The Hong Kong Ballet recently presented two sold out-performances of Romeo + Juliet in New York City. This stunning production melded Prokofiev’s classic score with new choreography and a production that evoked 1960’s Hong Kong, giving a traditional story new life and fresh perspective. HK Ballet’s Executive Director Heidi Lee (ACC 2012) sat down with ACC’s Director of Advancement Kathy Liu prior to these performances to share stories about her ACC Fellowship and the lasting impact the cultural exchange experience it provided has had on her career and professional perspective. They were joined by another ACC alum, Program Director of the Macao International Music Festival and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra Resident Conductor Lio Kuokman (ACC 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011), who was in town for these performances and shared his own Fellowship experiences and international viewpoint.
Lee’s ACC Fellowship gave her the ability to research arts administration practices in the US. She spent three months meeting and interviewing more than twenty leading artistic figures about their management and operation models, and her research led to conversations with individuals like a producer at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the administrative director at Carnegie Hall, and the CEO of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Lee also researched the content and direction of cultural management programs at Columbia University, New York University and Yale University.
That experience has influenced her thinking as the top executive of a leading arts organization today. As Lee says, “The influence [of an ACC Fellowship] is a lifelong influence. It is planted in my brain and also my blood…I will think ‘what is the position of Hong Kong internationally?’ and [I’m able to] compare Hong Kong and New York – it gives me a broader vision in whatever I do.”
For Kuokman, ACC was one of the big catalysts for launching his US career. At the start of his research and study supported by ACC, he was a student and musician in Hong Kong. His first fellowship with ACC supported a nine-week program to participate in the Aspen Music Festival and School in the summer of 2002. Following that grant period, he moved to New York to see more performances, meet more artists, and be in New York City’s diverse environment. Kuokman noted how he remains grateful for his opportunities spurred by ACC saying, “It was a very important journey to who I am as an artist, and I really appreciated that.”
Kuokman has conducted some of the pre-eminent orchestras in the world, including the Vienna Symphony, Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille, Russian National Symphony Orchestra, and the Seoul Philharmonic. He held the Assistant Conductor post at the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he was hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “a startling conducting talent.” His international experiences have given him a strong appreciation for the importance of cross-cultural understanding. As Kuokman said, “I think cultural exchange these days is even more important. I don’t know if the world could be more divided now, so we need cultural exchange. Through culture and art, we bring people together and different perspectives on art bring us together to say something to the greater world…The best art is created from this kind of collaboration… [even if] you may not see the result immediately.” Lee added, “I think the most important thing is to let go of self-identity. No matter which country you are from or what kind of person you are, in order to really exchange ideas without any boundaries, you must expose and open yourself to everything. Bring yourself to zero to give more or get more.”
Lee concluded the conversation by mentioning that as an alum, ACC’s network continues to influence her work; she stays in close contact with a circle of alums and was able to invite alumni performers for a festival she started. Kuokman also offered some suggestions for future ACC grantees: “Be open to anything you see. Be open to the people you meet. What I really treasure from the time ACC helped me [was] that I met all of these people along the way. Some of them still stay in touch and some really influenced me. You never know when the moment will be. Just be prepared and be ready.”
Heidi Lee is a leading arts administrator, programmer, and advocate. She has served as a professional arts administrator for more than 20 years, working for various Hong Kong arts organizations on their management, planning, programming, marketing, and branding, including PIP Cultural Industries Ltd., Hong Kong Dance Company, Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre and Hong Kong Fringe Club, among others. Lee was awarded the "Women of Influence 2021 – Master of the Art” prize by the American Chamber of Commerce.
Lio Kuokman is a renowned concert pianist, conductor, and international artistic collaborator currently serving as Program Director of the Macao International Music Festival and Resident Conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. He studied at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the New England Conservatory and is a founding member and President of the Macao Chamber Music Association. For his contributions to the development of arts and culture, he received a Certificate of Commendation and Medal of Cultural Merit from both governments of Hong Kong and Macao. In 2021 he was the recipient of the Hong Kong Ten Outstanding Young Persons award.