Halfway through our video interview, Lam Chun-wing – Hong Kong-born and bred and the first Chinese member of the Paris Opera Ballet – receives a phone call. It’s someone from France’s social security system, checking on whether the dancer is back at work yet. Last October, Lam broke his foot rehearsing a solo (from Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering , ironically enough) while wearing too-big leather boots on which he’d landed awkwardly. He has not danced since. A few months earlier, in April, he had been promoted to coryphée, a higher rank within the corps de ballet. He’d intended to dance the Robbins piece in the company’s annual contest for further internal promotion. Since then, he’s already had one operation, will certainly have a second and may need a third. “No one knows if I’ll be able to dance normally afterwards,” he says, smiling as performers must in adversity. “It’s an interesting period for me to have a distance with ballet because, as you know, I’ve been dancing since the age of seven.” This is our third interview. The first was in 2011, when he was 14, a pupil at the Jean M. Wong School of Ballet and had just been – astonishingly – accepted at the Paris Opera Ballet school. He spoke no French. He wore a Dance-till-you-drop sweatshirt. He exuded polite discipline. The second interview, in 2015, was just as he was about to begin his professional life, having been – again, remarkably – accepted by the Paris Opera Ballet. By then, he spoke both excellent French and English. Korean elite ballerina on a first for Asia at the Paris Opera Ballet Liat Chen, Jean Wong’s daughter and her school’s director, had said: “It’s quite scary how determined he is. He understands delayed gratification.” He was on the front of the plastic folders the school handed out for its annual Stars of Tomorrow gala. When shown one of these folders now and asked about the distance between the boy and the man, Lam – at 25, a thoughtful and, in every sense, grounded presence – is silent. “In this photo, I hadn’t really started my ballet life,” he says, eventually. Then he laughs. “I’m just comparing myself to the little boy I was, dancing at Miss Wong’s school. At that time, I was so passionate, ballet was everything. I enjoyed dancing so much. “The difference was, when I had pain and didn’t want to dance, I just didn’t go to class. But when we are professional dancers, even if it is hard and we don’t want to do it any more we have to.” His understanding of delayed gratification has also deepened. It can’t be about a fleeting moment in the spotlight. “There is sometimes an illusion in it – the gratification isn’t really what we were expecting so this is disappointing and painful. I think we must know profoundly why we do what we do. Then the whole process of waiting is worth it. And pleasurable.” Re-reading interview notes from those years, what’s striking is his aloneness: a boy in a faraway city, in a tough, unsentimental profession that scythes through its ranks. When your friends disappear because they haven’t made the grade, when close members of your family die in your absence, you learn absolute self-reliance. That has sustained him during these months when he’s still in the Paris Opera company yet outside it, stuck at home with an uncertain future. When I was a student, I could never imagine the level of difficulty ballet really represented. Now I know Lam Chun-wing “Of course, I could suffer in this situation – far from my passion, far from my job, far from my family. But I chose to focus on the opportunity it represents.” He wants now to set up a financial-planning firm for athletes and artists. “We start our careers much earlier than normal people so we have income at a much younger age. We have shorter careers but we are much more focused on them. “I’ve seen too many cases of my colleagues having a hard time at the end of their careers. They’re completely lost.” As with ballet, he’s put in the preparation. For five years, he’s been studying for a master’s degree in management at a French business school. He’s giving a TEDx talk there, in French, at the end of March. He prefers not to go into details but it will be uploaded to YouTube afterwards. Before then – in a form of warm-up practice – he has an online “artist sharing” session on February 12 as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival , which is also showing three Paris Opera Ballet productions: Romeo and Juliet , Giselle and Body and Soul . (Unfortunately, Lam isn’t in any of them.) His talk will be in Cantonese. Years ago, he was worried that the characters would slip away, so in his early Paris days he began writing for himself in Chinese and still, mostly, does. She has had this passion for ballet her entire life Lam Chun-wing on Jean M. Wong, his first teacher “I think very few people experience this kind of journey in France,” he says. “When I was a student, I could never imagine the level of difficulty ballet really represented. Now I know.” He’s so eager, so talented, so disciplined, you feel the world is his for the taking. Interviewed again, in another five years’ time, what would he like to be doing? Another pause. “I will – I hope – get back to dance, to a more balanced and happy life,” he says. “I would also have something else, like my company, or other goals. Because ballet is ... consuming . And a career is short.” He still talks to Miss Wong from time to time. She founded her ballet school in 1962, and Lam’s success has been a great, late joy. “It is so inspiring to see her,” marvels the boy who, one day 18 years ago, reluctantly entered a class in Tsuen Wan and leapt across the globe. “She has had this passion for ballet her entire life.” A Hong Kong Ballet Boy in Paris: Chun-Wing’s Ballet Quest is at 5.30pm on February 12. Free but online registration is required.