JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The white T-shirt, jeans and shoes he had on, and a sleeping pill were all he took with him.
It was 1982 at Jackson’s second USA International Ballet Competition, and Chinese competitor Lin Jianwei, 24 - his costume, makeup and props left behind backstage - was missing.
John Wey Ling, as he has gone by since, had defected. It’d happened on June 29, coincidentally the same date Russian ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov defected in 1974, also for artistic opportunities.
“I still have that T-shirt,” Ling said this week at the McCravey-Triplett Student Center at Belhaven University, his first time back in Jackson since.
The 32-year interim has seen a ballet career that’s included the prestigious American Ballet Theatre (ABT) where he was a soloist under Baryshnikov’s direction, international guest artist appearances, master classes around the world and his founding of the Elite Ballet Theatre in 2003 in Temple City, California.
Ling is at the 10th USA IBC as coach for his daughter, junior competitor Alexandra, 16, and with four students from his school enrolled in the USA IBC Dance School. He encouraged them to apply.
“I believe this is world-class. It’s a great opportunity for our kids.”
At his ballet school, students ages 5 to 18, learn only classical ballet, following the Vaganova method - the same as his own training in China.
“Vaganova I think is very basic for the kids, the most beautiful thing is the discipline,” Ling said, smiling as he noted a preference for “the old-fashioned.”
Alexandra started ballet “like every American little girl,” she said, with lessons at age 5, but didn’t begin serious training until she was around 12 or 13, with the aim of one day becoming a professional dancer. An ABT summer intensive at 13 cinched the decision. She watched ABT perform almost every other day, and wanted to be part of it. She shared that ambition with her dad.
It’s a tough life. He’d ask Was she sure?
“She said, ‘I want to try.’ OK, let’s see how you can survive that,” he’d said.
A particularly heavy class left her sore, unable to move her body for three days. Still sure? Yes.
“OK, I think more hard work is waiting for you.
“It’s a question mark,” he said. “No matter how hard you work and maybe later, no results. But inside your heart, you have to have the passion. You have to decide by yourself.”