Jessica Jone - Artistic Director,
Lorita Leung Dance Company
Interview with Jessica Jone, Artistic Director at Lorita Leung Dance
Ross Michael Pink
How would you describe your early dance training?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
What performances can audiences look forward to in 2021-22 from your
JJ: We are very excited to get back to a more regular
schedule in the fall. Stay tuned for more!
2021 Ross Michael Pink