Have you ever been interviewed?
A few times at school and stuff. I used to do a lot of diving so like the local newspaper would interview you and stuff.
No you can kind of expect them like, when did you start diving and stuff.
Yeah, I was having an interview from a local newspaper about my exhibitions. About my pictures and stuff. But actually, I felt like they weren’t really coming for the exhibition but for the end. Like what you gonna do, what’s gonna happen, can I take your picture.
Ok, so you know already my motivation for this project – I’m fascinated by the generations, the way they stick to dance, but different versions of dance. How about we start very formally about a bit of background about you. Considering you still have a long career to go.
So I’m 19, I’m in my first year of university at oxford studying psychology. My extra activities are dance and football, and I recently did a big dance show. I also have a history in gymnastics and diving that sort of grew from dance. But due to injuries, I can’t do that anymore, I can only do dance. So it’s kind of like a cycle back to the beginning.
Before the injury, you were actually doing four activities at the same time? Dance, gymnastics, diving and football.
Football was only a small thing. I never played regionally or anything. At one point I was doing three, yeah, gymnastics three days a week, diving six days a week, and ballet three days a week, but then obviously as diving took over I was doing more training there, but then I got a back injury which meant I couldn’t do diving because I was doing too much diving, so then I just did dance again because it was less stress on the back.
But there is a balance about the choice. It’s not like if I can’t do diving I will just close myself in the room.
Well I had seven dislodged discs and a stressed fracture in my spine, so they said I should do swimming, cycling and ballet.
Which activity came first into your life?
Ballet because we had the ballet school. We would just always be at the ballet school until we were about 17.
How did it end with you being a more contemporary dancer?
When you’re little you do the sort of start to dance style, ballet is the given one, but as you get older you choose your own. Most people either choose hip-hop, street or contemporary, because it’s more varied and expressive.
Are you saying that you are choosing the trendy way?
I guess it goes hand in hand. You would prefer to do the trend, and also there’s a higher demand so more opportunities to do it. Whereas a more random one wouldn’t be so easy to get a class.
For your dance you have your foundation coming from ballet, and also your intense physical work like diving.
I only started diving when I was 12. They went around choosing people based on if they are good at ballet and gymnastics.
What kind of thing did you do at gymnastics?
I did artistic gymnastics so vault, beam, bars and floor. So obviously dance comes in a lot to those, especially floor – that’s dance.
Did you ever get involved in competitions? Or ballet competitions?
Not ballet, but we did sort of mixed dance competitions at university.
During the gymnastics competitions, they usually play some music to get you following. So you kind of play with the musicality. You hear something, like the rhythm and the beat so are you also doing that, does the music give you a cue for the next move?
A lot of gymnasts have done ballet because it helps, but one of the things you’re judged for in artistic gymnastics is musicality and artistry. You can really see a difference between those that have a history in music and dance, they express themselves more.
You say there are people that haven’t been trained. How can you tell the difference?
It’s obviously subjective, but when somebody does something kind of formulaically. Two people can do the same routine, but one might flow more with the music. But sometimes you can imagine someone doing the same routine, regardless of whether the music has changed.
What about contemporary dance, have you done a competition in this dance? With a free routine, or sort of improvised.
No, I haven’t done any competitions like that, but I think they’re really cool.
Have you ever experienced that practice?
Kind of. We do a bit of improvising, but, because I do it at university, we only have a short amount of time to rehearse. You can do it by yourself I guess, in your free time.
Not really, just because I don’t have enough time. I have been to classes where they give you a certain amount of time to improvise.
Do you think you need to have been to the classes to know how to improvise?
No not really, but it does help because it gives you the basic vocabulary, and then you can do a theme and variation of the dance. But I guess some people can naturally improvise.
Do you like dancing outside the context of the class or show? Dance alone, with no one around you? or in the street?
I dance when I go out.
More like social?
Yeah me and my friends don’t really care how other people dance. We always dance crazy. But I don’t really dance around improvising in my room with no purpose.
So when you dance, do you always have music?
Yeah usually, it helps. When you listen to music you want to dance. Rather than starting dancing and want to have music.
Always started or ended by music.
You keep saying you don’t have much time. What occupies your time?
Well at university, because I go to oxford, there’s so much work. Literally like 8am to 8pm in the library every day so, you don’t really have any free time in the term time. I only go to dance once a week every Saturday. You have to plan your time around what you wanna do, especially at oxford.
Do you feel regretful that you have less time to dance?
Yeah but I think it’s really good that there are societies because in some situations you don’t have time for extra stuff. I started to dance more again at university. Also, you make new friends. It’s just a nice break so you can appreciate it more.
You seem very self-confident. You don’t seem shy. Who gave you this?
I don’t know. I guess performing does help build your confident. I do get self-conscious but when it comes to performing you set away that kind of shyness because it’s not actually you being yourself. I can’t explain it. You just know you have to do it and they’re not gonna judge you.
So there’s a mode to switch between common life and show time.
Yeah, even when you’re just rehearsing to the real thing. In the performance, you lose a lot of inhibitions. Sometimes when there’re more people watching, you lose more inhibitions.
Have you ever had an anxious or nervous experience?
Yeah, when you’re performing you kind of go into auto-pilot, so then if you do forget one thing, it’s so hard to get back into it. I remember one time in a gymnastics competition, in my floor routine, if I thought for one second oh I don’t know what I’m doing. If it was a practice it would be fine, but because it’s a real performance it’s a different mentality and you can just forget it all.
You mention some keywords. Firstly, ‘auto-pilot’, where does this come from. Which thing do you think is on auto-pilot?
You end up doing things automatically. Kind of but not completely. When you come off the stage you can relax again.
Whats your solution to get back on track?
I don’t know cos I never have! Maybe just make it up, keep performing, no one will notice, but when it gets to the bit of music you remember you will get it again.
Have you ever done any choreography, or co-created any choreography?
Well, basically at the dance school they always have easter course, and because I have a gymnastics background they always ask me to do a gymnastics based dance, simple choreography, for age 5 – 11. Also, for my school shows, I did a bit of choreography, and in my dance troupe at the moment I was going to choreograph a piece for our show but I didn’t have enough time. In our troupe, it’s all student based, so we all do it ourselves.
What is your current project? Anything to do with creation or art?
Well for once in my life I don’t have any work because I’ve done my exams. We’ve just had a dance show, but next term is when all the balls are, 17 or so really huge, expensive balls. We’ve been asked to choreograph a few pieces for that. I haven’t put my name down yet.
It’s interesting because you say ‘we’, like some organisation.
We as a dance troupe.
Do you have any intention to build something for yourself?
Well, me and my friend from the dance troupe were thinking maybe next year of pitching an idea for a show. We were thinking of doing some kind of physical theatre show.
Something connected between contemporary and physical?
Yeah a lot of interaction and touch between dancers, that can tell a story through dance.
So, whats the difference between that and the genre of contemporary dance?
It’s not so much a set routine that everyone will do. It’s more interactions between dancers depending on who they are. We might base it on a painting or an old myth. We’ll have auditions when we come up with the dancers. We only want 5 or 6 so they have to be good.
So physical means, more sporty during the performance.
Kind of, like, interactions. For example, there could be a lot of strength involve if they have to lift and do balances. I can’t think of any famous people.
Which leads me to my next question, who are you inspired by? It doesn’t have to be dance.
I think her name is Pina Bausch. She has a company which is really abstract contemporary, physical. All her dancers are quite old. Like mid- thirty. With abstract story-lines. She’s really interesting.
I’m not sure. I haven’t got any main inspirations. Do you know what’s actually really good? The TV Show ‘Dance Mums’. They’re all part of this dance company. Me and my dance friends are so jealous because they’re so good.
I haven’t seen this show. You can show me how they dance or tell me with words. You have a choice, about how to tell me more.
About the TV programme I’d probably speak about it. It’s not that interesting. They’re just a company of children with this strict dance teacher. It’s so competitive and so evil. Also, the mums are really bitchy and fight with each other. That’s it really, It’s just entertaining.
Is it important to be entertaining in your own choreography, or in dances you like performing? Do you want to have audience interaction?
I kind of find that a bit cringey. I prefer to just give the audience a show without them feeling uncomfortable.
You care about their feelings?
Yeah I wouldn’t want them to feel uncomfortable. You have to judge it depending on the audience.
You mentioned a new project with your friend. For you, what is your core motivation? What do you want to express?
I don’t really think there’s a particular thing I want to express. It just depends on the music. Changing styles is important like I don’t just do sad, depressing contemporary dance. Sometimes I want to do a fun jazz dance. Music is an important part – if you match your emotions to the music.
Sounds like a technical way to analyse it. What about a bit deeper, what is the core motivation?
I think it’s just fun. Expressing yourself. It’s enjoyable.
What kind of story do you intend to portray?
Any story, or more like a theme. You can dance for whatever reason.
So your motivation is to share an experience with other people?
Yeah but it doesn’t have to be a particular experience, but a kind of feeling or theme.
So you find it enjoyable to share things through dance with others.
Yeah the whole thing is about expression. If not to the audience, then to the music. I don’t think about it when I dance. I just dance because I enjoy it. It’s not on some deep level.
What kind of elements make you say, ‘now I enjoy it’?
Well, I don’t really know. Sometimes people choreograph things that aren’t quite right. Using the music and dance together to make a flow of movements that make sense. When it goes right, and the moves work, then it’s enjoyable. Whereas sometimes it can be a bit boring. If it’s really basic I don’t find it that enjoyable.
If you could leave a message for you the future you, 5 years into the future, what would you say?
I would say, stay flexible. It really helps with dancing. And you should just dance because anyone can actually do it. It helps if you’ve been trained but just keep dancing. Also, a lot of people have said this to me now because I’m 19, people always say I wish I could dance, I wish I could dance, well yeah you can, if you just learn it.
How about a message to yourself 5 years ago?
Hmm, I don’t know. Um, keep dancing. I don’t think I would change anything?
No I don’t think I would change anything. Maybe to teach a bit more at the dance school, before I got too busy. Get more experience in choreography.
Another message for 15 years later you.
15 years later me? Well, my message is always just gonna be keep dancing. Even if it’s just one day a week. Even if it seems difficult. Keep the dance going, basically.
If there was a chance, you could have physical contact, like hug, high-five, kiss, hold hands, would you want this to happen with your future you?
No. I enjoy living day by day. I don’t think that much about the future. Obviously, maybe like 2 or 3 years time, but I don’t think about 20 years into the future. I don’t want to get my heart set on anything yet. That would be freaky.
You seem quite busy, even in the holidays. Do you ever get an empty moment or idle moment? A moment when you can just stop everything. You do nothing.
What do you mean, like I’ve got nothing to do?
It’s not like you’ve got nothing to do. On the contrary, you’ve got many things to do. But have you ever experienced like, just for a short moment, an empty moment? When you can do nothing.
Not really. When I’m at university and I have something to do, I just do it. I get it done. You know, if I have a deadline I just get it done and then I look forward to some free time. I don’t really get blocks or anything like that. I’m usually quite motivated to keep doing stuff when I have to.
It’s not like a black out. It’s like, you know if you’re having breakfast, going to school, got lectures, listening to music, doing activities. Have you ever experienced just, nothing. Do nothing. You still have things there, you know there is stuff to do tomorrow or later, but between all these events, do you have this tiny empty moment.
Mm not really. I usually have something to do. Sometimes I choose to have a break. I don’t ever feel like I have no purpose in what I’m doing.
How about an empty moment for a purpose. Do you think that’s possible?
I guess so, but it doesn’t sound very fun. Sounds a bit pointless. I don’t want to waste moments like that. I don’t think that’s ever happened.
I think I get your point, you try and be more motivated. Even in a break, you want to get something to do. It’s interesting because this is your personal point of view. Ok, if you could ask a question to your sister, what question would you ask her?
I don’t know, I always ask her anything. I don’t have any secrets from her, and I kind of know everything about her. Wait, right now or in the future?
I literally have no idea. I can’t think of anything, so that must mean nothing important. I just ask her anything when I think about it.
How about your mum?
I literally don’t know. Probably like, where do you see the ballet school going. Do you have any expectations or hopes of us taking it on, or do you expect it to end when you stop teaching.
You want to know if she would stop the school.
Yeah like what does she actually think is going to happen when it’s her time to retire, and what she wants.
It’s a very nice question. I will ask.
No, don’t say I asked. Actually, I don’t care if you say I asked.
How about your granddad? He’s not giving any more classes.
Because he’s quite old, I wouldn’t ask him something about the future. I think I’d ask him something about the past. I’m not sure exactly, though.
No, but something to do with expectations, but from their perspective in the past. I don’t really speak to them that much about the past. It’s interesting to speak to old people because they have so much experience.
So if you could ask him a question when he was your age, 18, what would you ask?
I would probably ask him where he would see himself in 50 years time. Not only location but family wise, occupation-wise. It would probably be really different from the truth. But it would be interesting to see if his aspirations were in line with reality.
I suppose you already know quite a lot about his past.
What about when he was 19?
I don’t really know about ages.
Just about general times?
So you are two years younger than Susie?
Have you always lived together.
Since the beginning?
That’s so interesting because you have a really different way of thinking.
Yeah we are quite different, but we’re also really, really similar.
I don’t know, she’s more, not insightful, but more, I can’t explain it. Whereas actually we both have some similar interests, we’re both so fun, we get along so well, we do loads of crazy stuff. Whereas she is more serious about certain stuff. I think she’s more emotional, and deep, and in a different way than I am. She’s a bit more philosophical. Well, different philosophical ways of thinking. The more you think about it, it’s hard to explain. I guess she knows more about art and stuff like that, so she understands different things. Whereas I’m a more science based things. So she probably has a more romantic – not like lovey-romantic – but like, classically romantic way of thinking. But she would probably deny that.
How about the similar parts?
Well we just get on really well. Both love singing and being crazy. I don’t even know what we have in common, we’re just best friends, ever since we were little. Always been together, shared a room, always did this, always did that, always in the car. You know when you’re literally just the same, I don’t know, like we were twins. Even though we didn’t look like each other. It’s fun!
Have you ever performed on the same stage?
Yeah, there’s loads of videos of us. There’s this one ‘bee dance’ where I do it wrong, and then one of us pushes the other over. Loads of times. She’s always older than me, so when we were younger she would be in the higher grade. But then she quit.
And you continue.
So you can probably continue the dance studio?
Yeah, maybe, I don’t really want to. I don’t know, that’s not really my first aim. I think because I’m doing a good degree, I think I would want to be involved in the dance school but not want to manage and own it. I think it gets hard to do businesses like that, in terms of money, it just gets more and more of a struggle for money. Money is an important issue. But we’ll see.
Who else could be the ideal person?
Me and Amy used to say we’d take it over and make it a really strict academy. But if I do that it would be a bit of a waste of my degree. Especially at oxford, it is a worthy degree. Not so sound proud but it would be like throwing away that part of my life. But Amy might. It would be nice in terms of principle, but logistically it is hard.
What is your ideal place to live and work as an artist?
As in, dance?
I wouldn’t want to be in one place. I want to live in New York for a year, but just a year. I can see myself travelling around and not settling down. I do love London. But yeah, I can’t really see myself living in a derelict Welsh village or anything – I want to be involved in connections and keeping in contact. I want to be part of the city, and keeping up with the times. Everything happens in the City. But I want to travel more.
So if you could have one choice?
Probably London. But I haven’t even been to that many places. Like me and my Dad and Susanna went to Cuba and it was amazing. Havana is like, in my opinion, New York but with 50 years lack of care, since the revolution. We went to the Cuban Ballet there and saw Don Quixote. And we left and it was the poorest place ever but everybody was so happy. But I always want London as a base, even if I travel around.
Interview, Image: Zejun Yao
London, UK, 2015.