The Sleeping Beauty is one of the most enchanting classical ballet productions of all times. Since its premiere in St. Petersburg in 1890, with a score by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Marius Petipa, the ballet has remained the definitive expression of the western classical aesthetic in dance, casting a spell over generations of audiences, dancers and choreographers. Everything from the choreography to the costumes make this performance unforgettable. The National Ballet of Canada‘s production of The Sleeping Beauty also marks the final Aurora performance of esteemed principal dancer, Xiao Nan Yu, who will be retiring next season in 2018/19. Keep reading to find out more about Ms. Yu’s experience working on this production bellow.
Xaio Nan Yu’s love of dance started at age eleven when she first saw a video of the Mariinsky Ballet performing Swan Lake. She trained at Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy in China before training with the Canada’s National Ballet School. Ms. Yu has been working with the National Ballet of Canada for the past 22 years and has taken centre stage for countless classical and contemporary roles in the company’s repertoire including Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet The Nutcracker, Giselle, Onegin (playing Tatiana was one of her favourite memories with the company!), The Winter’s Tale, Cinderella, Madam Butterfly, Nijinsky…and of course The Sleeping Beauty!
This is Ms. Yu’s fifth time portraying the role of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, however just because she is familiar with the role does not mean there are any short cuts. Rehearsals have been ongoing for a month and a half and are rigorous, taking place every day from Monday to Friday. “I spent a lot of time preparing for the role with Principal Artistic Coach, Magdalena Popa,” Ms. Yu explained “she has never given me the easy way out, and always pushes me to be the best I can be. There is always room for improvement!”
In preparation for the portrayal of Aurora, Xiao Nan Yu turned to videos footage of Karen Kain dancing in The Sleeping Beauty with Rudolf Nureyev. Karen’s essence oozed youthfulness, “she was so cheerful throughout her performance and had such a sparkling, young spirit throughout her dancing.” noted Ms. Yu. As always the choreography of The Sleeping Beauty is astounding and is what makes the show so transfixing. Rudolph Nureyev is renowned in the ballet world and created this work specifically for the National Ballet. According to Xiao the choreography is technically challenging, but also a testament to the level of skill dancers in the company posses “Nureyev felt that the talent in the company was so strong that he would be able to give everyone a role that they could deliver onstage.”
Some of the choreographic highlights of the show include the Rose Adagio which Xiao Nan Yu said “is filled with such beautiful music and while it is very challenging, as you are dancing with four suitors, it is also so fulfilling and rewarding to perform.” Of course Act III where Aurora transforms from Princess to Queen is also a crowning moment in the production, “it is such a great transformation and always a joy to perform.” Of course the spectacular costumes in the show are what help to elevate the dancer’s performances on stage. Ms. Yu said her favourite costume in the show is Aurora’s tutu in Act I and II “it is such a beautiful colour and an elegant cut that really makes you feel like a princess, it is truly timeless.”
There are so many reasons to see The Sleeping Beauty, however watching Ms. Yu dance for the last time as Aurora is definitely at the top of the list. She is beautiful, elegant and iconic and will no doubt continue to inspire dancers for years to come. What is next for Xiao Nan Yu? “I want to stay involved in the dance world, maybe coaching or teaching,” she says leaving her role as principal dancer will be difficult. “I think will miss the people the most. We spend so much time together here and share all the sweat, tears and laughter that comes with ballet. I will miss having everyone around as they are such an inspiration.”
The Sleeping Beauty is now onstage now until March 18, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Purchase tickets online here. For more stories about the ballerinas of the National Ballet of Canada checkout Ballerina Behind The Scenes: Meet The Winter’s Tale First Soloist Hannah Fischer.