Dancer Q&A: Nio Hirano

By Caroline Dickie
November 20, 2023

Nio Hirano 1

Nio Hirano. Photo by Andrew Fassbender.

Corps de Ballet member Nio Hirano joins The National Ballet of Canada this season, one of several promising new artists taking the stage in 2023/24. Nio was born in Tokyo, has trained and performed worldwide, from British Columbia and New York City to Connecticut, the Netherlands and Hong Kong. Learn more about Nio through our 20 Questions series!

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

I would likely have pursued a career as a concert pianist or painter. When I was ten years old, I wanted to become a pianist more than a dancer, but through a series of events and experiences that favoured ballet, it became a bigger part of my life and eventually took over.

What is your work philosophy?

My work philosophy is to have a strong belief in what I’d like to achieve and to know the journey is not going to be smooth or successful every day. I am easily overwhelmed by the expectations I set for myself, so I have to remind myself that it’s okay to mess up. Oftentimes the mistakes help us move to the next level. It’s like building muscle — small tears trigger the muscle to get stronger. And oftentimes, by taking an unplanned step, we discover things we wouldn’t have otherwise.

How do you handle criticism?

As someone who was often considered the “good student” in school (and among my sisters), I actually disliked not receiving criticism because I knew there were so many things I needed to improve on. I see criticism as a thought based on an individual’s perspective and while it may not always be helpful, I find it interesting to discover these perspectives and find new ways to improve.

What’s your definition of a successful dancer?

Someone who can transport the audience into the dancer’s world, allowing them to experience and interpret the story as if they were part of it.

What’s the best thing about being a dancer?

Being able to do what we have trained for since childhood and work every day to bring moments of necessary joy, peace, inspiration, passion and good to the world.

What’s the worst?

The injuries…

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

  • I have a twin sister.
  • I love fishing.
  • I do not like chocolate.


What was the last thing you changed your mind about?

I had planned to go to Mashion Bakery in Chinatown after work but decided it’d be better to go on Saturday morning because they’d likely have more options and fresher items.

What cheers you up on a bad day?

Spending time in nature if it’s accessible, playing the piano, listening to my favourite classical music, spending time with family and eating home-cooked food.

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Nio Hirano. Photo by Andrew Fassbender.

What music are you listening to right now?

I listen to a variety of classical music and have been loving Beethoven’s Violin/Piano Concerto in D Major, Op. 61. But my go-to after a long day is Claudio Arrau’s recording of Chopin’s Nocturnes.

Do you have any habits you’re working on breaking?

I am working on being less self-critical, as I find it creates a mental block that limits me from achieving my goals and fullest potential, and instead to reframe my mindset to focus on the objective instead of dwelling on what’s bothering me at that moment.

What is your favourite onstage memory?

One of my favourites is dancing the Polonaise, the finale of George Balanchine’s Diamonds, which I performed with Hong Kong Ballet. There is a beautiful moment towards the end, after we’ve been busy dancing around, when the full cast settles into a simple formation and the music slows down as we all perform slow and grand movements in unison. Whether it was the grandeur of everyone on stage moving together, the wind instruments taking over as the melody in Tchaikovsky’s beautiful symphony, or something else, the audience began to applaud. We all felt such great energy and I will never forget this beautiful moment.

What is your favorite ballet?

This is a tough question to answer but Romeo and Juliet is truly special and draws me into the heartbreaking journey every time.

Where would you like to travel but haven’t yet?

There are so many places. Some examples are Switzerland, Austria and Poland.

What’s the top item on your bucket list?

I’d love to spend my next summer break in Japan with my family.

What is your perfect meal?

My perfect meal depends on the season and weather but one of my favourites in the winter is Japanese hot pot. I like to have mine with Chinese cabbage, carrots, shiitake and enoki mushrooms, tofu and green onion boiled with chicken thighs and to eat this comforting, warm dish with ponzu and rice. Simply put, if I have some good quality rice, meat or fish and veggies, I’ll be happy.

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Nio Hirano. Photo by Andrew Fassbender.

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

I was offered a place with Hong Kong Ballet and they asked me to join a little early so that I could be an extra for their performances of Balanchine’s Jewels. This happened when Hong Kong was doing the three-week quarantine in hotel rooms during the pandemic. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to stay in a small hotel room for 21 days without even being allowed to take a step outside, let alone staying in shape for the rehearsals commencing right after. But I also couldn’t miss this opportunity to perform in Jewels, so I took the risk. Although it did lead to an injury that would last for the next year, I am grateful for the experience.

Adage or Allegro?

I would choose Allegro, although it was Adage for a long time. I like the upbeat energy and lightness of jumping – it cheers me up and always ends the class on a high note.

Do you have any performance rituals or superstitions?

During my last run of performances in The Nutcracker with Hong Kong Ballet, I had a banana per day (or per show, I can’t quite remember) and found that it helped lessen the fatigue I felt onstage. We’ll see if it continues to be a ritual this season as I don’t love bananas.

Could you name someone who has mentored or inspired you?

It doesn’t feel right to name one mentor as each and every one of them has played such an important role in my dancing. But the first mentor I’d name would be Maureen Eastick, who was one of my first ballet teachers. She instilled in me and her students the basics of strong and functional ballet technique, as well as the mentality, artistry and professionalism required to pursue ballet at the highest level.

Learn More About Nio

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