Interview with SDT's Ballet Dancer – What does it take to be one?


One the world’s most famous and classical ballet piece, Swan Lake is a performance that many would most definitely have heard of.We go behind the scenes to interview a Singaporean ballet dancer, Kwok Min Yi, as she prepares for her role in this finale production for SDT for the year of 2015 – and provide you readers a glimpse of this piece, even before it’s show date on Dec 3!

What inspired you to start learning ballet?

It was unintentional at first; I was simply at the right place at the right time.

When my elder sister went for her first ballet class, I was watching her through the window.  The ballet teacher saw me and approached my parents to ask if I wanted to join the next class, which happened to be the beginner’s class. She told me that it would be fun – so I decided to join, and I haven’t stopped dancing since.

What’s a day in your life like?

We start our day with a company ballet class at 10am, so I usually arrive earlier to allow some time to warm up and stretch to prepare my body for the day’s rehearsals.

After a 1hr 30 min class, we have a short 15 minute break and then we begin rehearsing.  After the morning rehearsal which finishes at 2pm, we have an hour’s break for lunch/rest, and continue till 5.30pm.

During the day we also have small breaks in between rehearsals where I have a quick snack to replenish my energy.

Where there any memorable event or incident that motivated you to continue in this industry?

In 2009, I had the opportunity to compete in the Genée International Ballet Competition.  Also in that same year, I was accepted into English National Ballet School where I was surrounded by other talented, aspiring young dancers; we all shared the common goal of becoming professional dancers. This created a healthy learning environment where we motivated and supported one another and, in additional to that, the city of London had a very rich culture, hence we had many opportunities to watch world class companies, thus further motivating and inspiring us to better ourselves.

What is your role in Swan Lake, and have you played this part in Swan Lake before?

I have two roles in this production.  I am a Swan in Act II and IV, and one of the 6 Princesses in Act III.

This is my first time performing this iconic ballet, so all the roles are very new to me.

How do you prepare well for you role in Swan Lake?

The fundamental base of Swan Lake is the Corps de Ballet.  The Swans are an integral part of the story because they are always protecting the Swan Queen, Odette. Personally, I feel that I need to be very familiar and know the story really well, so that I am able to better portray my role in the ballet.  Some of the sections require a lot of stamina, and the rehearsal process makes us physically and mentally stronger.

What do you feel is your takeaway in the process of rehearsing for Swan Lake – this could be anything related to personal growth or Swan Lake itself.

Being a member of the Corps de Ballet, there are many instances where we have to be in perfect lines and formations whilst we are dancing.

A great amount of discipline and spatial awareness are required to make these formations very clear to the audience. The Swans dance a great deal in this ballet, often remaining onstage for extended periods of time. This means that our stamina and endurance levels must be of a high level. With this being my first time performing Swan Lake, I feel like the rehearsals are beneficial in training me in these aspects.

There are different variations of Swan Lake, what is SDT’s version of it?

There are usually two variations of the story – one is a happy ending and the other is a tragic ending.

In SDT’s version that we will be performing, Prince Siegfried and Odette, the two leading characters fall in love, defeat the evil sorcerer and live happily ever after against all odds.

What does Swan Lake/ballet represent or mean to you?

Swan Lake is one of the most iconic and famous full length classical ballets of all time.  This ballet really shows off the technical strength and artistic quality of the entire company because of how demanding it is. Being able to perform this full length ballet shows that SDT has achieved a very high standard as a company.

Ballet is a big part of my life; it is the one thing I have a lot of passion for and have committed myself to.  I am always thankful that I am able to do what I love as my job. No matter how challenging it gets, I still feel motivated and ready for the day ahead.

What is your opinion on perfection in ballet – does such a thing exist?

When I was young, I was motivated by “practice makes perfect”.  As I matured, I realised that perfection in ballet means being able to execute movements and portray emotions to the best of my ability.

In order to achieve that, I not only need to work hard, but also be open to constructive criticisms.  Perfection in ballet is very personal; everyone has their own individual opinions on what it means to be perfect. For me, if I am able to execute clean and precise technique alongside true emotions, I will have perfected my craft that much more.

What do you think are the similarities or differences between a male and female dancer’s techniques?

Both male and female dancers require strong classical technique, clean lines and a proficient sense of artistry in their dancing.

Male dancers require a very strong masculine presence, high elevation and upper body strength for partnering.

Despite these, they also need a certain degree of elegance, a very important attribute that is generally associated with female dancers. Female dancers tend to be more graceful and fluid in their movements.