25 Asian American & Pacfic Islander Dancers To Follow

25 ASIAN AMERICAN & PACIFIC ISLANDER
DANCERS TO FOLLOW

It's May! This month is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. So, lets take some time and hit up the Insta and follow these 25 Talented Dancers reshaping the conversation about Asian Dancers in Ballet.

So, here is the problem. I was going to make this great post about 25 Asian American and Pacific Islander Dancers to follow… The problem? When it comes to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Ballet… there aren’t very many. While we have many amazing Asian ballet dancers from their respective countries, I realized that there aren’t very many Asian American Ballet Dancers who have risen through the ranks. This once again serves the purpose of talking about the representation of Asian Dancers in Ballet.

By definition, an Asian American is an individual who is American of Asian descent.

There is a lot to be said about Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islanders in Ballet. There are both the positive and negative arguments regarding being of Asian descent in pop culture, in medicine and in the arts. Last year, New York City Ballet’s Georgina Pazcoguin (soloist at NYCB,  Broadway Artist,  TV star, and activist) and Phil Chan really started the change by advocating the end of Yellowface in ballet productions, specifically, the Nutcracker. While this has started arguments on both sides of ballet, many directors have stepped up and pledged to end yellowface. You can read more about their new initiative here. A former grad school professor from the University of Minnesota recently was quoted for the organization and I thought to myself, “Why I haven’t I signed?” I thought, ” I am already a huge advocate of Asians in the Arts, so that is good enough. I don’t think we should have special treatment for being Asian. I definitely believe that talent matters and that this whole affirmative action in ballet is diluting the talent pool.” I then thought, “But, I don’t want ballets that portray Asian stories to go away. I don’t mind watching the Ballet version of Madame Butterfly danced by a white woman. Is it that offensive that she drew her eyeliner on heavy and powdered her face?”

My personal experience with being Asian in Ballet mirrors the story of most Asians in ballet: The Nutcracker. My first soloist role was Chinese in the Nutcracker, no surprise. I was young, but I thought, who cares? I am dancing alongside Darci Kistler. I was excited. I was then put in Chinese in every production of Nutcracker I have ever done, with the exception of CPYB, where I asked not to be cast. My time in ballet as an Asian man was jaded. I remember my time at CPYB where I was called oriental and living in Carlisle and not seeing anyone like me. It bothered me so much that I enrolled at 16 at Dickinson College just to be around diversity. There I started to question my racial identity. As someone who grew up in Southern California, and specifically the Inland Emprie, race was never a pressing issue. My neighbors to the right were a biracial family (Black and Japanese) and my neighbors on the left were Latino. The schools I grew up in were filled with every ethnicity, religion and socioeconomic status. I went to summer programs in major cities so I never really had this experience before. After I ended my career at Minnesota Dance Theatre, where I was the only Asian, and one of two people of color I decided to go get MFA. It has always been a struggle being a Korean Adoptee. Even though I am Asian, I didn’t grow up in Asian Culture. I grew up with white parents, have a white name, but white pirvelage and white racial identity doesn’t apply to me. I wanted answers so I thought I would focus on cultural studies in the arts. It started off as a great experience, but when I had to take dance classes I was bored and irritated at the lack of talent. It wasn’t helpful when the University of Minnesota’s Dance Department went through an intense racial divide. My issue then became  that those who were complaining about casting were blaming it on race and not realizing that it was about talent.

Anyways, my mind is wondering.

I then had to stop myself and remember that regardless of my own personal thoughts, I am coaching an entire generation of Asian American Ballet Dancers. No really… I am. 60% of the kids that I coach are Asian American. And what kind of mentor am I if I am just chillin behind my blog. So, I signed it. As we are faced with changes in ballet, we look to the brilliant artists who are leading the way. Click the Photo to follow the dancer and celebrate their stories and achievements as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in ballet.

Georgina Pazcoguin, NYCB

New York City Ballet’s first Asian American, let alone Filipina American woman, ever to be promoted to an upper tier. The only other Asians who have been promoted at New York City Ballet was the 19080  Prix De Lausanne Winner Gen Horiuchi from Japan. He also danced Tea in the 1993 mainstream movie of the Nutcracker. The other was Edwaard Liang who was promoted to soloist in 1998. Georgina Pazcoguin has also been on Broadway in On The Town and Cats where she played Victoria the White Cat. She is also now on FX’s Fosse/Verdon.

Lia Cirio, Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet is known for their Asian dancers, but when it comes to Asian American ones, Lia Cirio Cirio is queen. Technically ferocious, Lia Cirio and her brother started the Cirio Collective in 2015. They are celebrating their fifth season. Additionally Lia is now choreographing throughout the US, making her one of the only Asian American Female Choreographers out there.

Candy Tong, Complexions

Candy Tong (ballerina and model) was born in San Francisco, California and graduated from the school at English National Ballet. After dancing professionally in Europe she went back to school to get her BFA from UC Irvine. She is one of Instagram’s trending dancers and currently dances for Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

Stella Abrera, American Ballet Theatre

ABT’s Stella Abrera is from Pasadena, California and is of Filipino descent. Abrera joined American Ballet Theatre as a member of the corps de ballet in 1996 and was appointed a Soloist in 2001. Abrera was appointed a Principal Dancer in August 2015.

Jeffrey Cirio, English National Ballet

Jeffrey Cirio is one bad ass ballet boy. He became a principal at Boston Ballet, then a principal at ABT, and now is at English National. He is only man of Asian descent to become a principal at American Ballet Theatre.

William Lin Yee, Pacific Northwest Ballet

William Lin Yee of PNB is from San Francisco, California. He trained at the Contra Costa Ballet Centre, San Francisco Ballet School, and the School of American Ballet. In 2004, he joined New York City Ballet as an apprentice and also was a Mae. L. Wien Award recipient. Mr. Lin-Yee joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 2008 and was promoted to soloist in 2014 and principal in 2016.

Noelani Pantastico, PNB

Noelani Pantastico is from Oahu, Hawaii. She trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and attended summer courses at Pacific Northwest Ballet School from 1994 to 1996. She joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice in 1997. She was promoted to corps de ballet in 1998, soloist in 2001, and principal in 2004. In 2008, she left PNB to join Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo as a soloist and was promoted to first soloist in 2009. In 2015, Ms. Pantastico returned to PNB as a principal dancer.

John Lam, Boston Ballet

John Lam is from Marin County, CA. He joined the Boston Ballet 2003 and was promoted to Principal in 2014.

Jim Nowakowski, Ballet Met

Noted for his time on So You Think You Can Dance, Jim is now at Ballet Met after previously being with Houston Ballet. Ballet Met has an Asian American Director, Edwaard Liang.

Jeraldine Mendoza, Joffrey Ballet

Ms. Mendoza was born in San Francisco, California and trained at the City Ballet School of San Francisco since the age of five, mainly under the artistic direction of Galina Alexandrova. At age 17, Ms. Mendoza was invited to train in the Russian course at the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, and she graduated with honors. She later won first place at the YAGP San Francisco Regional Semi-Finals in 2011.

Shimon Ito, Miami City Ballet

Shimon Ito is from New York City. Ito joined Miami City Ballet in 2011 as a corps de ballet member and was promoted to soloist in 2016.

Lily Saito, Nashville Ballet

Lily Saito, NYC, began her training at School of American Ballet where she had the privilege of performing at Lincoln Center for three years as a child in George Balanchine’s Nutcracker. She then trained at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and Ellison Ballet before joining Washington Ballet as a full scholarship trainee.

Chisako Oga

Chisako Oga became an Apprentice at SFB in 2015, and then joined Cincinnati Ballet. Oga was promoted to Soloist in September 2016 and Principal for the 2017-2018 Season. Chisako Oga trained at San Francisco Ballet School on a full scholarship received at Prix de Lausanne International Ballet Competition.She is from Carlsbad, CA. This season was her last season at Cincinnati Ballet

Margaret Severin-Hansen, Carolina Ballet

A founding member of Carolina Ballet in 1998, she was promoted to principal in 2002. Hansen is from Long Island.

Mimi Tompkins, Ballet Arizona

ABE Education Cover Girl Mimi Tompkins has ferociously taken on almost every leading role in the Ballet Arizona Repertory. Mimi was born in Washington D.C and joined the company in 2014.

Regina Montgomery, Tulsa Ballet

From Los Angeles, Regina began studying ballet under former Mariinsky Principal, Marat Daukayev. She attended the Rock School for Dance in Philadelphia and received 1st Place at the Youth America Grand Prix. Regina joined TBII in 2013, the main company in 2014, and was promoted to Demi-Soloist in 2018.

Jessica He, Atlanta Ballet

From Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. She received her early ballet training at Inland Pacific Ballet Academy. Jessica moved to Philadelphia in 2012, at age 14, to enter the pre-professional training program at The Rock School for Dance Education on full scholarship. While there, she received multiple awards and merit scholarships at competitions such as the Youth America Grand Prix and World Ballet Competition. She joined Atlanta Ballet in the 2017-2018 Season.

Angelica Generosa, PNB

Angelica Generosa is from South River, New Jersey. She studied on scholarship at the School of American Ballet. Ms. Generosa joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice. She was promoted to corps de ballet in 2012 and soloist in 2016. She also was the recipient of the School of American Ballet Mae Wien Award for Outstanding Promise.

Courtney Schenberger, Carolina Ballet

Courtney Schenberger is from Hawaii. She competed at Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) San Francisco and won 3rd  place bronze in the Junior Women Classical category. She also competed at the World Ballet Competition where she achieved the 3rd highest score in the Pre-Professional category as well as receiving the Jury’s Award. She joined Carolina Ballet in 2015, and was promoted in 2017.

Steven Morse, San Francisco Ballet

Steven Morse was born in Harbor City, California. He joined SFB in 2009 and was promoted to soloist in 2017.

UP & COMING ASIAN AMERICAN DANCERS

It is a pleasure and honor to say I coach some of the best dancers in the us. it is a bigger honor to say that the majority of dancers that i do coach are asian american. so here are some of the amazing asian american ballet students i get to train and have worked with throughout the years.

Tegan Chou

Petra Johnson

Devin Mar

Chloe Han

Marcus Ian Taylor

Amandine Isidro

Leonidas Adarmes

Margaret Mothersbaugh

Esmé Chou

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THE DYNAMIC DUO ON PNB’s American Stories

the dynamic duo ballet pnb

This is the first review for the Dynamic Duo and they knock it out of the park. It is like having a conversation with your friends after a ballet performance… but better… because by day they are kick butt engineers for Boeing… and by night they are former ballerinas, turned balletomanes, turned ballet reviewers. Personally, I want to thank them for joining  a Ballet Education, basically for free… It is a lot of work to review a ballet performance… not to mention have me as your editor… So, here they take on Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s 6/12/2016 performance of American Stories.

By: Colette Posse and Susie Boyland (pictured below L to R)

dynamic duo dance review

By: Colette Posse and Susie Boyland

The first of three pieces was Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, which portrays three sailors on shore leave during WWII in NYC as they interact with each other and flirt with passing women. 

Colette: American Stories was such a fun production to watch!

Susie: Having only vague memories of seeing Fancy Free years ago by a company I don’t remember, I was very much looking forward to seeing it again. Pacific Northwest Ballet did not disappoint!

Colette: Agreed! Seth Orza, Jonathan Porretta, and James Moore were fantastic actors and were just hilarious playing off of each other. I loved the attention to detail in their acting as well—like shaking hands behind their backs (toward the audience) when two of them would play a prank on the third. I didn’t know how you could get so much story telling out of such a simple plot setup—essentially just some guys and gals in a bar—but Robbins kept us entertained. Whether it was trying to impress the girls, competing with each other, or just messing around, there’s plenty of story throughout the piece. Jonathan Porretta was especially great in his solo with both his amazing jumps and funny demeanor.

Susie: Porretta’s solo was my favorite of the three, but overall PNB’s casting of the sailors was excellent. Coupled with their outstanding technique and bravado, they played their characters the way that they were meant to be played. Fancy Free is humorous, and these three gentlemen succeeded in making the audience laugh frequently.

Colette: Though the women were not as featured, Noelani Pantastico stood out and really knew how to use body language and facial expressions to tell a story.

Susie: Her name always makes me think of the word “fantastic” and deservedly so!  Noelani matched both the acting abilities and technical proficiency of the men. The three sailors fought for her attention, teasing her by tossing her purse around; though that scene with three men tossing a woman’s purse around on a dark city street while she tries desperately to retrieve it did make me slightly uncomfortable. Sarah Ricard Orza joined Noelani partway through and is one of my favorite PNB dancers. She seems to be underrated but I find her to be a more compelling performer than many of the company’s principal dancers. I am always glad to see her in featured roles!  Her lines are beautiful, her acting is great, and she is always a joy to watch. Near the end, we got to see Elle Macy display her acting abilities as well. Her part in the ballet was short, but she exuded sensuality, causing the men to “ooh” and “ah” over her resulting in a comical end to the piece.

pnb performance american stories review

The second piece in the show, George Balanchine’s Square Dance, was a piece inspired by several types of partnering dances, including its namesake.

Colette: Despite its title, Square Dance was still quite classical both musically and choreographically. I’m a big Vivaldi fan, so this worked for me ☺

Susie: Haha, I am NOT a Vivaldi fan, but thankfully the beautiful dancing distracted me from the music!  I was a bit confused at first as to why a ballet set to music by Vivaldi and Corelli and danced in leotards, skirts, and pointe shoes was called Square Dance, but it soon became clearer: it was a ballet slightly influenced by square dancing even though there was no literal square dancing involved.  Kyle Davis was generally the “caller” who would perform a step and then the group of dancers behind him would repeat that step. Leta Biasucci often took on this role too.

Colette: Ah I see what you’re saying. I liked that this was a high-energy piece with a TON of petit allegro—props to the dancers for making it through this, let alone making it look easy. The clear standout here was Leta Biasucci. Everything she did was just ON POINT (or should I say en pointe?). She was crisp, clean, and made her steps look huge despite her small stature. Balanchine would be proud!

Susie: Nice pun ☺ I doubt there is anyone in frequent attendance of PNB’s performances who doesn’t know that Leta Biasucci is a rising star. Her technique is incredibly polished and I didn’t see any errors on her part throughout the entire piece. Her upper body is always calm and poised while her lower body is crisp and faultless; i.e. exactly what my ballet teachers always wanted from us. She’s not the typical PNB dancer, i.e. tall women with legs for days, but that contrast she provides against the others makes her stand out in a positive light. When watching Leta, I never doubt that she is going to successfully complete a turn, while the same cannot be said for most of the company. Sometimes there are even principal dancers at PNB who will fall out of a double pirouette. For the record, I love PNB’s principal dancers, but just because they have attained the highest rank doesn’t necessarily mean that they are necessarily the best dancers in the company.

Colette: Definitely.  I also like that PNB has diversity in terms of skills; I can see that each dancer has his/her specialties and that really works to the company’s advantage in attaining a varied repertoire. That keeps gems like Leta from being overlooked!

pacfic northwest ballet building

Waiting at the Station portrays a man as he attempts to connect with his son and pass on his steps before he must surrender to the three gilded Fates that seek him out.

Colette: Waiting at the Station was probably my favorite piece of the night. Based on the description alone I thought it’d be identical to Fancy Free, but boy was I wrong! Every aspect of this piece was so well-done. The 1940s jazz music and the dynamic choreography were so fun I wanted to get up and dance it myself. Twyla Tharp put an excellent jazzy spin on ballet here. The ensemble constantly dancing in the background made the piece feel like it was moving at a fast pace while the various stories unfolded downstage. The vignettes were even more numerous here than in Fancy Free—I had to pay close attention to all parts of the stage to catch everything that was going on!

Susie: I’m glad you were able to somewhat figure out what was going on because I had no idea until afterwards!  Based on the title of this ballet I was confused at first when the set didn’t look all that station-like, except for perhaps the clock in the corner, but I stopped caring about that too much shortly after that thought passed through my mind because this ballet was fun and highly enjoyable. In retrospect, I suppose the “station” was a metaphor for the end of life. I probably should’ve done a better job reading the program before this ballet started – oops.

Colette: I don’t blame you; I only understood because I had glanced at the program first. I liked the life metaphors though. In addition, the three gilded fates (Chelsea Adomaitis, Elle Macy, and Sarah Pasch) were especially fun to watch. All three ladies were unafraid to make big, sweeping movements but kept them clean and in sync.

Susie: I called them the “Golden Mushrooms” based on their costumes, and for all I understood about the story at that point, they could’ve been playing mushrooms. They were a great trio and whether mushrooms, fates, or something else entirely, I enjoyed watching them.

Colette: The only criticism I have of this piece was the somewhat awkward partnership of Laura Tisserand and Jonathan Porretta. By themselves they each were able to show off their strengths: Laura’s long, beautiful lines; and Jonathan’s quickness and great character acting. Together however, it seemed like they struggled a bit and had to be more careful since she was so much taller than he. They made the best of a difficult situation, though.

Susie: Yeah, I’d second that. It was a bit awkward. James Moore, however, was the opposite of awkward and should do a stint on Broadway at some point in his career! This style suited him very well and he has a talent for capturing an audience. The “father and son” storyline between James and Price Suddarth was a bit hard to believe since they aren’t more than 5-10 years apart in age in “real life”, but they both possess a solid ability to play a character role. At the end, James Moore rode off into the distance on the front of a train: finally giving a literal sense to the metaphor that the ballet was about, and leaving me a bit less confused than I was when it started.

Colette: The piece overall was a great way to close the PNB season!

Photos provided by these two gorgeous ladies

For more information Pacific Northwest Ballet click here.
If you are in the Seattle area… don’t forget that the 2016/2017 season tickets are already on sale!

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