Cover Hua Chi-yu as Madam Chin in The Last Dance. Courtesy of the Hong Kong Dance Company.

The Hong Kong Dance Company combines social, modern and Chinese dance in its most ambitious production yet: The Last Dance. Here’s how principal dancer Hua Chi-yu prepares for it

Hong Kong Dance Company’s principal dancer Hua Chi-yu will take on the lead role in The Last Dance, a brand new show adapted from Hsien-yung’s short story, The Last Night of Madam Chin. The story follows a Madam Chin, dance hostess throughout different stages of her life in 1930s Shanghai.

Even for Hua, a three-time outstanding performance winner at the Hong Kong Dance Awards, the role of Chin is her most challenging yet in her 21 years with the company due to the versatility required. “I’ve never performed Latin and ballroom dances in a production that also features modern dance before,” she says.

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The Last Dance was originally scheduled for August 2020 but was cancelled due to the third wave of the pandemic. As the team now faces a similar situation, Hua shares a typical day in her life, and tells Tatler about how she has stayed performance ready through an unpredictable era while learning to dance her most challenging role yet.

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6.50am

As a dancer, I like a well-balanced and filling breakfast: there must be a sweet bun, and I like pairing it with savoury food such as siu mai, blanched vegetables, and a big mug of coffee.

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8.20am

After I finish my breakfast in the studio, I quickly get changed into my yoga wear. The basic dance wear for female dancers at the company must include a sports bra and flexible, tight-fitted pants to make sure we feel comfortable. Usually, the studio room is rather cold, and I put on a few more layers and socks over soft dancing shoes to prevent spasms.

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I like to do warmup exercises before my morning’s basic training. Instead of the classroom, I hide in the fire escape staircase where it’s empty of people. That makes me feel very peaceful and puts me into a relaxed state for the training later. My body feels different every day. My warmup exercises focus on the areas that I feel the sorest from dancing the day before. Some of the exercises include stretching my muscles and hamstrings to loosen them up and massaging my lower legs. The Last Dance involves wearing high heels to dance, which puts a lot of pressure on the balls of my feet. So I put extra effort in stretching my feet muscles.

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9.45am

Our dance company’s basic training involves ballet, social dance and Chinese dance classes. They are all very useful to gear our dancers up with all kinds of dance productions, and make sure we maintain our endurance and flexibility.

11.30am

After warming up, it’s time for the rehearsal of our show. In Chinese dance, there are a lot of props such as fans and water sleeves. To me, The Last Dance is a story about a dance hostess searching for the meaning of love in the 1930s. Instead of using traditional Chinese dance props, I suggested to choreographer Mui Cheuk-yin that I interact with a high heeled shoe, which the protagonist, Madam Chin, wears every day for her job. Apart from being a symbol of the vicissitudes she experiences in life, high heels also have a personal meaning to me. I used to love wearing them before I became a mother. I wore heels everywhere, even when I was on a hike or rushing for a bus. I feel connected to my character because high heels were a part of my younger life.

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When designing the steps for my character, Mui would observe and advise on how I use body movement to convey the characters’ emotions, instead of matching certain set Chinese or modern dance techniques with the prop.

The show also incorporates cha cha cha, jive, waltz and modern dance elements. My dance training in Taiwan, where I started as a dance student, exposed me to different types of dance: ballet, Chinese dance and contemporary. It meant that now I pick up different dance techniques from the company’s teachers quickly.

1pm

I don’t eat lunch. Instead, I spend the hour taking a nap in a small studio. I find it’s more rejuvenating for my afternoon rehearsals.

2pm

My team and I rehearse the whole afternoon until 6.30pm. The pandemic has been a great challenge to putting on this show. We started preparing in 2019 for the premiere in 2020, but it was called off due to the pandemic. Still, the whole team was very professional. Even though we knew we couldn’t put on the show, the director still arranged a dress rehearsal back in 2020, so that we would have a complete production ready once we could return to the stage.

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9.30pm

Aside from my dance practice, I spend my evening doing research work for the production. After I finish dinner and all my chores at night, and have tucked my son into bed, I read the original short story of The Last Night of Madam Chin and watch the adapted 2009 film. This helps me understand the character so much more.

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11pm

I’m a certified manicurist. Every Friday, I like doing my nails until late into the night. Pretty nails give me confidence when I dance, and I’ve designed long and glittery nails for my Madam Chin character.

‘A Day In The Life’ is a Tatler weekly series, which delves into the secret lives of the tastemakers within Hong Kong’s arts scene.

Above A sneak-peek of The Last Dance. Courtesy of the Hong Kong Dance Company.
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