Chinese dancer makes strides with New York ballet

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When Chun Wai Chan first arrived in the United States years ago, he didn't think that one day he would join the prominent New York City Ballet.

The NYCB's shows returned to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in September after more than a year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chan had his first show as a soloist in the NYCB on Sept 25.

"I hope that I can become a link between the Chinese and American ballet industries so that more Chinese audiences can know about American dance styles, and more American audiences can learn about traditional Chinese culture through me," Chan tells China Daily.

Born in Huizhou, South China's Guangdong province, Chan was admitted to Guangzhou Arts School in 2004 when he was 12. In 2010, he entered the Prix de Lausanne, an annual international competition for young dancers held in Switzerland, and became a finalist. Chan earned a full scholarship from the competition and moved to the US to study with the Houston Ballet's second company, Houston Ballet II, when he was 18.

Chan joined Houston Ballet in 2012. In 2016, he became the first Chinese dancer in the history of the company to play the Nutcracker Prince in The Nutcracker. He was promoted to a principal dancer for Houston Ballet at age 25.

"Although the stage is not the Olympic Games, every time I stand on it, I feel the Chinese flag flying along with me," says Chan, adding that as a main dancer for Houston Ballet, he sometimes has audience members telling him that they are proud of what he has achieved being from a different part of the world.

The NYCB was co-founded in 1948 by George Balanchine, who's considered the father of US ballet. As one of the most influential 20th-century choreographers, Balanchine created a new contemporary style described as neoclassical. The NYCB is now the largest dance organization in the US, with an active repertory of over 150 works, most of which are in Balanchine's style.

The most dominant style of ballet in China is the Vaganova method, which was devised by Russian dancer Agrippina Vaganova, and because of this different style, it has been hard for Chinese ballet dancers to join the NYCB, Chan says.

"I never expected to join the NYCB," says Chan, who is currently the only Chinese dancer in the dance company.

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