combining these two, Wun Sze particularly enjoys running movement workshops, showing students of varying levels how they can use their body, how to approach their movements from a different perspective. It has become of personal importance to Wun Sze to counteract the lack of information and direction she experienced early on in her career around how to understand and execute techniques safely.
“The dance world is so demanding! With many different techniques it is not enough, it is not clear for the young dancer, how to understand and safely perform all the techniques if they don’t understand how the body functions. As soon as they understand that they can do anything!”
Now, with the body at the forefront, Wun Sze works with young dancer students, professional dancers and people from different background towards achieving healthy movement, developing a thorough understanding of how the body functions.
This movement training offered by Wun Sze, originally founded in dance, has moved parallel into the world of filming and photography. Fascinated by what you can do with film to capture the details often missed on stage, Wun Sze has created videos for dance and has worked as movement coaching for model, together with photographer, to help creating a timeless content for picture.
Constantly working on improving her knowledge and developing her skill, Wun Sze is always on the look out for the next exciting, inspiring opportunity.
To find out what Wun Sze is working on keep an eye on her News blog here.
To work with Wun Sze get in touch here.