People living and working in today's fast-paced urban environment are increasingly aware of the need to strike a balance and have come to recognise the power of the performing arts to add something important to their daily lives.
In talking about this, Kevin Thompson, director of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA), refers to a kind of two-way "connected creativity", which he hopes will also enhance the development of art and culture in Hong Kong. He explains that the HKAPA is introducing innovative programmes and seeking to make use of more ideas and insights which draw on external influences. For this reason, the curricula for various courses are being modified, allowing students and teachers greater freedom to explore key concepts by themselves.
According to Professor Thompson, the purpose is to give students the ability to "regenerate" themselves in a rapidly changing environment. He believes this sort of creativity will be essential for all artists in the 21st century and that it largely depends on having close connections with the outside world.
"We need to build good links with schools, universities and employers, as well as with performers throughout the world," he says. The academy already has international partners to organise joint productions plus exchange programmes for students and staff. These efforts are intended to provide wider exposure and to equip the people involved to be better "world citizens".
Professor Thompson is confident about the outlook for performing arts in Hong Kong. He joined the HKAPA last year, when it celebrated its 20th anniversary, and has found that there are remarkable opportunities to combine the diverse cultures and traditions of east and west in a "truly international city". He believes that Hong Kong can earn a reputation for something besides business excellence by focusing on the development of arts and culture. He says the construction of the West Kowloon Cultural District could be a major step forward and the chance to demonstrate a new commitment.
As a major tertiary-level institution providing professional training in performing and related technical arts, the HKAPA offers certificate, diploma and degree programmes. There are separate schools for music, dance, drama, film and television, and technical arts, as well as special courses in traditional Chinese theatre.
The academy receives about 1,600 applications every year, around 15 per cent of which are accepted. The schools of music and drama are the largest and see the toughest competition for places.
Because of the continuous development of the entertainment industry, demand for HKAPA graduates is likely to grow. For example, Disneyland has recruited most of the recent graduates in technical arts and many of the dancers. There are also positions on offer with professional companies, such as the Hong Kong Dance Company, the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, on a regular basis. Graduates also have the option of becoming school teachers.
When assessing career prospects, Professor Thompson says that graduates should also consider opportunities outside Hong Kong. "With its unique position and culture, Hong Kong can serve as a real source of well-trained people," he says, adding that Macau, for example, is building a new theatre but has no related institution to train performers.