One morning last month, I got up extra early to call Hong Kong, where it was already late evening, to catch dancer Xuan Cheng before she headed to bed after her long workday with Hong Kong Ballet. Xuan, who's been a principal with Oregon Ballet Theatre since 2011, is leaving OBT mid-season to take on two jobs with HKB: ballet mistress and principal dancer. I had an assignment from Pointe magazine to interview Xuan about her significant, daunting, and (to many people) surprising move.
I've known Xuan for over ten years. though not particularly well. She and her husband, Ye Li, joined OBT a month or so after I retired from the company. Through my continued work with OBT as a teacher for both the school and company, children's ballet master, and occasional rehearsal assistant, Xuan and I developed a mutual admiration, respect, and friendly camaraderie. I was touched when she, a very very experienced, credentialed leading dancer who had no idea really who I was, asked for my coaching eye as she rehearsed the Sugar Plum Fairy variation and eagerly ate up any ideas I had about her already beautiful interpretation. Her humility, lack of airs or ego, openness, good spirit, joviality, and effervescence were-- and are--energizing and simply beautiful.
The conversation I had with Xuan that morning/evening revealed a lot more about this superficially light, bubbly, lovely woman than I'd known. Hearing about how she pulled her way out of the machine of Chinese ballet (with help from anonymous figures within the system), determined to live an international life, be a "cultural ambassador," and spend her dancing life on a perpetual hunt for ways to enrich her artistry-- never 'arriving', never complacent-- was simply arresting.
Read our conversation to learn about Xuan's beginnings in Chenzhou, her first taste of the ballet world beyond China, and how and why she's now taking on multiple roles on two continents. I promise you'll want to know even more-- I do!