Kwok Min Yi On The Challenges She Faced Becoming A Principal Ballet Dancer In Singapore
In the Turning Points series we talk to a Gen.T honouree about the challenges and milestones they have faced in their life, and how they have made them the person they are today.
Kwok Min Yi, Singapore Dance Theatre’s first homegrown female principal dancer, says that her career in ballet started by a happy accident. “[When I was young] I was waiting for my sister while she attended her ballet lesson, and her teacher saw me peeping through the window trying to get a glimpse of my sister dancing. Afterwards, she [asked if I wanted] to join the next class.”
“It began with just the simple joy of moving to music and enjoying ballet with friends,” she says. “One thing led to another and I am very thankful that my childhood hobby became my career.”
Despite an instant connection to the discipline, Kwok says there wasn’t an exact moment where she realised she wanted to be a professional ballerina. “As I progressed, the steps were more interesting and challenging and I found myself always looking forward to the next lesson. Before I knew it, I was in love and there was no going back.”
A few years later, she began training at the Singapore Ballet Academy (SBA), receiving the SBA Scholarship in 2007 and 2008. Continuing to impress, Kwok was awarded the National Arts Council (Overseas) Arts Scholarship to train at English National Ballet School in London, graduating in 2012. In 2020 she was promoted to principal at Singapore Dance Theatre, making her the company’s first homegrown female principal dancer.
Here, Kwok tells Gen.T about some of the biggest moments in her life—turning points that shaped her personal and professional journey and set her on the path to who she is today.
Being offered my first contract with Singapore Dance Theatre
“My first major turning point would be when I was offered my first contract with Singapore Dance Theatre upon graduating from English National Ballet School. The transition from being a student to a professional is a huge milestone for any young aspiring dancer. As my first major step into the professional ballet world that I had been dreaming of from a young age, this is a special moment for me as it signified the start of a new chapter of my life.”
Getting cast in my first contemporary ballet
“The second major turning point in my life was when I was cast in a contemporary ballet work called Shadow’s Edge in 2014. At that time I was still a young dancer at the Singapore Dance Theatre and it was my first time being chosen by an international choreographer, who was invited to create a new ballet with the dancers from the company. I remember being really excited because it was also my first time being cast in a contemporary ballet since I joined the company and thought that it was the perfect opportunity for me to work on my versatility as an artist. The experience itself was also really eye-opening. I got to better understand how the choreographer brings their creative vision to life through the medium of the dancers’ bodies.”
Performing my first leading role
“Due to an unexpected turn of events, I was given the opportunity to perform my first leading role during Ballet Under The Stars in 2016, where I performed a pas de deux from Flower Festival of Genzano. As a young dancer, I had mainly performed as part of the corps de ballet—a group of dancers who aren’t usually soloists or principal dancers—so this was the first opportunity I had to take the spotlight along with my partner. This became a turning point for me as I came to realise that the demands of more artistically and technically challenging roles as an artist—and that the success of each performance—depends on a great amount of hard work and consistent practice.”
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Performing my first two full-length classical ballets
“2019 was a big year of growth and challenge for me. I was very fortunate to perform my first two full-length classical ballets, making my lead role debut with Don Quixote followed by Swan Lake. Full-length classical ballets are known to be demanding because they require a lot of energy, strength, endurance, artistry and technique. For that, I was always in awe of dancers who were able to perform in these roles and never thought I would have the opportunity to make my debut in these timeless classics. This was also the same year that I was able to perform in incredible masterpieces like Serenade and Theme and Variations, alongside several other contemporary ballets that the company was performing as part of our performance seasons at that time.”
See more Gen.T honourees from The Arts category of the Gen.T List