20 Questions with Corps de Ballet Member Sophie Lee
December 22, 2022

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Sophie Lee. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Sophie Lee is one of 15 dancers to join the Corps de Ballet with The National Ballet of Canada this season, as the company returns to its pre-pandemic size. A graduate of the RBC Apprentice Programme, Lee is the winner of the 2021 RBC Emerging Artist Apprentice Award, which recognizes artistic growth, professional development and exceptional talent. Learn more about this promising artist in our “20 Questions” series!

What would you have done as a career if you hadn’t pursued ballet?

I don’t know what I would have done if not ballet. I really love the physicality of ballet and learning about movement – the creativity, the aesthetics and developing a deeper understanding about the human body.

What is your work philosophy?

I try to be intentional at what I do without setting my expectations too high. I like to plan ahead in terms of what I’m going to think about during work hours. Setting my own goals on top of what is expected of me is motivating and helps me to make the best use of work time. Doing so, I feel free from having to impress others but I’m also able to stay curious in the moment and be proactive about it.

How do you handle criticism?

Criticism can feel like a form of rejection in the moment before I understand it better. However, once I see the purpose of the criticism, I become appreciative. I prefer to focus on the process of improving, not the outcomes, because I have more control over the process. This could mean keeping a positive attitude in difficult moments or applying lessons I have learned through experience, rather than focusing on recognition or getting the promotion. When I focus on the work that I’m putting in without obsessing over the outcomes, I find I’m satisfied no matter what the result looks like.

What’s your definition of a successful ballet dancer?

One thing I learned as I joined a professional company is that dancers perform both for themselves and for their audiences. As a student, I had to learn to dance for myself, which played a significant role in my long training years. Even though dancing always made me curious, trying to match myself to the person I wanted to become was difficult. I had to learn to enjoy myself through that process.

What’s the best thing about being a dancer?

I like that I’m learning how to work with my body. It sounds odd because we often think we know the best about our own bodies, yet as a dancer I find there is so much to uncover within what I was born with. My body is a vehicle for everything and if I want to take care of it, I have to understand it first.

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Sophie Lee. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

What’s the worst?

I'm a baby when it comes to pain! So, I try my best to be diligent about recovery, nutrition and body conditioning.

What music are you listening to right now?

I have been listening to the young Korean pianist Yunchan Lim, who is only 18 years old but has a special ability to play classical music.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love baking, journaling, practicing yoga, bothering my cats and eating out with friends. But my priority has been my online study toward a Bachelor of Science at Athabasca University. It’s becoming harder to find free time!

What are three things most people don’t know about you?

  • I fall asleep fast (in less than a minute) regardless of location.
  • I can make super big spring rolls.
  • I have a big organized system in my YouTube account. I love exploring my YouTube feed, finding out what my new interest is.

What cheers you up on an off day?

Planning a full day of my own! Starting the day with one to two extra hours of sleep makes me feel great. I like to do at least one activity that gets me away from my everyday scenery, like trying out a new restaurant, walking without a map, attending different art venues/performances or following a new recipe.

Do you have any bad habits that you’re working on breaking?

I am an overthinker. Although journaling has been an incredible breakthrough, I get serious easily and I don’t enjoy my seriousness because my thoughts can overtake me. I am trying to be more present and instinctive when it comes to dancing. And there are many dancers in the company who I admire for their abilities to let go.

What is your favorite onstage memory?

Opening night of George Balanchine’s Serenade in the National Ballet’s 2021/22 Season, when the curtain went up at the Four Seasons Centre more than 18 months after the first COVID-19 lockdown. Serenade is one of my favorite ballets, but I could also sense that what I was doing on stage was truly representing a celebratory moment for everyone who made the comeback possible.

What is your favorite ballet?

If I can only pick one, it would be Swan Lake. From the signature swan arms to Tchaikovsky’s music, it’s a must-see.

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Sophie Lee in Rehearsal for The Collective Agreement. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken, either personally or in your career?

I would say immigrating to Canada from South Korea at the age of 14 with my family. This is my ninth year living in Canada, and I must admit that I feel Canada is my home. I would not trade this experience of learning a new language and culture for anything else. It has taught me so much about what makes me who I am.

Could you name someone who has mentored or inspired you?

In November, we were in the creation process for a new ballet, MADDADDAM, with the choreographer Wayne McGregor. He reshaped the way I think about dance. What struck me the most about him is his point of view. He emphasizes creative ways to present the connecting steps in between bigger movements, which he says is his definition of dance. I’m excited to hold onto this new awareness every time I dance his work, but also experiencing how it can be applied to other dance pieces.

Where would you like to travel, but haven’t yet?

I would love to explore Italy, Greece, Australia and Newfoundland.

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading Oryx and Crake, the first book of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, which is the inspiration for McGregor’s new ballet MADDADDAM. I’m enjoying the book so far but it might take a long time as I’m prioritizing my textbook readings…

What’s the top item on your bucket list?

A bike. In my most recent trip to Banff, Alberta, I rediscovered the fun of riding a bike. We did round trips from Canmore to Banff, which is 26 km each way. That was my first bike ride in about 10 years.

Do you have any performance rituals or superstitions?

I don’t like to rely on rituals or superstitions. Instead, I try to give myself extra time to get ready and warm up my body. I can’t handle the stress from running late on top of the stress to perform. When I find myself extra anxious, I listen to music from the piece I’m about to perform while getting my hair and make-up done. Going over choreography while recalling cues that are helpful, calms me down and puts me in the mood to perform.

What is your perfect meal?

The pattern is consistent: sweet, savory and sweet.

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Sophie Lee, Arielle Miralles and Isabella Kinch in Serenade. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Learn more about Sophie

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