Jessica Jone - Artistic Director,
Lorita Leung Dance Company

An Interview with Jessica Jone, Artistic Director at Lorita Leung Dance Company

Reviewer Ross Michael Pink

RMP: How would you describe your early dance training?

JJ: I began my training at the age of 4 under the tutelage of my mother, Lorita Leung. She started her dance academy in the basement of our family home, and I have early memories of sneaking downstairs when I was very young and watching her teach her students.

RMP: What was the spark that lit up the dance world for you as a child?

JJ: Dance has always been a huge part of my life. The dance school was central to our family life and I loved performing from an early age. I remember our annual shows at Kitsilano Showboat with much fondness. I remember my first time studying at Beijing Dance Academy when I was 14. I felt so astounded by the size of that building and how it it had over 40 studios, each one full of students learning all types of Chinese dance. The energy in that building was indescribable.

RMP: What are your personal dance performance highlights?

JJ: There have been so many over the years. As a child, it was touring China with Lorita Leung Dancers (the company’s name way back then), and dancing at Expo 86. My adult dance career was launched with a Solo Performance while I was still a student at SFU, and other highlights include performing at the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad and bringing Moving Dragon’s full-length work, Triaspora to the National Arts Centre. As a Chinese dance educator, I am very proud to be Canada’s first Senior Instructor for the Beijing Dance Academy Chinese Dance Examination Syllabus. This enables me to train Chinese dance teachers across the country and help to raise the standard of Chinese dance in Canada.

RMP: What is unique about your dance company?

JJ: Lorita Leung Dance Company is Canada’s oldest Chinese dance performing group. We have come from very humble beginnings and our dancers are all trained at our own academy. We are very proud of the standards we can achieve outside of China even though the dancers are not full-time professional dancers.

RMP: Which artists have had the most influence upon your dance journey?

JJ: One dance artist I truly admire is Yang Liping, known as the “Peacock Princess of China”. She has had a huge impact on Chinese dance, and although she was not trained at a formal dance academy, she carved a path for herself and other artists that followed by finding her own choreographic style and artistic voice. She is a true artist through and through who is constantly examining the tradition and finding ways to preserve the spirit of China’s ethnic dances. She is also a very down-to-earth and humble person. I had the honour of meeting her when she came to our home for dinner back in the 90’s (she was in Vancouver and performed at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre). A few years later when our dance company toured Taiwan, she personally attended our performance in Taipei. It was an incredible feeling to be dancing onstage and to look out and see her sitting in the audience. I
am also deeply inspired by my mom’s perseverance and tenacity in running her dance company and school. When she immigrated to Vancouver in 1970, the city had a very different cultural landscape compared to now. She constantly had to advocate for herself and for Chinese dance culture to be seen. I feel very grateful and fortunate to be able to carry on her legacy and sow the seeds that she planted over 50 years ago.

RMP: What are new trends in modern and chinese dance?

JJ: Chinese dance is a living, breathing art form that is constantly evolving. In China, each generation of dancer is more technically advanced than the one before, and with the advancement of technology, the sky is the limit in terms of production values and scale. When I attend dance performances in China, I am struck by one huge difference between the mindset of the Chinese dance artists and artists of the Chinese diaspora. In China, there isn’t the same sense of duty to “represent" Chinese culture because it is happening within that culture itself. Basically, whatever they create and perform is unequivocally "Chinese dance” because it was created and performed by Chinese dance artists and exists in a Chinese context.
However, with artists of the Chinese diaspora who work in traditional forms (and speaking from my own personal point of view) , there is a constant sense of duty to uphold the roots and tradition so that it remains an authentic and accurate representation of the form in a non-Chinese context. With my dance school, I focus on ensuring that our dancers have a good understanding of the traditional Chinese dance forms. I feel that this is crucial, since it also serves as their connection to Chinese culture. With our advanced students, once they have a firm grasp of tradition, we push them further by combining that with Contemporary dance elements.

RMP: How would you describe your joys and challenges as a renowned dance teacher and company director?

JJ: As a Chinese dance teacher and artist in Canada, the struggle to feel seen and heard by the mainstream dance community (and the community in general) has been very real. In the past, we have always been proud to be an ambassador for Chinese dance culture, but at the same time we have often felt tokenized. I am sure that many BIPOC artists feel this way. Recently, we have seen beginnings of some positive shifts in the level of recognition and awareness of marginalized voices and experiences. I am optimistic that this will lend itself to more opportunities for engagement and connection in the future.

RMP: What performances can audiences look forward to in 2021-22 from your dance company?

JJ: We are very excited to get back to a more regular schedule in the fall. Stay tuned for more!

© 2021 Ross Michael Pink