Forbes Vietnam magazine has announced its list of “Top 30 Under 30” in 2020 to honour the most influential faces in the country. Among them is ballerina Nguyễn Thu Huệ from the Việt Nam National Opera and Ballet Theatre, the first Vietnamese ballerina to perform both leading roles as the white and black swans in Swan Lake. Huệ shares with Hạnh Nguyễn and Quỳnh Hoa her love for dancing.
Ballerina Nguyễn Thu Huệ. Photo courtesy of the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet Theatre
Nguyễn Thu Huệ graduated from the Việt Nam Dance Academy and signed for the Việt Nam National Opera and Ballet Theatre (VNOB) in 2012. She won first prize at the competition for “talented students from the cultural and arts schools nationwide”. She has performed solo in Chopiana, Giselle and Nutcracker. Huệ marked a milestone in her career with the roles of the white and black swans in the famous Swan Lake, which was reproduced by the VNOB after being absent from the Vietnamese stage for 35 years. Recently she was ranked in the “Top 30 Under 30” list in 2020 by Forbes Vietnam magazine for her significant contributions to the arts.
Inner Sanctum: You have been ranked in the “Top 30 Under 30” list by Forbes Vietnam magazine. How do you feel?
I feel surprised and happy to be ranked on the same list as really prominent people in different fields. It’s an honour and great motivation for me to nurture my passion for ballet. I hope that more Vietnamese people will fall in love with the art, making a contribution to inspiring younger generations.
Inner Sanctum: You are the first Vietnamese ballerina to perform both leading roles as the white and black swans in Swan Lake. The roles require talent, good health and hard work to achieve the desired technique. What made you dare to do it at such a young age?
Yes, it was a really big challenge for me. The white and black roles feature two sides of life, representing good and evil within each person. I’ve performed good characters many times but have never acted in the bad role like the black swan, which is a symbol of emotion, creating conflict and difficulty to reach perfection.
I think when I stand on stage, the soul of the character and I must be one. If I think I am trying to perform for just the audience, it means I have not yet touched my heart. To express the conflict between the good and the evil characters, which the audiences could not recognise whether it is white, black or me, I had to spend evenings feeling those emotional states with my own soul rather than imitating or acting like others. It is a process of learning and practising hard.
However, I did it. It’s a milestone in my career, something I’m proud of.
A scene from Swan Lake performed by the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet Theatre's artists. Photo courtesy of the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet Theatre
Inner Sanctum: Do you feel pressure to take on other roles following the great success of Swan Lake?
No, I don’t. The success of Swan Lake has pushed me to go ahead and challenge myself in other roles. There is a store of emotions inside me. New roles could help me show and live with those emotions that I cannot share in daily life. It helps me satisfy my exploration.
Inner Sanctum: What made you choose to pursue ballet?
I was born into a poor family in the mountainous district of Cẩm Thủy in the central province of Thanh Hóa.
The boys and girls in my native village spent most of their time studying at school. After university graduation, they came back to the village looking for a job and a partner to marry. That’s the routine most people in my village followed. But I’m different. I wanted to explore the big and colourful world outside.
Along with that, I've liked singing and dancing since I was a little girl. I was confident I could perform in front of many people.
One day I heard that the Việt Nam Dance Academy was recruiting in my native province, I asked my parents to allow me to try. I was 12 years old at that time. My parents didn’t agree because I was too young to live and study in Hà Nội, which was too far from home. I told them I would go on 'hunger-strike' if they did not agree. I think it’s so funny because at that time I even didn’t know what ballet was. But it was my destiny.
Inner Sanctum: You weren't aware of the difficulties and challenges you would face at that time, were you?
No, I wasn't. But when I met and experienced the challenges, it was too late to change my mind. I could not quit simply because I had to save face. I could not say that word. And I didn’t want anyone (even my parents) to know about my hard work and serious injuries. I didn’t want them to witness me crying. All I wanted them to know was just my joy, happiness and success on stage.
I struggled to become a ballerina, and I was discouraged so many times but my teachers, veteran dancers and VNOB leaders have inspired and supported me a lot along the way.
Inner Sanctum: A ballerina has to train hard and sacrifice a lot to achieve success. What do you think about this?
When I decided to work for the VNOB, I hoped I would have the opportunity to stand on stage and perform for as long as my health allowed.
I admire artists who have sacrificed their personal happiness to devote themselves to the arts. I have tried to balance both my career and happiness. And I am happy with my choice.
Inner Sanctum: Have you thought of taking Vietnamese ballet abroad or winning prestigious global awards?
Yes, of course. I would like more chances to contribute to the country’s ballet arts, bringing the art form closer to Vietnamese audiences.
I hope Vietnamese ballet will develop more and more in the international arena. VNS