Into the Unknown: The National Ballet of Canada's Principal Dancer Xiao Nan Yu

Written and Interviewed by Jennifer J. Lau, photography by Karolina Kuras and Cylla von Tiedemann.

Fête Chinoise spoke with the well-known Principal Dancer of the National Ballet of Canada, Xiao Nan Yu again this month to reflect on our work together, her outlook on ballet, and her final performances next month. The winner of the Rolex Dancers First Award in 2018, she was recognized for her outstanding performance of her portrayal of Paulina in The Winter’s Tale.

Xiao Nan Yu in  The Winter’s Tale . Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Xiao Nan Yu in The Winter’s Tale. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Nan & Fête Chinoise

Nan is always a lovely spirit to connect with. Fête Chinoise invited Nan to participate in an exclusive creative project for the 3rd Edition of our publication, Fête Chinoise: Luck & Ritual (2018). Looking back at the experience at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Nan praises the unforgettable space and all the artists that participated that day. While she has been shot in custom-tailored pieces before, this was the first time the fashion was based on and inspired by Chinese culture and stories. As new immigrants to Canada, it was and still is important to integrate into local society, so “Chinese culture,” she says “is put on hold.” Chinese culture seemingly waits for the opportunity to be showcased after integration has been achieved, which is why it was so unique to be adorned in clothing inspired by Butterfly Lovers and other Chinese literary classics two summers ago. It was our honour to work with Nan to share Chinese myths of love and dedication. Click here to see the feature!

Xiao Nan Yu. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Xiao Nan Yu. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Ballet for everyone

In Europe, you can walk into the box office everyday! It’s not as easy here. But as artists, we want everyone to be involved.
— Xiao Nan Yu

Ballet has certainly changed over the past two decades. Nan attributes this to the influence of social media that connects our globe. Ballet is now integrated with opera, pop music, choreography, and fashion design. If the art was formerly far and distant, it is now more “down-to-earth.” Comparing the European scene with North America’s, Nan thinks that we have to work harder to make the art accessible. She exclaims: “In Europe, you can walk into the box office everyday! It’s not as easy here. But as artists, we want everyone to be involved.”

Her next chapter

Leaving behind the stage after doing ballet for over 20 years, Nan reflects that a certain sadness will always be there. She is very content having played all the roles she has ever wanted. However, she plans to continue to participate in the profession. Nan has always believed in giving back. She was very lucky to have a whole village helping her - from her family, to her partner, to her coaches. She wants to pay it forward by helping others. While she’s very excited for the next chapter of life — into the unknown — she’s happy that she will be spending more time with her young daughters after her show is finished in June.

Xiao Nan Yu and Guillaume Côté in  The Merry Widow.  Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Xiao Nan Yu and Guillaume Côté in The Merry Widow. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Don’t miss her beautiful performances at the National Ballet of Canada next month! The Merry Widow runs June 19 to 23, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Nan’s final performances will take place on Wednesday, June 19 and Saturday, June 22, at 7:30 pm. Click here for more information.

We wish Nan nothing but the best as she takes time to rest from a busy season and to spend time with family.