Le Yin, Principal Dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
July 2004 -- Seattle, Washingotn
We met with Le Yin in early July while Pacific Northwest Ballet’s normally busy and noisy studios were quiet, while on break in between the end of their Spring season and the decent of hoards of aspirant students for their famous Summer School Session. Mr. Yin was relaxed and affable while we discussed his early childhood and training in his native China.
DS/FT: How did you get started in ballet?
LY: In 1989, the Beijing Dance Academy auditioned several hundred children in my hometown. And out of that many, only two were taken -- myself and one girl. My mother was a classical Chinese dancer but had to give this up when her family came along. At the audition, I was not very coordinated, but I think they liked my proportions and potential. They gave me a full scholarship. I was 10, almost 11 years old (b. December 1977). They were very specific about not only what to bring to Bejing but also exact about dimensions. This is because we lived in small dormitory-like rooms, with bunk beds and several to the room, so there was not a whole lot of space for our stuff. My first night there was the hardest.
This is in contrast to the Academy’s studios. There are 42 large and well-equipped ballet studios. It’s just amazing. Each class is grouped into 12 girls and 12 boys and we stayed with our group the entire 7 years of training. I had many teachers and coaches but was lucky to have the same’ and an excellent coach’ during my last four years. He was also the most feared coach in the school! We ran before breakfast and did lots and lots of exercises. My coach told me I had a lot of talent but that I’d have to work hard. Class can become and nearly did become an addiction.
During these years, from about 16-20, I wanted to 'be the best' -- lots of tricks, turns and was not yet concerned with artistry. It was later that I became more interested in telling stories and connecting with audiences.
What was your journey from China to Seattle?
I had had several offers at graduation from companies in China and in France. Houston Ballet happened to be on tour in China with their Romeo and Juliet. Mr. Stevenson apparently saw me and invited me to discuss my career future with him over dinner, but I was still young (only 15) and wanted to finish school. We did keep in touch and I took a job with his company after graduating at age 18. I knew almost no English; it was scary but fun!
I spent five years in Houston. I was happy, but nevertheless grew tired of Houston and wanted to meet new people, and try a new repertory. I sent out tapes and Kent and Francia invited me to audition. I was very impressed with the facility (PNB’s home at The Phelps Center). I was offered a contract.
Kent and Francia are good leaders and have always had a vision for the Company. At the time, Mr. Stevenson was talking about retirement and things seemed chaotic, so it seemed like a good time to make a new transition.
What did you particularly enjoy from last season (2003-04) and what are you looking forward to doing this coming year?
Last year was a good year for me, artistically. I had multiple roles, being cast in many ballets and I felt like I grew as an artist; experiencing more things on stage. When I first joined PNB, it was hard to get used to everything but I feel I’m holding my own now. I’ve had time to figure out how to reach my [artistic] goals.
I like the Balanchine repertory. It’s very challenging, requires fast pacing, musicality, and really good, strong technique. All so [that] it looks easy. Next season, I’m really looking forward to "Rite of Spring." I'd like to be The Chosen One! I had done this ballet in Houston, albeit a different part. I hope to be cast in "Apollo." The "Merry Widow" will be fun. Certainly I’m looking forward to doing anything new too.
What are some of your interests outside of ballet? Hobbies, for example...
I really like to relax with PC games. I love food and like to cook. I play pool, barbecue, and go to ballgames - your average American life! I like to travel. I’d like someday to teach ballet but feel I need to study more, so I can explain better. It’s a matter of teaching both physical and mental things’ how to present oneself; how to show yourself to and connect with the audience.
Becoming an artist is different from becoming just a dancer. It’s such a short career that we need to make the most of it when young. We need to take care of the body to avoid injuries. It would be sad for me to quit dancing before I’m ready. 30 may be a 'line to cross’ when I get there as I’m only 26 now. But when I do stop, maybe I’ll take up skydiving!
Your parents must be proud of you ...
Yes, my parents are very proud of me. I think they made the right choice in sending me off to the Beijing Ballet Academy. My mother got to see me dance only once when I was guesting with Central Ballet of China. The rest of my family has only seen me dance on tapes, but I hope they can see me dance live someday too.
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