How old were you when you started ballet?

I started learning ballet at the age of four in Japan. Since then, ballet became such an integral part of my life. My family moved to live in the USA for two years when I was five years old. As the professional ballet schools only accepted students who are 8 years old and above, I trained at Mary Ann Lajoie-Sandroff Creative Center of Dance. Time spent at her studio really inspired and motivated me to pursue ballet, and I even remember boldly declaring in front of all the pupils at my elementary school graduation ceremony, “I’d like to become a ballerina in the future!” (laughs)

What was the first ballet you ever saw in a theatre? Who was it by, and what impression did it leave with you?

The first ballet I watched was The Sleeping Beauty by the National Theater Ballet of Japan. The guest principal dancer was Miyako Yoshida. I was nine years old then, and I really enjoyed the performance. Even now, whenever I look back on the video of that show, I am so impressed by Miyako, and I have really learnt a lot from her.

 When did you decide to pursue a professional career, and why?

I had to study really hard to enter a high school that encourages students to study abroad as there is no full-time ballet school in Japan. I’m thankful that I passed the exam, and during my third year in high school, I moved to Birmingham, England, to join the upper school of Elmhurst School for Dance, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s associated school.

Choosing Elmhurst meant giving up all other options, and focusing on one path only, so it was rather scary. But I have met many good friends and wonderful teachers along the way, and without any of them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.

Did you enjoy your training at your school?

For the first few months, I was terribly home sick. I cried every day. Training was hard but I loved the new 24/7 ballet environment and I quickly made friends at school. For the first two years we also did academic studies and I received the Pilates instructor certificate. From the beginning of first year, I was casted in performances both in and out of school. I had rehearsals on top of all my daily training and studies, and also got to watch many performances by Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) and the Royal Ballet.

In my third year, I was selected to dance with BRB. I toured around UK with the company for 3 months performing in David Bintley’s Beauty and the Beast and other productions. It was such an eye opening experience to see the professional world. I also got to visit many beautiful cities in UK during the tour. I have so many fond memories from the time in England and I treasure them dearly.

When and how did you join SDT?

In 2009, during my third year in Birmingham, I sent my audition DVD to Artistic Director Janek Schergen and he invited me to be a part in SDT’s Swan Lake as an extra dancer. I arrived in November and after the first week of rehearsals; Mr Janek offered me an apprentice contract which happened to be exactly on my birthday. It was the best birthday present! I officially joined SDT as an Apprentice in January 2010, and got promoted to Artist in September that same year.

What was your first role in SDT as a professional dancer? Did you like it?

My first role with SDT was one of the Willis in Giselle. It was SDT’s last performance at the Victoria Theatre, which was such a beautiful theatre with a history. After the first dress run, I was quite worried about the performance but I’m thankful that it all went well in the end. I enjoyed it very much. I also had a chance to dance one of the village girls in Act 1 because the girl whom I was an understudy for got injured.

How do you learn a new ballet/choreography? Is it different for contemporary and classical choreography?

Generally, classical choreography is easier to learn as I am more familiar with the steps. If it’s a full-length ballet, everyone has their own ways of interpreting each role, and it’s interesting to see how others dance.

For contemporary works, there are various styles and technique so it is more challenging. I will try to pick up the movements as much as I can, before blending the steps with the music.

When working with dance choreographers, it’s important to know what he/she intends to portray. Each choreographer creates their pieces in various ways. Some come with a choreography in mind, while other choreographers will ask us to improvise according to the vision they have of the dance.

What is a typical rehearsal day like for you? What do you do during breaks?

I try to reach work by 9am to do a good warm up including Pilates and body conditioning. Morning class starts at 10am, and we would have rehearsals from 11.30am to 5.30pm. We have an hour lunch break in between. During my breaks, I would snack on something light and try to get some sleep and rest for my next rehearsal scheduled.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

I start doing my hair and make-up 2 hours before the show. 30 minutes before the beginners call, I would choose my pointe shoes, and go over my steps on stage. At the 15 minutes call, I would go back to the wings and sit down for a bit to relax and get in the mood. Even if I’m not in the first scene of the ballet or first item, I would do exactly the same routine. Just sitting in the dark and listening to the music playing calms me down.

What do you eat on a big rehearsal/performance day?

I will usually have a heavy breakfast like rice and eggs with miso soup, a typical Japanese breakfast, in the morning. And during the day, I would snack on fruits and muesli bars. Before a performance I would eat a good amount of carbohydrates to give me energy, but I’ll try to finish eating at least 3 hours before performance. During the show, I make sure that I’m hydrated. Sports drinks are my saviour! (laughs) After the show I will have a light meal that has protein for muscle recovery.

What is your dream role?

Kitri in Don Quixote. I really like her bright character. I like the work itself as it is so lively throughout the ballet. Don Quixote is my all-time favorite classical ballet.

What is your favourite costume so far?

I like tutus, especially the
Diamond tutu from Sleeping Beauty. It’s a white tutu decorated with lots of diamonds and bijoux. It’s so gorgeous and almost too sparkly. I often think it should be Aurora’s wedding tutu! (laughs) I like Divertimento No.15 principal ballerina’s tutu as well. It’s simple but has many blue ribbons and it’s very pretty.

Who is your favourite choreographer in the works you’ve danced?

I like working with all the choreographers, but my favorite work is As Above, So Below by Edwaard Liang. I adore the music! When Edwaard Liang came to stage his work, it was my first time working with a choreographer in SDT and I was still an apprentice that time, I really enjoyed working with him.

Do you watch ballets from the wings during performance days?

Most of the time, yes. I like to watch my colleagues dance from the wings, especially the solos and pas de deux. When I have a solo role, I prefer not to as I need to concentrate!

How do you feel after a performance?

Straight after dancing, I feel nothing, I get numb. Sometimes I don’t even remember how I danced. But after a while, I would start thinking and reflecting on what could have been done better. Then I would get hungry and crave a huge piece of steak! (laughs)

What is your most prized possession?

Letters from my family, especially from my grandmother. She started writing to me once a week when I moved to Birmingham. I have been collecting them ever since, and now there are countless of letters.

What do you like to do outside of SDT?

I love being in nature. I live near Bedok Reservoir, so sometimes I enjoy taking a walk by the water. I also like to read, watch other performing arts and meet up with my friends for a nice meal.

Do you have a “guilty pleasure”?

YES. Peanut M&Ms! I know it is bad but I can finish a bag full in one day. My friends from Elmhurst used to call me ‘Peanut M&Ms’. That’s how badly addicted I am to it. (laughs)

Are most of your friends dancers?

Some are, but most of my friends are not dancers, a lot of my friends are from my academic school in Japan. I feel like my roots were nurtured during high school. My friends are very international and active in various fields. They are all over the world, and some of them are even working in Singapore currently. We often meet up for coffee. I think it’s nice to have connections outside the ballet world. It’s very interesting to know other industries and I am very lucky that I have so many friends from different backgrounds.

How does your family feel about your career?

They are very supportive and they are also my biggest fans. Without realising, I had the freedom to make many of my personal life decisions that led me to my career today, and I appreciate that my parents never disagreed. As I look back, I even chose the kindergarten myself. They are very busy, but my mother tries to come over to Singapore to watch our performances as much as she can.

What do you want to do after dancing?

I haven’t really put much thought into what I would want to do after dancing. I’m a late starter compared to many ballerinas; it has only been less than 10 years since I’ve devoted myself to ballet so right now I’m focusing on my ballet career.  I always believe in being grateful for the present, so I would rather dedicate myself to that and look forward to greater experiences.