UtopiVerse Unveiled: A Q&A With Creator William Yong

by Caroline Dickie
February 8, 2024

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William Yong. Photo by Johan Hallberg-Campbell.

The National Ballet of Canada is proud to be collaborating with Canada’s William Yong on his first creation for the company, UtopiVerse, which leads the Winter Triple Bill in March 2024. William is a visionary creator and performer whose expertise in film, technology and multidisciplinary art have created demand for his work internationally. Here, William takes us inside the futuristic space of his UtopiVerse.

Tell us about your interest in multidisciplinary work.

I’ve always been captivated by the beauty that comes with crafting multidisciplinary works, whether as a choreographer or a director. It’s this magical process where you get to distill the very essence of integration, breaking down barriers and connecting diverse elements. When you bring everything together, it’s like a symphony of connections and understanding unfolding right before your eyes.

You are the first Asian choreographer to create a main stage work for The National Ballet of Canada. How does that resonate with you?

I have been an admirer of The National Ballet of Canada for a long time, so I was genuinely thrilled and deeply honoured by the invitation extended by Artistic Director Hope Muir to choreograph a new ballet. The added distinction means that this is more than a personal achievement. It is a symbol of progress and a testament to the impact of diversity and inclusion in the arts. It is a privilege and a responsibility that I do not take lightly. My passion for dance has no boundaries and I am grateful for every opportunity to share my vision with audiences anywhere in the world.

What’s behind the title, UtopiVerse?

I’m exploring the concept of Utopia. The Belgian physicist Thomas Hertog, who collaborated with Stephen Hawking, once said: “Think of it as many universes. So not just many solar systems, but really an ensemble of separate worlds.” The idea of multiple universes parallels the multidimensional thinking that fuels my artistic journey.

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William Yong in rehearsal for UtopiVerse. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Growing up as a child in Hong Kong before 1997, I was situated on a boundary – where British colonialism met Chinese imperialism and capitalism coexisted uncomfortably with communism. This unique perspective allowed me to grasp opposing viewpoints and recognize the complexities of our world. At the time, I discovered that many of our textbooks at school presented historical information with glaring omissions, concealing the truth. These experiences shaped my deep appreciation for the importance of truth and the value of unfiltered knowledge.

How have you brought that perspective to UtopiVerse?

UtopiVerse presents an alternative way of seeing traditional notions of utopia, paradise lost, the Garden of Eden, human evolution and the meaning of God. These iconic ideas are reimagined, each in its unique futuristic context, challenging our preconceived notions and inviting us to explore new dimensions of thought.

The ballet dances between the domains of the hidden and the overt, unveiling the complexities of information and misinformation. Dancers embody the ever-shifting landscapes of truth and illusion, evoking a deep sense of wonder. On stage they embark on a journey of different mindsets, exploring the ideas of inventing, rediscovering, engineering and rerouting to forge a new utopia.

What can you tell us about the music?

I worked with Music Director and Principal Conductor David Briskin to integrate selected music by Benjamin Britten into the world of UtopiVerse and offer a compelling journey through the composer’s rich emotional spectrum, mirroring the complex states of mind we explore in the ballet.

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Genevieve Penn Nabity and William Yong in rehearsal for UtopiVerse. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Finally, what can we expect visually from UtopiVerse, given your fluency with multidisciplinary performance?

The stage will be transformed into a hyper-imaginative and visually stimulating playground, where the quest for an ideal and alternative universe takes centre stage. The production comes alive with stunning visual design by Thomas Payette, lighting design by Noah Feaver, metalsmith work by Elijah Secrest and sets and costumes I’ve designed myself. Together, we are depicting the surreal landscapes and abstract representations of utopian ideals.

UtopiVerse is onstage March 20 – 24, 2024. Learn more

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