Mayu Oguri

Mayu Oguri

It’s not all opulent costumes and thundering applause for New York Theatre Ballet dancer Mayu Oguri. We chatted to the sparkling wine fan about her journey to becoming a professional ballerina and how her chase for excellence never ends.

WHEN DID YOU START DANCING MAYU?

I was three years old when I was introduced to the world of dance. I noticed pointe shoes in a dance studio and asked my mother where I could learn ballet. The rest is history.

WHAT DOES YOUR CURRENT TRAINING SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE?

My day begins with ballet class at 10AM. After 11:30, we typically rehearse upcoming performances until 4 or 4:30. If a performance date is getting close, we make take on some extra night rehearsals from 6PM to 9PM.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT DANCE?

For me, dance is both a lifestyle and vocation. It’s more than a love – it's a necessity in my life. The surprising thing is that even though I’ve been dancing since the age of three, not only do I love dance as much as when I started, but there’s always new things to work on.

WHO INSPIRES YOU IN THE DANCE WORLD?

It’s a long list, but some of my personal favorites include: Rudolf Nureyev, Noëlla Pontois, Jorge Donn, Maya Plisetskaya, Sylvie Guillem, Maurice Béjart, Jiří Kylián, Nacho Duato, William Forsythe, Mats Ek and Denise Jefferson.

YOU RECEIVED A SCHOLARSHIP TO STUDY AT THE PRESTIGIOUS CONSERVATOIRE NATIONAL SUPÉRIEUR MUSIQUE ET DANSE DE LYON. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? HOW DID THAT FEEL?

CNSMD de Lyon is one of France’s national dance schools. The school has a limited number of openings and the competition to land one of them is fierce.

When I applied, over 300 dancers auditioned for only 19 openings across four dance categories. In my class, only four female ballerinas were accepted. The school cut two of them after one year. So the environment was super competitive and psychologically challenging.

My life underwent a complete transformation since I ventured to France alone with limited understanding of the country's language or culture. It was as exciting as it was challenging. This helped soothe any anxiety or feelings of longing for my native Japan. Beyond the amazing education I received, I loved making new and talented friends who shared my passion for dance.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND REPRESENT JAPAN?

I feel a sense of responsibility to represent my country. As I’ve traveled the world, I’ve met many people who have never been to Japan and have little familiarity with my country’s culture. So in a way, my sense of identity as a Japanese person has been strengthened since I left my home, since I must be an ambassador of Japan when I engage with people.

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY?

After dancing in Europe for about seven years, I hit a professional slump. I returned to Japan and I stopped dancing for a year. I don't even like to remember this period – it felt horrible! I thought about quitting dance, but realised that I couldn't. It was too much a part of me. So I returned to dance and eventually signed with New York Theatre Ballet. I would  never have succeeded as a professional dancer in New York without my family's support and faith in my talent.

HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE THE UNCERTAINTY OF AUDITIONS? 

The uncertainty of auditions can be really uncomfortable, so I try to imagine that I'm on a stage and simply performing for an adoring audience, not a room full of judges.

You learn to just stay focused on your goal. If you lose out on an audition, it’s usually a good idea to ask the judge what you can improve on so that you can work on any weakness they may see.

DO YOU STILL GET NERVOUS BEFORE PERFORMING?

Yes. Always. Standing on the side wing before the show is a frightening feeling, but all it takes is a single step on stage before I lose all sense of nervousness.

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE GREATEST TRIUMPHS IN YOUR CAREER? 

No matter the scale or location of a stage, any time I am able to get on stage and perform a dance piece for an audience – I feel a sense of triumph.

SO WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS FOR THE FUTURE?

To inspire more people through my art form. I have a hunger to improve myself through my craft, a little bit each day.

HOW DO YOU SUSTAIN YOUR PASSION FOR DANCE?

My family asks me the same question, but I don't know the answer. There’s an inner need to express myself through dance.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE ABOUT CHASING THEIR DREAM?

If you’re inspired by a dream and find the strength to chase it, you have to trust yourself and persist. Always believe in yourself, because the moment you stop doing that, you’ll lose your dream.