Amplifying Voices: AAPI - Boston Ballet

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Amplifying Voices: AAPI

Alyssa Wang

Photo by Robert Torres

Join us in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time dedicated to honoring members of the AAPI community and their countless contributions to the ballet world and beyond. Four members of the Boston Ballet family share their experiences as AAPI artists and business leaders, celebrate their heritages, and explain why diverse representation matters in the arts.

John Lam courtesy of New York Dance Project

Lia Cirio and Patrick Yocum in George Balanchine’s Chaconne

Photo by Liza Voll

Explain your role as Assistant Conductor. What does a “day in the life” look like?
My main purpose as Assistant Conductor is to be back-up for our Music Director Mischa Santora. In the event he gets sick or injured, I can be there to take over for him. This means that I have to be ready to jump on the podium at any point during a show’s run; therefore, my preparation has to be pretty thorough. I attend dancer rehearsals to familiarize myself with the choreography and stage cues, and, of course, I have to prepare and study the musical score. My job is so varied and so much fun, and for those moments where I do get to conduct, it’s the greatest joy.

Are there specific types of ballets you really enjoy?
In the short time I’ve been with BB, my favorite ballets have always been ones where the music and the choreography styles have been on “opposite” sides of the art history timeline. I find it really fascinating when the music is older, say Baroque style, but the choreography is very modern.

What performance are you most proud of?
Nothing will ever really be as amazing or terrifying as the very first show I ever conducted: The Nutcracker. I remember that first night right before I walked into the pit, wondering how on earth I even got there. I was so new to the world of ballet, and the learning curve was so intense those first few months, but I also grew up totally obsessed with the music from The Nutcracker, so there were all these intense emotions happening at the same time during a moment where I had to really focus and stay calm. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

Who inspires you?
My dad. He was the most fearless, confident, vibrant person in the room. He knew how to work hard and then party hard. My dad taught me to try my hardest in everything that I attempt, to not be afraid of failure, and to put family first.

What does your AAPI heritage mean to you?
The story of how my ancestors came to America and made a life for themselves is extraordinary. From my great-grandmother, Toy Len Goon, who raised and educated eight children alone by running a laundromat in Portland, Maine, to my grandfather who immigrated to America, became a US Foreign Service Officer, and a Chinese broadcaster for Voice of America, there are so many amazing stories of perseverance and passion in my family history. I feel as if I have inherited all of it, and the power that their stories hold is hugely impactful for me as a musician and as an American. I am the product of sacrifice and hard work, and I do not take my opportunities for granted.

Why do you think AAPI representation matters in the arts?
The AAPI community is a hugely important presence in the artistic community. We bring our unique perspectives, experiences, and individual voices to the conversation. We are also an extremely diverse group of people from many different walks of life, and part of our role in the artistic community is to make our stories known to each other.

Part of the experience of being Asian in America is to feel like you lack individuality, and to feel like you shouldn’t talk about your experiences or hardships. And I think the result of this is that, in our attempts to assimilate, we as a community struggle to experience pride or solidarity with each other. Part of our role in the arts is to make our stories known, acknowledge our own experiences, and lift each other up in a way that maybe our predecessors never felt like they could. We can find our individual voices through art, while also cultivating a sense of pride in our amazing community.

What local AAPI businesses or organizations should we amplify?
Speaking of pride, I could not be prouder of the Boston Festival Orchestra, of which I am Co-Founder, Conductor, and Artistic Director.


When did you know you wanted to be a professional dancer?
I believe dance and ballet has always been a great love of mine. When I was around 14, I realized I could not live without ballet and that’s when I decided to make it my career.

Are there specific types of ballets you really enjoy? What ballet are you most proud of performing?
I love all types of ballet. What I love about Boston Ballet is that our repertoire pushes the dancers to be versatile in any type of dance. I love the classics, George Balanchine ballets, and all sorts of contemporary ballets by William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Jorma Elo, and more.

Who inspires you?
My family is a huge inspiration to me, from my mom and dad to my two brothers. They inspire me to be strong, hardworking, creative, and to love life. I owe so much to each of them.

What does your AAPI heritage mean to you?
Growing up as a half-Filipino American, I did not really relate to my Filipino heritage. I believe it was because I did not wish to embrace how it made me different. Now as a grownup and somewhat of a leader in my field, I see how my heritage has shaped me into the person and artist I am today and how important it is to represent and be an example for future generations.

Why do you think AAPI representation matters in the arts?
As a young Asian-American, growing up, I never felt I had someone to look up to… to say “hey, she looks like me, I can do that too!” For this reason, I strive every day to be that representation for the next generation of little aspiring ballerinas who might feel like a minority in this field.

What is your message for aspiring dancers who identify as AAPI?
Dream big and know that you have a place in any world…in any field you wish to be a part of. Be proud and embrace your beautiful identity!

What local AAPI businesses or organizations should we amplify?
Forever and always Myers + Chang, my favorite restaurant in Boston! I also love the jewelry line Honey My Heart. The designer is Filipina American and makes some of my favorite jewelry pieces!

Ming Min Hui

Photo by Brooke Trisolini


Explain your role as Executive Director. What does a “day in the life” look like?
As Executive Director, my role is to lead the organization’s strategic direction and management in partnership with Mikko Nissinen, the Artistic Director. I spend the most time with our Senior Leaders to advance their work, set priorities, and solve problems; and with our Board of Trustees and other key stakeholders of the organization to represent our activities and ensure we are collectively meeting our mission and objectives. As a result I spend most of my time in conversation and connection with other people: colleagues, advisors, supporters, partners, community and civic leaders, etc.

What part of your job are you most proud of?
There is a lot of visibility granted to the leader of any organization, but I am most proud of all the invisible work that goes into making these organizations successful. The impact of the collective Boston Ballet community is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Who inspires you?
So many incredible people! But one constant for me is my late father, John Chee Kuen Hui, who among many things taught me to value eulogy virtues more than resume virtues.

What does your AAPI heritage mean to you?
It’s a source of both loneliness and community. I’ve felt caught between cultures—not accepted in America as American and not accepted in China as Chinese. And other times I’ve felt enrichened by access to more than one cultural reference, and to the family I find in other Asian-Americans with that unique shared experience.

Why do you think AAPI representation matters?
Diverse representation matters in all kinds of spaces because it influences who we collectively think belongs there. I was obsessed with the movie Mulan as a child because it was the first Disney “princess” who looked like me and derived from a culture I recognized, which somehow normalized and validated my existence as a Chinese girl in predominantly white communities.

I had a lot of resentment as a child for being a racial minority with immigrant parents, and then a lot of imposter syndrome as an adult for being the only Asian and/or the only woman in the room. It’s a privilege not to carry that anxiety with you at all times—a consciousness about how you are being perceived because of how you look. I had a really emotional reaction to the election of Mayor Michelle Wu recently, because up until that point most City of Boston leaders were male and Irish.

My hope is that if more people see what I’m doing and who I am, I can move the needle a little bit on the collective assumptions we subconsciously have about who is an Executive Director, and who can make decisions at a ballet company. And maybe a few more AAPI women will feel like they can see themselves in that kind of seat.

How does your Chinese culture influence you in your work as Executive Director?
Ballet has a white Eurocentric historical past, but I am a strong believer (as is Boston Ballet) that ballet is truly for everyone. Dance has enormous power to transcend cultural and racial divides because it’s a universal expression that speaks to a universal humanity beyond the constraints of language and culture. Fulfilling that mission is tremendously meaningful and motivating to me having grown up Chinese American in a largely white community and finding solace in ballet as a way to express and carry myself with grace, strength, and confidence.

What local AAPI businesses or organizations should we amplify?
Chinatown has really suffered in the wake of pandemic-fueled racism—something to consider when you’re thinking about your next pre-theater meal! I also wouldn’t be a good Chinese daughter if I wasn’t encouraging everyone to go eat…


When did you know you wanted to be a professional dancer?
As a Vietnamese-American, I grew up in a household where dance was not viewed as a real profession. I remember being 4 years old, in my white ballet slippers, blue shorts, and white t-shirt, dancing to music. It made me feel alive and open to possibilities. I somehow felt free to just be, without judgment, and I was praised when I allowed dance to come through my limbs and body. I feel like being a professional dancer was already embodied in my soul, and all I needed to do was allow it to speak.

Are there specific types of ballet you really enjoy?
I love all types of ballet. There are so many amazing choreographers in our profession, and I have been fortunate to work with many of them during my 20-year tenure. But what makes a ballet truly special to me is the process of how it gets to the stage, and the storytelling within the choreography. I really enjoyed Jiri Kylian’s Bella Figura. His work is breathtaking in its simplicity, and reflects human connection and pure love through art.

What ballet are you most proud of performing?
I am most proud of tackling George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Oberon. This was my first major neo-classical role, and the ballet’s dynamic movement and speed were challenging. I remember being afraid of this ballet, but with the help of my rehearsal directors, I was able to get out there and enjoy this masterpiece.

Who inspires you?
Artists of all types, including painters, sculptors, musicians, and masters of all forms of intense human expression.

What does your AAPI heritage mean to you?
My AAPI heritage is particularly meaningful when I see myself in a profession without a lot of Asian-American male leads. Although these roles are scarce, I am honored to be part of an organization that values and amplifies our voices. Growing up in a Vietnamese family has shaped my values and enabled me to harness my work ethic as a dancer. Nothing was given to me without expectations when I was growing up, and working for my goals was instilled in me from a very young age.

Why do you think AAPI representation matters in the arts?
AAPI representation is essential in shining a light on Asian-Americans in the arts. Our impact and influence are marginalized when we are portrayed as just being “Asian” or “all the same.” Growing up Asian in America is a very different experience from those who are raised in their mother country. I’m proud to be an Asian-American in a major American ballet company.

What is your message for aspiring dancers who identify as AAPI?
Focus on your love for dance, embrace being different, and above all, celebrate what makes you beautiful and distinctive—no matter where you are from.