In November 2022, while researching at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts for her documentary project Beyond Yellowface, filmmaker Jennifer Lin came across images of a young Asian dancer performing the role of Tea in the 1954 premiere of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. With the help of Arlene Yu, then–collection manager of Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Lin was able to track down the dancer, School of American Ballet (SAB) alum George Lee, in Las Vegas. A refugee from Shanghai who immigrated to New York in 1951, Lee was a scholarship student at SAB and one of its first Asian SAB students. He was selected by Balanchine to create and premiere the role of Tea, and later went on to perform on Broadway, dancing in the original cast of Flower Drum Song.
A year after Lin discovered Lee and began this journey, the filmmaker has produced and directed the documentary Ten Times Better, which will have its premiere at the Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center. For the premiere, Lee will leave behind his fulltime job as a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas and for his 89th birthday, return to New York to share his story as part of the New York Public Library’s Dance Oral History Project. With Lee, Lin and Yu will participate in a discussion, which will include film excerpts and archival material from the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection to illustrate how this forgotten story went from library stacks to screen.