Energy on tap

Energy on tap

Panto has dynamic young dancers leading us feet first into Christmas

If you've been reading Sunday Young Post for any length of time, you'll know panto is a traditional musical extravaganza - a mix of fairy tale, comedy, jokes old and new, songs and dancing. All those ingredients are vital to the mix, but perhaps the element that gives this Christmas tradition most of its colour, energy and vitality is the dancing of the chorus.

Every year scores of young dancers - some experienced, others enthusiastic beginners - audition for a coveted role in the chorus, and a chance to be a part of the centuries-old tradition.

This year, Little Red Riding Hood has a chorus of 10, ranging in age from 11 to 18. It includes Hana Sommerville, who has been dancing since she was five, when she started lessons in jazz and hip hop. Eight years on, she has attained Grade 6 in Ballet and Pre-Intermediate Grade 2 in Jazz.

Clearly, the 13-year-old Island School student is an experienced dancer, and it shows in her polished performance. This is her second year of panto - she made her debut in Hong Kong Players' Robin Hood last year, and couldn't stay away this year.

"Panto is a great experience, an excellent chance to get stage experience, which will also be good for other shows," she says.

Hana also enjoys the chance to work with top choreographers - last year, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts' Mandy Petty, and this year, renowned performer and choreographer Rye Bautista.

"During dance lessons you tend to work with the same instructors for years, so you get used to them," says Hana. "But it has been really interesting working with new people. Rye's way of working is different. He is really good at teaching a big group - he shows everyone, but he still has time to help individually." Bautista believes panto is perfect for aspiring dancers for several reasons.

"One, you get to do different styles of dance - for instance, pop, hip hop, rock, etc. Two, being in a show like this enables you to work with a new choreographer/ teacher and it's good to explore different ways of working, different styles and influences.

"And three, stage time is very important - every performer needs to build up as much as possible. Panto gives young dancers and singers the chance to go through a proper rehearsal process and perform on a professional stage in front of hundreds of people every night."

This is Bautista's first year choreographing a panto. "I wasn't familiar with the genre until last year when I had a cameo role in Robin Hood. Before that I hadn't seen one, but I'd heard a lot about it. Hong Kong Players has a reputation and a long history of panto. When you get involved, you know you will have to work hard and respect that reputation.

"I also really enjoy choreographing young people. They're easier to work with ... they listen, they do what you ask and they keep practising until they get it right. Great energy!"

Chorus member Zachary Campbell, 15, certainly brings that energy. Like Hana he is an experienced dancer. "I started dancing when I was eight, doing tap," he says. He is also on the Gifted Young Dancers' Programme (GYDP) for a second year.

Dance runs in the family: his grandmother Joan Campbell has been principal of the Carol Bateman School of Dancing in Hong Kong since 1967 and she encouraged him to dance - though he doesn't do ballet. Zach, who goes to West Island School, adds that one advantage of being the only boy in the chorus is " is you get a solo."

He says the rehearsal process has been tough, even compared to the rigours of his two successive years at GYDP. The dance routines are energetic and fairly advanced, so getting them right requires practice and concentration.

"I like working with Rye because he's a professional - and he treats us as though we are too," says Zach. "You have to give rehearsals your full concentration, but you really feel you're learning a lot and achieving your best."

Little Red Riding Hood runs December 1-2, 6-9. Tickets are available from Urbtix on 2111 5999 or at



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