Reverence: Elegant Intensity

National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu fuses dramatic power and control.
Published in the June/July 2011 issue.

A beautiful, anguished wili in Giselle

Photo by David Cooper

What does it take to be a successful leading ballerina?
It’s more than just dancing at a higher level. You have to remember it’s not only about you, even if you’re in the spotlight. You must share yourself with the whole company. You gather that energy so they’re involved with you, so there’s a dialogue. Then it becomes more real and exciting for the audience.

Is there anything about your body you’d change?
Basically I’m pretty happy, except I’m quite tall and it’s been a challenge to find the right partners. I’d hoped to dance Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew. Reid Anderson was staging it. He told me, “I love your dancing. I love your acting. But the way some of the pas de deux are choreographed, it would just be impossible.”

Do you have a dance idol?

Sylvie Guillem. She has a great sense of ease when she dances. I’d seen her dance in classical works before, but when I first saw her in a contemporary piece in my teens, she almost looked like a different dancer. Every movement, although abstract, made sense.


Any special pointe shoe tips?
I sew a yarn semi-circle around the front edge of the toe so that I don’t go over my shoes too far.

What’s your favorite relaxation?
I love cooking. When I’m at a restaurant and order something delicious I try to figure out the flavors. I go home and see if I can make it. But I don’t use recipes. That’s why I can’t bake.

Any private indulgences?
I have a weakness for handbags. I have quite a collection. My husband will ask, “You got a new bag?” and I’ll say, “No, I’ve had it a while. It’s just that you’ve never seen it before.”

How did becoming a mother affect your dancing?
Taking time off to have my daughter Ava, who’s now six, gave me a chance to reflect. It made me realize just how precious dancing is to me. Being a mom, having that responsibility, has made me more mature and true to myself as a ballerina.