Young Gyu Choi
Photo: Jan Willem Kaldenbach

Young Gyu Choi

Principal

The Korean dancer Young Gyu Choi missed most of his very first ballet class at the age of eight. “I didn’t want to do it at all, and thought the ballet tights alone were so dreadful. So before the class started, I lay down on a chair and pretended to be asleep.” Yet his mother’s initiative soon caught on anyway. “The music and the movements intrigued me, and before I knew it ballet had become ‘my thing’.”

When Young was eleven, his family moved to Seoul, where a tough schooling awaited him at the ballet department of the National Institute for the Gifted in Arts. “Everything always had to be perfect and each detail was endlessly picked apart. But I didn’t know any better, and with hindsight I’m only too happy that now I’ve got such a sound basis.”

    A medal instead of military service 

    In 2006, Young got through to the final of the Prix de Lausanne, following which he immediately travelled on, at the age of fifteen, to live in Zurich, where he continued his training at the Tanz Akademie Zürich. “My first months there were very lonely. I didn’t speak a word of German or English yet, was living on my own for the first time, suddenly had to cook for myself and organise everything, and – unlike in Korea – had lots of free time that I didn’t know what to do with.” But in his second year in Zurich, he realised that he wanted to stay in Europe. The only problem was that he had to get out of doing military service in Korea. He solved this initially by doing a further period of training at the Korean Sun Hwa Arts School, and in the long run by winning the gold medal at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York, in 2009. 

    Like an amazing painting 

    On returning to Europe in 2011, Young auditioned for Dutch National Ballet, and despite having been on a train all night long, he succeeded in getting a contract as a corps de ballet dancer. “I’d heard from other Korean dancers that the company had a wonderful and very diverse repertoire, and they were absolutely right. I’ve been given so many opportunities here and worked with so many fantastic choreographers, coaches and guest teachers.” And actually, he doesn’t really have a favourite ballet or role. “Whatever you dance, you make the role your own, which lends meaning to every work. During my training, there was a strong focus on technique, but my main aim is to be a dancer who touches people’s hearts. Like when you’ve seen an amazing painting and days later it’s still on your mind.”

    Young Gyu Choi in 7e Symfonie - Toer van Schayk
    Young Gyu Choi in 7th Symphony (2021) | Photos: Hans Gerritsen
    Young Gyu Choi in 7e Symfonie - Toer van Schayk

    Every time is different 

    Young’s preference, therefore, is for creations into which he can put something of himself, so that his own emotions are stirred too. “Like Toer van Schayk’s 7th Symphony (for which he won the ‘Zwaan’ award for ‘Most impressive dance achievement’, in 2022 – ed.), but also all Hans van Manen’s pieces, where you have so much freedom to express yourself.” And classics like Giselle, La Bayadère, Swan Lake and – in particular – Rachel Beaujean’s version of Raymonda give him that scope as well. “Every time you dance those ballets, they’re different, and you can put more artistry and emotion into them. It’s like a good film you keep watching again and again, discovering new things in it every time.” 

    Young Gyu Choi in the Sleeping Beauty
    Young Gyu Choi in The Sleeping Beauty (2022) | Photo: Altin Kaftira
    Young Gyu Choi in the Sleeping Beauty
    Young Gyu Choi in The Sleeping Beauty (2022) | Photo: Altin Kaftira
    Young Gyu Choi in Raymonda
    Young Gyu Choi in Raymonda (2022) | Photo: Altin Kaftira
    Young Gyu Choi in Raymonda
    Young Gyu Choi in Raymonda (2022) | Photo: Altin Kaftira
    Young en Maia in Raymonda
    Young Gyu Choi and Maia Makhateli in Raymonda (2022) | Photo: Marc Haegeman
    Young Gyu Choi in de Notenkraker
    Young Gyu Choi in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (2019) | Photo: Marc Haegeman
    Young Gyu Choi in Grosse Fuge - Hans van Manen - HNB 21-22
    Young Gyu Choi in Grosse Fuge (2022) | Photo: Alex Gouliaev
    Young Gyu Choi in Giselle
    Young Gyu Choi in Giselle (2020) | Photo: Marc Haegeman
    Young and Qian - rehearsal Don Quichot
    Young Gyu Choi and Qian Liu - rehearsals Don Quichot (2018) | Photo: Altin Kaftira
    Young Gyu Choi in Giselle 2018
    Young Gyu Choi in Giselle (2018) | Photo: Younsik Kim

    Out of the box 

    Since his promotion to principal, Young has performed all over the world as a guest artist, alongside his work with Dutch National Ballet. The room the company gave him to do so, he says, has allowed him to learn a lot. “You meet wonderful dancers and see how they approach things. Moreover, you often have only one rehearsal beforehand and you’re always dancing with new partners. All these experiences make your technique more consistent, which in turn creates more scope for artistic freedom.” It has also taught him to put things into perspective more and to think out of the box. “I used to always strive for perfection, but during those guest performances you find out that perfection doesn’t exist. You see that even the best dancers in the world aren’t infallible and realise that’s not such a bad thing after all.” That makes it easier, he says, to accept the fact that you can’t be equally good every day and to enjoy the moment more. “It’s no use clinging on to what you’ve achieved or to what’s been and gone, because everything is continually in flux. So live a day at a time! Okay, maybe you’re in a dip at the moment, but there’s no point getting stressed about it. Before you know it, a whole new phase will open up again.”

    Text: Astrid van Leeuwen 

    Read more:

    Young Gyu Choi in 7e Symfonie - Toer van Schayk
    Pas de deux van Young Gyu Choi en Maia Makhateli in Raymonda
    Een portret van Young Gyu Choi voor Matrix Fitness
    Young Gyu Choi in Raymonda

    CV

    Place of birth: 
    Suncheon (South Korea)


    With Dutch National Ballet since: 
    2011


    Career with Dutch National Ballet: 
    Principal (2016), soloist (2013), coryphée (2013), corps de ballet (2011)


    Previously danced with: 
    Universal Ballet Korea (as a guest dancer) and, later, as a guest principal dancer with numerous other companies in Europe and Asia 


    Training: 
    National Institute for the Gifted in Arts (Seoul, South Korea), Tanz Akademie (Zurich, Switzerland), Sun Hwa Arts School (Seoul, South Korea) 


    Awards: 

    • 2022: nomination for Dancer of the Year Award, Dance Europe 
    • 2022: ‘Zwaan’ award for ‘Most impressive dance achievement’ (for 7th Symphony), Dutch Association of Theatre and Concert Hall Directors 
    • 2017: Alexandra Radius Prize 
    • 2010: Boston International Competition, first prize 
    • 2010: International Ballet Competition Varna (Bulgaria), first prize for dance couple in contemporary work 
    • 2009: Youth American Grand Prix, New York, gold medal 
    • 2007: Youth America Grand Prix, New York, silver medal 
    • 2006: International Ballet Competition Varna (Bulgaria), second prize 
    • 2006: Prix de Lausanne, finalist 
    • 2005: Youth America Grand Prix, New York, silver medal

    Honourable mentions: 

    • 2022, 2021 and 2020: ‘Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer’, Critics’ Choice Dance Europe