Welcome to the very first segment of our interviews with 6/8 of the international dancers who were here in Malaysia for the International Ballet Super Stars Gala 2019! We’ve decided to break our interview into three for easier reading, and named our interview series “Dance Over Dinner”, because that was what we did: talking about dance over dinner! In this segment, you’ll be getting to know Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal soloists Yui Sugawara and Celestin Boutin a little better, so let’s go straight into it!
Note: EP stands for Expression Platform – our side of the conversation!
EP: What age did you start dancing, and what got you into dance?
Yui: When I first started I think I was four years old. I went to see my friend’s performance, and then I was like screaming to my mum, “oh, I wanna dance too!” That’s how I started.
Celestin: For me, it’s actually a funny story. I was kind of the same age as Yui, like four, and my parents took me to the Republic Dominican for vacation. Every night, we had this show of people who were just dancing. This first time I saw that I was amazed. I went up to the person-in-charge, and for the two weeks I was there, every night before the show, I could dance for a minute. Before the show, I was having my little dance! When I went back to school, my teacher went up to my mother and told her, “we have a problem. Your kid is dancing – always. Maybe he should go to ballet class or something.” My mother was like, “I don’t know, right now he’s just having fun.” But I went to my mother and I said, “I want to dance.” So I started around 4, 5.
EP: When did you start to take dance seriously?
Yui: Until I was 16, I only took classes twice a week. Then, I started to work harder and learn more by dancing 5 days a week when I was 16, 17. I went to New York to study professionally, and I was in professional school for two years. After that I got an offer to join the Hong Kong ballet, before Les Grands, and this is now my third year with Les Grands.
Celestin: At the age of 14 was when I actually started to do it for real. So I had to leave my family to go to the south of France, and I was at the school there for a while, and after that Stockholm, Sweden. There I wasn’t speaking English or any other language, just French, and I had to take care of everything. Then after that I went to New York, where I actually met Yui –
Yui: We were actually classmates; we were in the same year!
Celestin: We didn’t know each other then, it was only a year after being in the same school – and then she went to Hong Kong – and me I went to –
Yui: Straight to Les Grands Ballet –
Celestin: Yeah to Les Grands Ballet at the age of 19, and she met me at Les Grands Ballet three years ago, though we’ve actually known each other for like, five years.
EP: Both of you had to move to other places and stay away from your family, and after that you went to another country to start your career – how was the experience like? Was it a struggle, did you miss home or was it like “oh it’s fun, this is something new, I get to be on my own” – how is it like?
Yui: For me, the hardest part was the first time I moved out of Japan. I had to go to US and it’s pretty far from Japan. But my mind really opened when I was living in US, like the culture is different – I appreciate all the difference of the culture, people, the learning process of ballet, everything. And also my parents were really supportive of me, even though I was an only child. They must have had a hard time knowing that their daughter is leaving them, but now they’re so used to it, and they even say “maybe I want to live in Canada one day!”
Celestin: For me it was a bit hard, because I was very close to my family. And then, you know, when you’re 14 years old and you just leave your family and then… you actually have to take care of yourself! It’s a big deal, because I had to like, do my own laundry, take care of my own stuff, and at 14 you don’t really do it; usually your parents do it for you. I had to grow up earlier, but I think it made my relationship with my family stronger, because whenever they came, we had quality time. It’s not like when you see your family so much you don’t even really care anymore. Now, my mother visits me in Canada 4-5 times a year-
Yui: That’s a lot!
Celestin: Yeah, but the time I spend with her or my dad, it’s such a crazy time that it makes our relationship stronger, because we’re giving our best and… this is amazing. So it’s hard, but at the same time it’s good. I will always miss my mother and my dad, and my brother and my sister too. When I go back to France, I always try to do most stuff with them… I realise when you leave, you realise how much love there is.
EP: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received, and how has it shaped you into the dancer you are today?
Yui: That’s a difficult question, huh?
Celestin: Can you repeat it again?
Yui: That’ll be nice!
EP: *repeats question*
Celestin: I can answer that, I can answer that!
Yui: I can answer a lot!
Celestin: I saw an interview of a dancer from the Royal Ballet, but I don’t really know him. Something that I learned from him – people were asking if he was stressed before going on stage – and he was saying of course he’s stressed, because he wants to do well. But he was rehearsing so much that at the end when he goes on stage, he just had to do what he did. We’re only performing on stage for such a short time, and in the end you just have to enjoy it. I feel that when you rehearse so much in the studio, and you just have this short time on stage, you should just show what you did, and on stage you should just go and have fun. And I thought, what good advice, because I’ve been rehearsing so much, so I’m ready. I’m just going to go on stage and kill it. After I heard that from him, I’m not stressed anymore. I’m just going on stage and having fun. That was good advice. I got so much good advice. I also got good advice from Taras about pirouettes; actually the only thing you have to think about is stretching your feet for the pirouette and it actually works! Working with the big stars have been so helpful – they help you, and they’re so nice – all of them – they all have something to give.
Yui: For me, in general, I have anxiety before I perform. And so many people told me that whatever happens, it’s fine. If something bad happens, it’s okay, you just make up something, and you just relax. I mean it even happens in normal life. Something bad can happen to you, but you just go through, so same as on stage! Sometimes, depending on where you are and who you’re with, your personality can be a little bit different too, so there’s always advice from a lot of people; from dancers, from my friends, from non-dancers as well, like… it’s more like a community for me to explore what I should do or what I feel about it, so it’s a whole experience for me. All the people in my life actually help me… *laughs* it’s crazy! I just try to survive!
EP: And what about some advice you can give?
Celestin: This is hard work. So, in the end, we’re here to help each other with our own experience because we all have good and bad experiences; so many bad experiences. For me, there were so many times I fell on stage, and you feel bad, but you have to remember, we’re all human, and that means that is acceptable. All the time in all the shows we cannot be perfect! There are some good shows, and there are some bad shows. And we cannot control anyone – and that’s what you have to accept. I think to accept that, is so much easier.
Yui: You will feel a different way as well; you won’t stress so much.
Celestin: Like we’re here all the way to dance, and I said to Yui, we should should just have fun. No time to stress.
Yui: *laughs* that’s the only way!
Celestin: This career is too short to stress! And, most of the people who come to see us, they wish us well.
Yui: They just want to see you perform your best, really!
Celestin: They don’t wait to see you fall on your face! And even if we fall, they’re still happy because we’re here and we’re performing and we’re prepared to give our best. The most important thing to remember is humanity. We’re humans. We’re not machines.
Yui: That’s it. We enjoy – we try to enjoy! Even if it doesn’t happen for us, we still enjoy.
At this point, everyone was starting to pack up and leave, and Yui was called away to say goodbye with a few people, so the remaining short part will just be Celestin answering.
EP: Which do you think is more important: talent or hard work?
Celestin: Oh, hard work! I mean, you can have both, but if you’re talented, you still have to work. Talent doesn’t make anything. You can have natural talent, but if you don’t work you will fall. I believe in karma. You can have a lot of talent and it can work for a time, but not for too long, so I think that for anything in life you have to work, and work hard. And the more you’re passionate, the more you have to work at it. I try to work the best I can because I think I have some talent, but I do not think I would be here right now, if I did not put in lots of hard work. I really love what I do, and what is the point of doing something if you don’t work at it?
EP: And the last question is, based on your “glance at dance”, how has dance impacted your life?
Celestin: You mean how has dance changed my life?
EP: Yeah, something like that.
Celestin: Oh my God, this is a good question. It changed my life because in the end, I’m not doing “just a job” – this is my passion. Like, what I’m doing right now is my passion. I cannot even call it a job because everyday I wake up and I’m so happy to do what I do because what I do is my passion, and I’m getting paid to do what I love! Of course it’s hard, but still if I’m injured, or if I have any pain or anything, I’m happy to do what I do, and that is what’s most important. And it changed my life because I think – if dancing was not there, I don’t think I would be the person I am right now. Maybe I would be like… I don’t know. Maybe I would just be a… bad person.
Celestin: Maybe I would be a really bad person.
Due to time constraints, we only managed these questions, and the interview has been edited for length and clarity.
All images courtesy of Yui Sugawara & Celestin Boutin; all image credits of Yui go to Sasha Onyshchenko.
Once again ladies and gentlemen, the soloists of Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal soloists, Yui Sugawara and Celestin Boutin! Thank you for putting on two spectacular shows for us, and for speaking and sharing your stories with us – we’re sure all our readers have gained precious insight as a budding dancer! We hope to see you again in Malaysia soon!
Follow Yui & Celestin on Instagram for their dance adventures:
Yui & Celestin danced Diana & Actaeon and Nocturnes in the Gala. For more information on the classical ballet items in the Gala, click here!
Special thanks go to KL Dance Works Production (@kldanceworks) for organising the Gala, as well as for hosting the dinner which provided this opportunity for the interview to happen!
The next week, we will have Benedicte Bemet & Kevin Jackson in the spotlight instead, so come back by then!
Embarking on the journey of self-discovery through dance.