Initially Chun Wai Chan's parents had visions of him being on China's Olympic swimming team. He had big hands and long arms and was athletic. Seemed like a good match.
But there were a few problems with that dream.
"The trainer was hard to work with. I was seven or eight years old and I was kind of scared of him. And I was afraid of water a lot," Chan says now, laughing. He practiced a lot ahead of time, holding his breath, getting himself as ready as he could for his first lesson. "But he just threw me in the water and I would never go back."
Fortunately, Chan had several sisters who were studying dance and he accompanied one of them to her lessons. That's where he discovered his passion for ballet, began taking lessons and progressed rapidly.
That passion and ability has taken him from China to Houston, where as a soloist, he'll be performing in all three parts of the Director's Choice: Legends and Prodigy mixed repertory program the ballet is presenting in March.
Trained as a classical dancer in China, Chan has learned a lot of things since joining the Houston Ballet: new techniques, how to manage his lifts better, and contemporary dance.
At first, he says, "I couldn't lift even the skinniest girl in the class." A regimen of more than 100 push-ups a day has gotten him past that.
"I feel like the training here is very professional and they can push you in contemporary and classical."
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He's also learned how to dance with a stone as he’ll be doing in Stepping Stones by Jiri Kylián. The work, a Houston Ballet premiere, takes a lot of stamina and has challenging steps, he says. “It’s very different from what I usually practice. I usually practice classical, where I try to be as simple as possible. In this piece I have to move from my toes to the edge of my head and every part has to be very accurate.”
Chan is also performing in Grosse Fuge by Hans van Manen, and Year of the Rabbit by Justin Peck (another Houston Ballet premiere.) In Grosse Fuge, where he’ll partner with first soloist Katharine Precourt, he says “It’s very fast. It has a very fast tempo.”
As for Year of the Rabbit, Chan calls it “very fun.” To add to all of this, Chan is still onstage in Cinderella while rehearsing for the mixed rep.
Performances are scheduled for March 16-26 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For information call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $25-$195.