The New York–based classical Chinese dance company, Shen Yun Performing Arts returns to Canberra on 24-25 March. Principal dancer, Australian-born Monty Mou granted this interview ahead of Shen Yun’s national leg of their 2020 global tour.
Dance wasn’t always at the top of Monty Mou’s agenda in his early days as a young Sydneysider. In fact, it was his mother that encouraged him to study the basics of classical Chinese dance in Taiwan from a young age.
Nearly half a lifetime later, Mou now tours the world as a principal dancer with Shen Yun Performing Arts. For almost six months each year, he tours the world performing gravity-defying leaps, depicting scholars and soldiers from ancient dynasties, and telling stories through dance from China’s 5000-year civilisation.
Having just touched down in Sydney from New Zealand as part of Shen Yun’s 2020 global tour, he’s back gracing Australian stages for his third time since joining the company.
Born and raised in Sydney, Mou says he always loved living in Australia. “I’m extremely happy to be back … and it’s an absolute honour to be performing with Shen Yun here,” he says.
As one of Shen Yun’s Australian talents, Mou was born in Sydney to parents of Cantonese descent. He began his classical Chinese dance training in Taiwan and pursued advanced studies at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts and Fei Tian College in New York. Mou won second place in New Tang Dynasty Television’s International Classical Chinese Dance Competition in both 2014 (junior division) and 2016 (adult division).
Before performances, Mou believes that an important part of warming up is a good self pep talk (while disregarding odd glances from bystanders). After the show, he likes to calm down by reflecting on the hits and misses of his day. When there’s time to unwind with a movie, Mou grabs a big bag of caramel and butter popcorn – he loves the sweet and salty blend.
“My confession is that I was never interested in becoming a lead dancer. I must admit, though, that the prospect of it was exciting, especially when my curiosity was triggered – what was it like, where did one possibly begin, was it even worth it?” Mou says.
“But honestly, a principal dancer is not that different from those who dance right next to him; the only difference is that you act the lead role. You may have to be more skilled than the average dancer, but if you consider the likelihood that all your fellow performers are also giving it their best efforts, then you have quite a different perspective.
“In reality, a lead dancer can be replaced; he is only an individual. But the dance company I am in, Shen Yun Performing Arts, is a culmination of many people working together toward one final goal: a show that can celebrate universal values and a brilliant culture around the world. To me, it doesn’t matter what character I play when everybody is committed to similar ideals and we are all working toward a common purpose.
“For some dances, I’m always in the front, in the limelight, if you will. For other dances, I may be on the side or in the back row, or I’ll be executing one of the classical Chinese dance tumbling, spinning or jumping techniques that you see throughout our show. What I’m trying to say is that in the end, I really cherish being a member of Shen Yun, lead dancer or not,” he says.
“If you asked me what I enjoyed the most about dancing, I’d say it’s the part where everyone works together to achieve something bigger than themselves. For example, I love the massive weekly rehearsals we’ve been having with our orchestra recently – the arduous process of great effort and sacrifice is what makes the success of something like Shen Yun so unbelievably fulfilling.
“I believe that if we ever chance upon something worthwhile, we should give it our best efforts, lest we let such an opportunity slip away forever,” Mou says.
Monty Mou is performing in Australia as part of Shen Yun’s 2020 global tour. Shen Yun returns to Canberra Theatre on 24–25 March with an all-new production. Tickets at: canberratheatrecentre.com.au