By Rachel Schwartz
After two hours of rehearsing the wedding pas de deux variation from “Sleeping Beauty” and a solo from “Diana and Acteon,” Kaitlyn Yiu ’13 munches on a handful of almonds before getting up to stand in first position for the start of technique class. She still has two-and-a-half hours in her pointe shoes before she can untie her ribbons and pull the pins out of her hair.
“I don’t socialize that much because I’m too busy,” Yiu said. “If I’m not in class I’m at ballet.”
Yiu not only trains and balances her schoolwork, but also travels internationally at the invitation of ballet competitions that accept her audition videos. In the last three years, Yiu has competed in New York, Boston, Paris, France, Istanbul, Turkey, Helsinki, Finland, Budapest and Hungary and will go to Moscow for the 12th Moscow International Ballet Competition in June.
Most competitions include multiple rounds in which dancers must perform classical variations from a specific list of options, a contemporary ballet piece, a piece with a partner (called a pas de deux) and a character dance variation. Requirements differ from competition to competition.
“I really, really like Grand Pas Classique but I think I’m strongest in Coppelia,” Yiu said.
She has performed both dances in competitions.
“I think [Grand Pas Classique] is a piece that suits me and it’s a piece where I feel I can express myself,” Yiu said. “It makes me feel special. I don’t know why. It’s very playful.”
When she was 10 years old she performed sections of classical ballets “Paquita” and “Don Quixote” in her first ballet competition, regionals for the Youth American Grand Prix.
“At that age it was mostly me smiling on stage, loving ballet, not caring about technique, which was in some ways great, but a little embarrassing when I watch the video,” Yiu said.
Youth America Grand Prix is the world’s largest student ballet scholarship competition. It awards over $250,000 annually in scholarships to leading dance schools worldwide, according to yagp.org.
Yiu said her mother was eager for her to compete even though most students at the Marat Dukayev School of Ballet, at the time did not compete until they were a couple of years older.
Since she was 12, Yiu has trained at the Kova Ballet Conservatory, a studio her mother opened with Olga Tozyiakova as the main teacher. Since then her schedule has become much more rigourous, especially when competitions near.
Yiu wakes up at 5 a.m. to stretch and read her Bible. She then makes herself a breakfast and lunch mostly of fruits, vegetables and sprouted bread so that she can stay under 1250 calories a day.
Yiu said that throughout junior year she usually went to bed at two in the morning to finish her homework.
“I really knew how to manage my time,” she said. “There were three or four times though that I missed my bus stop sleeping on the bus.”
Upper School dance teacher Cyndy Winter, who taught Yiu in her junior year mixed level ballet class, described her as “focused” and “gracious.” She said Yiu was always willing to learn and participate even though there were people in the class “on the opposite side of the spectrum with very little training.”
“Beautiful dancer and lovely technique, but it’s her inside beauty that is the most captivating,” Winter said.
Yiu said she still works to improve technical issues such as footwork, which she said judges have commented on in past competitions.
“My knees turn in naturally because they’re bowed and that causes a lot of problems,” Yiu said.
Her focus has shifted towards artistry since she started working with Maria Tikhomirova.
“Right now I’m just focused on showing how much I love ballet,” Yiu said.
Yiu is not sure where she will end up next year. She was accepted to New York University Tisch School of the Arts and is considering attending although classical ballet is not the focus of the program.
“It has a company feel,” Yiu said. “I want to see how it feels to be in a dance environment constantly. I am worried about my classical training because I only have so much time.”
Yiu said if she does attend she would have to figure out how to squeeze in extra ballet classes. She recognizes that contemporary training, which she has never experienced, could be useful as many companies have lots of contemporary ballet in their repertories.
“I’ve always felt that in contemporary it is a lot easier to express yourself,” Yiu said.
She might choose to take a gap year and focus on her training since she said most companies she is interested in do not have apprenticeship openings right now and are looking for dancers older than 18. Because she skipped ninth grade, she turns 18 in January. She said hopes to end up in a company like American Ballet Theater, San Francisco Ballet or Boston Ballet.
“I would never be able to dance the way I do without God and without the support and love of my parents,” Yiu said. “Without them I probably wouldn’t have found a passion for anything like this.”