Article| Artist: Yilin Kong – Dance Australia Magazine
Yilin Kong grew up in Perth and is a first-generation Australian with Chinese Malaysian heritage. She seemed destined for a career in the arts from a young age. Her parents were always interested in contemporary dance and her father, an architect and self-taught visual artist was a creative influence in her upbringing. Art was always present in her life, and her “imagination was already running rampant” from a young age, she says.
Being an extroverted and creative child, Yilin was constantly performing for those around her, and she would often watch and re-enact old tapes of contemporary dance performances.
She began training in ballet from the age of five and attended a vocational ballet school from the age of 10, which involved about 20 hours of ballet training per week. As an empathetic and expressive child, Yilin was particularly passionate about being creative, despite finding creative outlets in her ballet training by often taking on the more character-driven roles, the rigid structure of ballet was challenging for her. “In structures like ballet… you have to kind of fit the mould. I love the art form and I have a lot of respect for it, but as a young person, you still need to find joy and passion, and I think that’s through being creative.”
Accordingly, for a long time, Yilin was unsure that a career in dance was what she truly wanted. It wasn’t until she began her Bachelor of Arts (Dance) at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and was exposed to different perspectives, that she realised how broad her career could be. “Doing a contemporary work at [WAAPA] was just something really different… It allowed me to access, kind of, my essence, I think it was the beginning of accessing my individuality.”
Her studies however were not without challenges. As part of her studies., she undertook a six-month exchange program in Taiwan. Being only 19, and it being her first time away from home. Yilin recalls the experience as difficult and emotional. As a young person with Asian heritage, “I always felt frustrated that I couldn’t communicate with the people in Taiwan… In a culture where it looks like I’m supposed to fit in, but not fit in, that was really challenging.” Because of these challenges, Yilin started to interrogate her beliefs, her culture and what she wanted to represent, as a result, his experience formed a pivotal moment in her career.
“Dance-wise, it completely unlocked a side of movement and ability that I did not know how to access. Before then… There has been a moment in my life where I’ve been really emotional. Like, either very excellent or very bad… and I think it changes my movement because it changes the way I think and my relationship to what is important and what I think matter.”
Since graduation from WAAPTR, Yilin has performed with a wide variety of companies and creatives, including Buzz Dance theatre, OCHRE Contemporary Dance Company, Barking Gecko Theatre Company and Renegade Productions. However, the highlight of her career so far was being part of the first Australian cast to perform Batsheva’s Decadance through STRUT, the national centre for choreographic development in Perth.
This again was a pivotal moment in Yilin’s career. Not only she was exposed to new perspectives by working with Batsheva Dance Company dancers, but she was also, personally going through a tough time. “Having those two experiences around the same time was just such a huge shift in everything: in me as a person and me as a dancer… There was definitely a period of hard judgment and such a period of nurturing myself, and that was very reflective in my dancing. “
Having faced, overcome and grown from many challenges throughout her career, Yilin is now very passionate about working with young people. For her, it is important to foster creativity and to fight against placing ideas in young people about what is or isn’t desirable. In particular, Yilin is passionate about the celebration of encouraging young performers of Asian descent. “As a young person, I was so aware that I was not represented on screen or stage… Every person that was described as successful or beautiful or ideal was always white… I feel like just being present and just being seen… is just so important.”
Yilin has recently signed a contract with a large dance company in the UK and will move to London once travel restrictions ease. She is looking forward to expanding her horizons but is also excited to back and share her experiences with her community. “ I have no idea what is going to happen when I move to London. But I know that I’m going to shift a lot and learn a lot.”
Alana Kildea, Dance Australia – April/May/June ’21