2016 Honorary Fellow
Ms Bonni Chan was born and raised on the outlying Island and community of Cheung Chau in Hong Kong. At the age of thirteen, after a chanced occasion seeing Swan Lake on film, she set off on what would become a lifelong journey of enquiry into the arts. She began to learn dance herself through whatever books she could find in libraries, and put her early ideas into practice by “choreographing” for her friends.
After auditioning, she won a scholarship to the Hong Kong Academy of Ballet, the territory’s first professional dance training school where she studied classical ballet and modern dance. She also spent time in the summer school at the Royal Academy of Dance in London.
Around this time she also began to be fascinated by the language and form of drama, as she joined the drama courses held in the Academy’s dance studio in evenings. In the year in which she graduated from the Dance Academy, she was accepted as one of the 15 students chosen for the first year of the School of Drama of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. There she went on receiving the Best Actress award for three consecutive years of study.
In 1992, after working with various teachers in Europe for two years, Ms Chan co-founded Theatre du Pif with Sean Curran in Scotland. The company was dedicated to theatre training, and focused on the creation of new original works that fused text and physicality, and were intended to speak to, inspire and move the audience. She spent seven summers working with the WHALE Community Arts Centre, an underprivileged area’s local community arts initiative, and this experience enabled her to witness the power of transformation in the participants through the arts. In 2000, the company was commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council to create a production that celebrated Scotland’s cultural diversity.
The company’s production Fish Heads and Tales – A Tender War based on the songs of Belgium balladeer Jacques Brel, and its adaptation of the Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat were awarded five stars at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Since relocating Theatre du Pif to Hong Kong in 1995, Ms Chan has conceived and directed more than 30 original pieces of theatre, which have been acclaimed for their power and poetry. Theatre du Pif was quoted as “operating at the cutting edge of modern theatre” and “the most innovative and cross-culturally aware theatre company in Hong Kong”. Her performance in Fish Heads and Tales - A Tender War, and in The Oak Tree - An Odyssey won her two Hong Kong Drama Federation Best Actress awards. The Hong Kong Theatre Libre voted her Best Actress of the Year for her performance in 4.48 Psychosis - A Stage Reading.
One of the most memorable of the company’s overseas tours was its visit to the Shanghai Expo in 2010, when it performed the verbatim theatre piece The Will to Build as the Expo’s highlight programme. The piece was based on research into living spaces in Hong Kong and drew on numerous interviews with architects, city planners, students, government officials, activists, cage dwellers, Fung Shui masters and a multitude of Hong Kong residents. Although the piece explored issues particularly relevant to Hong Kong, its message also resonated with the audience in Shanghai, a city also developing at an alarming speed.
In 2014, Ms Chan founded the Actors Lab as a base for performing artists in Hong Kong to hone their crafts and share ideas. It is a space where actors from different backgrounds and generations work, share and learn from each other away from production routines. The Chekhov’s Garden 2014 and Cross Canvas 2015 gatherings were warmly celebrated, and still in their fermentation among the theatre circles.
In 2005, after studying with Miriam Pfeffer in Paris for four years, Ms Chan became one of the first professional Feldenkrais practitioners in Hong Kong. She hopes to dedicate more time in the years ahead to research and sharing the knowledge of the Feldenkrais Method with the local performing artists, sharing the inspiration pacing towards both skill excellence and innovation