Yûka Oishi is a choreographer and dancer with projects globally. As a professional ballet dancer, she became the first Japanese soloist of The Hamburg Ballet in 2010 and also worked with them as choreographer. She has also choreographed for the Takarazuka Revue, one of the most famous musical companies in Japan. Let's learn how artists think, imagine, and create.
-----For those who are not familiar with you, let us know more about you. How did you get interested in classic ballet and dance?
I watched a classic ballet class when I was two years old and said, “I want to do that.” Apparently I was too young to start, so I started when I turned three years old.
-----You used to perform as the soloist of The Hamburg Ballet. To what do you attribute your success as a ballet dancer?
The first few years after I joined the company, I felt very small and I had complex. I was the only Asian female dancer in the company, so whatever I did right didn’t matter, it was only what I did wrong that was noticed and corrected. I took it the wrong way like I was not good enough. I was trying to dance like the others and trying to be together with everyone else. I was dancing shyly and always looked like I felt sorry for myself...One day, I got very tired of being that way and told myself to find my own specialty. What is special about me as a dancer? Which GOOD part of myself can I make better? How can I dance more expressively and smoother with my small body? When I understood and accepted myself, my mind became free and I started to face my self very clearly. I slowly found my specialty and started to dance with more confidence. At the same time, I got more into choreography in order to better express my emotions and myself. When I reached that point after 8 years of being in the company, I was promoted as a soloist.
-----What is the most important key to the best performance?
To be well practiced. To be nervous and relaxed at the same time. To understand the audience point-of-view.
-----It is easy to fall into the trap of competing with someone. How can you get focused on yourself?
To not compete, I try to see myself objectively using the third person as a mirror instead of directly probing my mind. Always be eager to learn with modesty from everyone around you. There is no matter of age, experience, or status. All of them are my teacher.
-----Now, you work as a choreographer. For you, what is the biggest difference between being a dancer and being a choreographer?
As a dancer, I used my body as an instrument to talk and share with people. As a choreographer, I talk and share my fantasy and inspiration using someone else's body. Both are a completely different work, but my intention towards the audience is the exactly same. To give hope and light!
-----When you come up with ideas, what happens in your mind? Do you visualize or maybe feel something?
It is more the feeling. I collect emotions from my daily life; what I have seen and felt about nature, people, news, music, colors, food, and the like. If you imagine each emotion has a different color and different texture like paint, I try out many different options in my mind to use different colors to draw. Movements come after having a frame of thought, which in our case, is usually the music and storyline.
-----Is there any specific moment, condition, or environment that you can conceive more ideas?
I feel very sorry but, for example, I fly into my inspiration when I'm at a big party with many people sitting together and talking at a big table... In nature when I don't have to think about thousand things at the same time. When I put pressure on myself (but it does not work at all when the pressure comes from outside).
-----In your career, what is the most important thing you have learned?
In whatever state you are, to be thankful for your being and for what you have. And to be kind and considerate regard for others.
-----There are many people who cannot find what they truly love to do or those who believe they do not deserve to do what they love to do. What would be your advice to them?
I think it's also fine if someone can not find what they truly love to do. To live this life is already hard enough. But if you really want to find it, talk very deeply to yourself starting from the basics. ‘What do I like to wear?’ ‘What do I like to eat?’ ‘Which color do I like?’ ‘When am I happy?’ ‘When do I feel free?’ ‘What makes me laugh? Just list everything on paper about what you like and love. I think that already helps us to open our antennas for a positive step. Our life is one and only. Each one of us is responsible for this life and free to design. It is for no one else, so don't be afraid to step out somewhere you don't know yet. You will know when you get there. If you have to choose between two, choose which is more challenging for you and which makes you excited!
-----If you could make a call to 20-year-old Yuka Oishi, what kind of advice you would give to her?
Don't be afraid to be different. Don't be afraid to be wrong. JUST DO IT!!