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Q&A with Koto Ishihara
July 13, 2021

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Koto Ishihara. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

What have you been doing in your spare time since the beginning of the pandemic?

I spent a lot of time going back to basics for training because we never have time for it when we are super busy with performances. There are always more discoveries and more things to explore. I also did a lot of cooking because all the restaurants were closed for most of the time and I really enjoy it. 

What would you have done as a career if you hadn't pursued ballet?  

Something involved with music or an art. I love classical music, I think because my mom was making me listen to a lot of classical music when she was pregnant, so it makes me calm whenever I listen to it. 

Have you ever had an embarrassing moment on stage? 

Yes. When I had an outside stage performance, there were very powerful heaters on the side of the stage. Because it was so cold, I stood so close to the heater that it melted half of my romantic tutu right before my entrance. I had to dance with half a tutu left. Thankfully I didn’t get burned but it was definitely not the best moment in my career.

What is your work philosophy?

Work hard – the efforts will not betray you. 

How do you handle criticism? 

I listen and think if it’s something that I need to work on and a positive thing for me to grow as a person or as a dancer. If not, then I laugh, sleep and I forget about it by the next morning. Or I change it to the way that it sounds like a compliment for myself - I always make sure to keep things positive for myself.

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Koto Ishihara and Naoya Ebe with Artists of the Ballet in Piano Concerto #1. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

What is your definition of a successful ballet dancer?  

For me, a successful ballet dancer is to become a real artist. To be able to share oneself on the stage, to connect and to take the audience to your imaginary world. I strongly believe that you cannot hide who you are on the stage. It really shows how you live and what you have experienced. So exploring the world as big as you can is the key to becoming a successful dancer in my opinion.

What’s the best thing about being a dancer?

I get to live in the moment on the stage in a character and be whoever I want to be!

What’s the worst?

I wouldn’t say worst but you need to be mentally tough. I think that’s the most challenging part.

What music are you listening to right now? 

I’m listening to “City of Stars” from La La Land by Justin Hurwitz. 

What are three random things most people don't know about you? 

My height was under 140 cm when I got into junior high school.

I competed in track and field as well as high jump.

I wanted to be a professional swimmer before I started ballet and was going to professional swimming school. 

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Koto Ishihara in The Nutcracker. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

What cheers you up on an off day?

Reorganizing everything for next week and good food with good company. 

Adage or Allegro?

Allegro.

Do you have any performance rituals or superstitions?

No, I used to but I realized it’s not a good thing because if one thing goes wrong, I cannot focus on the actual performance. Now I try to focus on my body, mind and things that are right in front of me. 

What is your favourite onstage memory?

When I got to do RAkU by Yuri Possokhov. It was created on Yuan Yuan Tan, principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet. The story is based on the Japanese book and it was really meaningful for me since it’s coming from my culture. And of course because of Yuri’s incredible talent, it made it really special.

What is your favourite ballet?

So many!!! I cannot pick or list it here because it will cover up the whole page.

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Koto Ishihara and Spencer Hack in Chroma. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

What's the biggest risk you've taken, either personally or in your career?

When I decided to move to the United States by myself for ballet school at age 15. Also, moving to Toronto recently from my second home, San Francisco.

When are you most proud of yourself?

When everything comes together in the performance and I have an amazing time on the stage.

Tell us about an awe-inspiring thing you've seen or experienced.

My coworkers and dancers all over the world, either in person or through social media: they inspire me all the time. Also seeing beautiful things with my own eyes gives me inspiration.  

What sport would you compete in if you could go to the Olympics? 

Running or swimming.

What’s the number one item on your bucket list?

To dance all my dream roles: in The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Onegin, Romeo and Juliet, etc… so many that I cannot list them all! Also I definitely want to see the Aurora Borealis at some point in my life. Maybe in Yellowknife! 

Learn More About Koto >

Koto interviewed one of her idols, Yuan Yuan Tan, as part of our Inspired to Dance series.

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