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Xiao Nan Yu on Her New Role as Artistic Coach
September 13, 2021

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Xiao Nan Yu. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Former Principal Dancer Xiao Nan Yu retired from dancing in 2019 after an incredible 22 years with The National Ballet of Canada. This summer, she assumed a new role as Artistic Coach with the Artistic staff, sharing her knowledge and artistry with the next generation of dancers. We caught up with Nan about this exciting opportunity, her hopes for the future and her experience as she retired from the stage.

You gave your last performance with The National Ballet of Canada in June 2019 dancing the role of Hanna Galwari in The Merry Widow. What was that moment like?

“It's over, no more sewing and breaking in new pointe shoes!” I think that was what went through my head the moment the performance ended. However, in the hours leading up to my final performance it was just like every other day; I started off with class, did some of my own warm-ups, went through hair and makeup, put my costume on, walked into the studio backstage, basically followed my normal routine. But deep down I knew that this was going to be the last time I ever went through this sequence of events.

As for my last moments onstage, it was special and perfect and I felt as if the audience, the dancers and backstage crew got to join in the celebration with me. It was my last performance to share my passion for ballet with the audience and for myself, to enjoy the moment onstage doing what I love. So, when the music stopped, when I took my final bow as a Principal Dancer with the National Ballet, I was immensely proud of every moment in the journey that I'd started on as a young child.

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Xiao Nan Yu during her final bow at The Merry Widow. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

How did you spend your time in the immediate aftermath, in the days and months that followed?

Hugging my family (who were in the audience), mentors and friends, thanking them for their lifelong support. However, I had to maintain my physicality due to an upcoming ballet festival in New York City the next month, so unfortunately, I couldn't make daily visits the spa, relaxing. Shortly after that, I was back at the company as an Assistant to the Choreographer for the world premiere of Robert Binet’s ballet Orpheus Alive, as well as providing my assistance for the November season of 2019. After this, I was working at Canada’s National Ballet School as a daily ballet teacher for the senior students.

What prompted your decision to join the Artistic Staff?

I've always been interested in teaching and mentoring the next generation of ballet dancers. This idea came into fruition toward the end of my career with deepening clarity as I still wanted to pass on my knowledge and stage experience to younger dancers to see them succeed.

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Xiao Nan Yu at the barre in Company Class. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

In August, you became a full-time member of the Artistic Staff. What will your responsibilities be going forward?

I'm responsible for monitoring and improving the dancers' physical and mental wellbeing as well as ensuring that they are realizing their full potential.

What does it feel like to support another generation of dancers as they pursue the same goals you upheld for yourself as a dancer? Do you have any role models whose methods or approach have influenced your coaching style?

It's like watching your younger self doing the same thing except this time I know what to do and not do. I feel as if with my experience, I am in the position to advise and lead newer dancers through their careers and help them achieve their goals.

I was fortunate to have been able to work with many coaches throughout my career. My first ballet coach was my first ever ballet teacher from when I was young and dancing back in China, Huizhen Xie, followed by mentors such as Magdalena Popa, James Kudelka, Karen Kain, Reid Anderson, Lindsay Fischer, Joysanne Sidimus, Christopher Stowell and many more generous and gifted ballet coaches. My teaching methods are a combination of all the coaches I've worked with as well as my methods derived from 22 years of dancing. There's always a detail, no matter how big or small, that I pick up from everyone I've worked with.

What are you most looking forward to in the 2021/22 season?

Seeing the dancers back onstage after a year and a half of being locked down will be amazing and refreshing. Overall, having life in the ballet industry go back to normal is what everyone looks forward to.

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