Frances Chung

Frances Chung – Principal Dancer from San Francisco and Zarely Role Model

Frances Chung – Principal Dancer from San Francisco

Follow the flow and enjoy the moment

I was born in Vancouver, Canada. No one from my family was ever related either to art or dance. My dad worked for an electronics company and my mom was a cook. My older sister has since built her career in finance. With this background, it’s no wonder I was not immersed in the arts. But my parents, who valued a well-grounded and diverse education, put me into ballet and piano classes. These lessons were meant to keep me busy, and as a teenager they kept me out of trouble. When I started dancing at the community center at the age of five, no expected that what was meant to be a hobby would develop into a profession.

Even though all the principals and teachers at the dance school were from China, I had a chance to learn a variety of dance styles – French, Russian, English, and a tiny bit of American. I also did contemporary, jazz, and Asian dance. In retrospect, I believe the ability to adapt to different styles of dance has helped set me apart from my colleagues. For choreographers, it’s important that a dancer is able to feel comfortable with a variety of movements and styles.

Frances Chung Ballet San Francisco for Zarelywear

My decision to continue with ballet professionally was welcomed by my parents, which is quite unusual for an Asian family, where a college education is paramount. However, being uncertain of the road ahead, my family and I discovered the ballet world together. I’m grateful that my parents believed in me. They supported me, especially during the international world competitions I participated in. These were essential in opening my eyes to the ballet world. After I turned 17 and graduated from high school, I joined the San Francisco Ballet.

Today I’ve been a dancer with SF Ballet for 15 years, and am one of the few principal dancers who progressed through the ranks. This is a-typical, as usually principal dancers join from another company. I love SF Ballet because of its unique culture. We have a lot of new choreographers coming in this season, which includes two world premiers and two SF premiers. These new works give a lot of opportunities for young dancers to grow and be featured. Even as a corps de ballet member, I was given opportunities to dance. You just have to be ready to grasp them.

Frances Chung and Taras Domitro Ballet San Francisco for Zarelywear

My main goal in life is to have an open perspective and explore!

I remember during my second year in the company, we were rehearsing a Jerome Robbins ballet and it was my biggest opportunity so far. However, it quickly turned into a big lesson. During the stage rehearsal, I sprained my ankle. It seemed very dramatic, simply because I had never been injured before. The sprain took me out of dance for six months. Even though I haven’t had a similar accident since, this time off did allow me to learn a lot about my mind and body. After healing, I began to dance with even more passion and dedication.

My schedule with SF Ballet is pretty full, so I don’t have too much time for guestings. However, a recent trip to London was very enjoyable. We spent two weeks with the Royal Ballet putting together the world premier of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein, which will be a co-production between the two companies. It was a special experience: the brand new production, new sets, new choreography, new everything. It’s a raw ballet. I love it! When completed, the ballet will be premiered in London in May and San Francisco in 2017. Being one of two dancers from SF Ballet to be part of the creation was fantastic. It was a truly amazing experience of creating and building the character from the ground up.

Frances Chung Ballet San Francisco for Zarelywear

From time to time I wonder what my second life will be when I’m done dancing. In 2003, I tried to take some college classes that where unrelated to ballet, but it didn’t feel like the right time, so I’m leaving higher education for a later date. I honestly feel that I’ve spent so much time in the ballet world that I’ll miss it terribly. This is really the only life I know. That being said, I never make plans. I just go with the flow and see what happens. Before I retire, there are so many roles I would love to tackle, like Manon, for example.

I have trouble separating public image and personality. It’s all part of a complete artist. On one hand, people look up to principal dancers and on the other they don’t give the corps enough credit. Having been there, I almost miss the corps, because of the “brotherhood”. As a principal, I’ll never have that feeling of camaraderie again. The corps does 30 shows of Nutcracker, which always amazes me. The audience is so focused on the principal dancers that they neglect to see how much work the corps de ballet puts in, for little to no recognition.

I guess what helps me is having the confidence that it will all work out. It also helps that my husband is not from the ballet world. He’s my role model. When I have some difficulties and share them with him, he just listens and makes me feel that there are bigger things in life. He’s a typical Californian, who goes out to surf and enjoys time off. When I see this, I realize there’s another way of living. My main goal in life is to have an open perspective and explore!

Photos by Zachariah Epperson and Karolina Kuras