Using the language of dance, choreographers in China and Cyprus make their mark on local culture finds PAUL LAMBIS

Linda Fung and Christos Shakallis both recognise that dance is a universal language. Despite the fact that they have never met, the first living in Hong Kong and the latter in Cyprus, they are inspired by their respective cultures, which they both believe are profound and full of wisdom.

Fung’s story begins in Hong Kong, where she was raised in a traditional Chinese familial environment, although she admits to always having a keen interest in Western art and lifestyle. At the age of 12, she began ballet training with world-renowned ballerina Christina Liao. She recognised that ballet was an art form that required an enormous amount of discipline and commitment.

Her perseverance paid off when she received a grant to study at The Royal Ballet School in London in 1981, followed by another grant eight years later for furthering her studies at the prestigious Julliard School in New York, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1990.

diaspora2Fung later returned home, where she finally became a prominent dancer with the Hong Kong Ballet and also worked in TV, hosting art and youth programmes on both Chinese and English channels, culminating in her appointment as United Nations Youth Ambassador.

“Ballet is a form of stage art that tells stories through beauty, music, and movement,” Fung said. “It is the art of stretching your arms and legs to their limits, defying physical constraints in order to create beauty.”

While Shakallis has spent many years sharing his love of Greek and Cypriot folkloric dances with audiences all over the world, he also believes that stories are told through dance, and the dances he creates to communicate them are based on his personal experiences, beliefs, interpretations, and feelings.

Born in Nicosia in 1972, Shakallis grew up in a dance environment. “I owe my love of music and dance to my parents, especially my father, who was my greatest influence for many reasons,” Shakallis said.

diaspora3After graduating from high school and completing his military service, Shakallis enrolled in the prestigious London Studio Centre, a British dance and theatre school, focusing on classical ballet, contemporary dance, jazz dance, and musical theatre. He furthered his dance education, adding Spanish, Latin, and Freestyle to his dance portfolio, and is now an accredited member of the International Dance Teachers Association and one of the few salsa dance diploma holders.

“The art-making process always fuels my soul,” he said. “I have a deep and intense connection to dance. When I go into that creation process, I enter a transcendent place, and the juices start to flow.”

Despite her international fame as a ballerina, Fung is also a Tai Chi practitioner, studying traditional Chinese culture at Xing Qilin’s school, a fourth-generation inheritor of the famed Lee-style Tai Chi.

“Tai Chi is much more than just an ancient Chinese martial art,” she said. “Tai Chi draws energy from balance and tranquillity, making every movement more powerful.”

One of the numerous advantages of this unique martial arts discipline, according to Fung, is that internal organs are linked to emotions. “As one learns and practises the principles and methods of Tai Chi, it has a positive effect on physical and mental health.”

Fung adds that in retrospect, she spent half of her life looking outside, and now it’s time to reconnect with her inner self and learn more about traditional Chinese culture.

Shakallis may not be employing any martial arts techniques to reconnect with his Cypriot culture, but he is teaching local and worldwide audiences the zeibekiko, undoubtedly Greece’s most popular dances and rhythms. “Dancing zeibekiko does not convey joy or passion; rather, it is a journey into one’s personal abyss.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away,” Shakallis said. “I could not imagine my life without dance.”

Whether it’s Fung’s ballet or Tai Chi that improves physical and mental well-being, or Shakallis’ choreography that connects to the soul, both artists are inspired by their own cultural roots, and their creativity transcends all linguistic barriers.

About Mirror of Culture

Mirror of Culture is a joint initiative of the Cyprus Mail and the Chinese embassy. It highlights the parallels between Cypriot and Chinese culture to set an example of acceptance, respect and understanding among the various cultural communities on the island, recognising the fundamental importance of culture.

Culture is the universal language that transcends many barriers, including language and geography. The aim is to work with diverse cultural communities in Cyprus to share and promote our vibrant cultures to further bolster the bonds among all the people of Cyprus and celebrate the diversity of cultures in the world.

Furthermore, the initiative understands the importance of cultural preservation, which is an important way for us to transmit traditions and practices of the past to future generations.

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