Choreographer William Yong for Asian Heritage Month
by Caroline Dickie
May 15, 2023
William Yong with Genevieve Penn Nabity in rehearsal for UtopiVerse. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
Canadian choreographer, dancer, designer and director William Yong will debut a riveting, technology-driven new work for The National Ballet of Canada as part of the upcoming 2023/24 season, his first commission from a large ballet company. We asked him to share his perspective on Asian representation in dance in honour of Asian Heritage Month.
Who were some of your early role models from the Asian community as you pursued your career in dance, film, and choreography?
Growing up, I was fascinated with highly choreographed kung fu sequences in Hong Kong action movies, which sparked my interest in the world of movement and performance. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I was exposed to dance performances, and it was at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts where I began my formal training. There, I had the privilege of being taught by Takako Asakawa, a prominent Asian Japanese dance figure who had danced with the legendary Martha Graham Dance Company for a long time. Her dedication, artistry, and cultural background inspired me greatly and influenced my artistic journey in dance and choreography.
In the film industry, directors like Ang Lee and Wong Kar Wai have also been significant sources of inspiration for me. Their ability to tell captivating and thought-provoking stories while staying true to their artistic identities has been a great influence on my approach to storytelling in dance, theatre and film. Through their works, they have challenged societal norms and pushed boundaries, paving the way for more diverse and inclusive perspectives in the arts.
Keaton Leier and Tirion Law in rehearsal for UtopiVerse. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
Final Bow for Yellowface is an international movement to end Asian stereotypes in ballet. How is this shared commitment to change making dance more inclusive?
By bringing attention to the issue of representation and inclusivity in ballet, the movement is igniting a broader conversation about the importance of diversity and equity in the arts. It is an important step towards creating a more inclusive and diverse dance industry. Their work is making ballet more accessible and equitable for dancers of all backgrounds, while also inspiring similar movements that aim to create a more inclusive arts community.
You are the first Asian choreographer to create a mainstage work for The National Ballet of Canada. What does this mean for you personally and for the Asian community?
This opportunity represents more than a personal achievement. It is a symbol of progress and a testament to the power of diversity and inclusion in the arts. It is a privilege and a responsibility that I do not take lightly and I am honoured to represent the Asian community and contribute to a more diverse and inclusive artistic landscape.
William Yong with Artists of the Ballet in rehearsal for Utopiverse. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
Utopiverse makes its world premiere March 20 – 24, 2024. Learn more