For over twenty years, Hengda Li has championed the intercultural celebration of both Eastern and Western forms of dance and performance. That dedication has paid off with Hengda’s recent award of an Artist Trust fellowship and a recent role as the Guest Director of “Sleeping Beauty” for Bellevue Ballet.

When Hengda first arrived in the United States in 1990, at the age of 27, he had achieved the rank of National First Rank Dancer in China. His plan was to augment his specialty in Chinese traditional dance with greater knowledge of Western dance and culture. “I wanted to be able to glean the essence from both the Eastern and the Western dances, blend them and create a unique style of dance,” Hengda says.

First, he delved into performing with Pacific Northwest Ballet. While building his career at PNB, Hengda began to seek a venue in which to create, learn, and grow as both a dancer and choreographer. “In order to achieve my dreams and aspirations, American Asian Performing Arts Theater was established,” he says.

At the same time, Hengda also created the Hengda Dance Academy to serve Chinese dance enthusiasts of all ethnicities, and to provide a means for Hengda to transition away from PNB while still providing support for his family. The Academy and AAPAT function together, bringing together performers and audiences for Chinese dance.

Since Hengda left PNB in 1996 to focus solely on the Dance Academy and AAPAT, he has faced numerous challenges, including shortages of funding, dance space, and qualified teachers and staff. His academy teaches students of all ethnicities and a wide range of knowledge of Chinese dance and culture. “Still we strive for the best production achievable,” Hendga says.

“Every performance, every recital is put together by the collaboration of a few over-worked and under-paid members, in charge of all details pertaining to music, costumes, and production needs.”

That is why the Artist Trust fellowship is so crucial to the ongoing work of AAPAT. “Over the years, our dancers have traveled to Canada, California, and other cities in the Pacific Northwest and received many accolades,” Hengda says. “However, due to limited funds and manpower, we have had to reluctantly forego these opportunities in recent years.”

Now, with the help of Artist Trust, Hengda can again pursue these opportunities. “The fellowship will help to fund our future productions and is vital to the growth and stability of AAPAT and Hengda Dance Academy,” he says, as these twin organizations “encompass the essence of both Western and Eastern styles of dance.”

American Asian Performing Arts Theatre & Hengda Dance Academy present “Rhythm of Dance – 2012, Song of the Seasons” on Friday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 12 at 2:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Led by Artistic Director Li HengDa. Theater at Meydenbauer Center. For information, call (206) 287-9998.

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