2021 Honorary Doctorate
Ms Helen Lai is one of Hong Kong’s most-prominent choreographers, and an internationally celebrated dance artist who is widely recognised for her uniquely poetic choreographic style. Ms Lai began her ballet training in Hong Kong and then went on to train professionally at the London Contemporary Dance School. A founding member of the City Contemporary Dance Company (CCDC) in Hong Kong, Ms Lai served as the CCDC’s Artistic Director in the 1980s and later as its Resident Choreographer for 20 years. As early as 1977, Hong Kong City Hall featured her choreographic work in a solo exhibition.
Ms Lai’s works are cross-cultural and multidisciplinary. Well-versed in literature, Ms Lai is critically acclaimed for her delicate and sensitive touch in her creations. Her style is said to resemble that of the famous Song dynasty poet Li Qingzhao. Ms Lai has choreographed for many local dance and performing arts companies, including the Hong Kong Dance Company, the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, the Hong Kong Ballet, and DanceArt, and for numerous stage and television productions. Outside Hong Kong, Ms Lai has choreographed for the Cloud Gate Theater and Taipei Crossover Dance Company, Contempodanza and the Ballet Estudio in Mexico City, the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, and the Singapore Dance Theatre.
Hailed as “a choreographer’s choreographer”, many of Ms Lai’s works are regarded as classics in the dance scene. Her major works include Nine Songs, The Rite of Spring, Invisible Cities, Loose Pages from a Woman’s Diary, Revolutionary Pekinese Opera (Millennium Mix), In the Beginning, Plaza X, The Tragedy of Mr O, The Comedy of K, Testimony, HerStory, Tales of Two Cities - Hong Kong·Shanghai·Eileen Chang, Soledad, While the Dream Unfolds, and Winterreise·The Rite of Spring. She also worked as the director of the chamber opera Heart of Coral. Recently she directed and choreographed for the chamber opera María de Buenos Aires. A spirited choreographer, Ms Lai actively seeks to collaborate with artists from different backgrounds. Her works have featured in international festivals such as the Karmiel Dance Festival in Israel, the Festival of Cultures in Munich, and the Lyon Dance Bienniale in France. Ms Lai’s distinctive artistic and aesthetic style has also attracted dance scholars around the world to study her practice.
Ms Lai has been a pillar in the dance development of Hong Kong, and is a longtime supporter of the School of Dance at the Academy. Ms Lai has provided valuable advice to the School as its external examiner for choreographic courses. Our Dance students have also prized their opportunities to perform and restage many of her famous pieces, including The Story of Nu Wa, Red, and excerpts from HerStory. To acknowledge Ms Lai’s outstanding achievements in dance and her contributions to the School of Dance, the Academy conferred an honorary fellowship on her in 2004.
Over the course of her career as a choreographer, dance artist and artistic director, Ms Lai has garnered many awards and accolades. In July 2000, Ms Lai was awarded the Medal of Honour by the Hong Kong SAR government. Other awards include Choreographer of the Year from the Hong Kong Artists’ Guild in 1990, and the Badge of Honour in 1995, a recognition of outstanding achievement from the British government. A multiple winner at the Hong Kong Dance Awards, Ms Lai took home the prize for Outstanding Choreography in 2020, 2017 and 2016 for, respectively, Winterreise in Winterreise·The Rite of Spring, While the Dream Unfolds and Soledad. She was awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Choreography in 2011, the Distinguished Achievement Award in 2002, and four more Hong Kong Dance Awards for her works. Ms Lai also received the Award for Outstanding Contribution in Arts in 2015 and the Award for Arts Achievement in Dance in 2003 from Hong Kong Arts Development Council, in recognition of her significant contributions to the development of the arts in Hong Kong.