Yasmine Naghdi as the Sugarplum Fairy in The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker

Karolina Kuras, Courtesy ROH

The Royal Ballet’s Yasmine Naghdi Shares Her Go-to Self-Care Ritual and Her Favorite Recipe

Royal Ballet principal Yasmine Naghdi had been gearing up to star as the Sugarplum Fairy in a December livestream performance of The Nutcracker when London went back into heavy COVID-19 restrictions. The performance was canceled, but Naghdi has been taking this current setback, and the challenges the pandemic has brought over the last 10 months, in stride. In addition to keeping up with her training, she's been taking Italian lessons virtually and preparing elaborate meals with her boyfriend ("We're both real foodies," she says). Last fall, Naghdi, who has always loved cooking, travel, design and self-care, decided to share her offstage passions with fans on her new Instagram page, @lifestyle_by_yas.

Naghdi recently talked with us about staying flexible to the UK's lockdown changes and her post-performance wellness routine, plus offered a recipe for her favorite pasta dish.

A ballerina in a tiara and light pink tutu, tights and pointe shoes stands in attitude with her right arm up and her left arm around her partner's right shoulder. He stands in tendu and wears a matching jacket and tights and crown.

Naghdi and Matthew Ball in The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker

Karolina Kuras, Courtesy ROH

How was it preparing for the livestream performance of The Nutcracker last month, only to have it canceled due to new COVID-19 restrictions in London?

We worked so hard to get ourselves up to peak condition, and, I admit, it's been trickier than usual. Normally, at this point in the season we would have performed multiple ballets and our stamina would be in tip-top form. However, this wasn't the case this year. I managed to perform four times from March until December. When the announcement on December 19 came out introducing harsher restrictions, the company was notified and the livestream had to be canceled. This was very sad news for us all, but everyone's health is the main priority. [The show was replaced with an online performance of Christopher Wheeldon's 2017 production of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, available to watch until January 21.]

What was the inspiration for launching your @lifestyle_by_yas Instagram page during the pandemic?

I had so much time on my hands that my creativity needed an outlet. In the early stages, I shared meals and the cozy, designed corners in my new home on my ballet Instagram page. But I realized I'd better create an entirely different account exclusively geared towards my other passions, like international travel, interior design, collecting unique decorative objects and sourcing vintage couture. The pandemic restricted my moves, so I haven't been able to share as much as I had hoped. I also love all things self-care, so I plan to include more of my skin-care rituals, makeup, etc. I imagine the page to be something like a mood board while sharing recipes, past travels (with hopefully more travels in the future!) and more.

What will be your go-to travel spot, post-pandemic?

I hope to be able to travel to a warm country, wherever that may be. Last year my boyfriend and I had various holidays planned, but they all got canceled: Rio de Janeiro in January, Tuscany during Easter and the Greek islands for the summer. I love the proximity of the sea wherever I go on holiday, and I am currently dreaming of island hopping in Indonesia.

What's your favorite self-care regimen after a performance and to beat the winter blues?

As soon as I arrive home after a performance, I run a hot bath, adding Epsom salts to aid muscle recovery. I also add Molton Brown Cypress and Sea Fennel bath crystals, as the smell is absolutely wonderful.

To beat the winter blues, I use The Sanctuary Spa salt scrub, to get rid of dead skin, and a rich, moisturizing hair mask (I love Kerastase Paris Chronologiste mask). Once out of the bath, I use a rubber hydration mask by Dr. Jart+, and then I finish off with Dermalogica antioxidant hydra-mist. After blow-drying my hair, I work some Kerastase oil into the tips of my hair. I'll also do an at-home manicure; currently I'm using Essie's Treat Love & Color polish. It is a light pink that's great as an everyday color, and it's not distracting onstage, either.

What's your favorite winter comfort food, and do you have a recipe you can share?

My favorite winter comfort food would be a big plate of pasta or mushroom risotto. My absolute favorite recipe is linguine alle vongole (pasta with clams). I've developed my own take on it after learning from relatives and online recipes. It is beyond delicious, and it does not taste nor smell fishy at all. It's easy to make but does require attention to detail.

Yasmine Naghdi's Linguine Alle Vongole Recipe

A close photo of white plate with linguine pasta, clams and parsley

Getty Images

The ingredients are:

800 g (1.8 lbs) fresh clams, about 200 g (7 oz) per person

3–5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1–2 handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 pepperoncino (red chili pepper) or dried flakes (amount depends on your preference)

4–5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil

320–400 g (11–14 oz) linguine or spaghetti

1/2 glass dry white wine

Earlier in the day, soak the clams in cold water and add 2–3 teaspoons of salt (ONLY). Leave the clams in throughout the day, as they will release sand.

Finely chop the peeled garlic, parsley and chili so you have this ready when it's time to cook. (Remove the seeds from the chili if you want a milder flavor.)

Wash the clams in cold water and remove any with broken shells.

Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

While the water is heating: In a deep frying pan, add half of the olive oil, chopped parsley, garlic and chili pepper. Throw in the clams and cook, covered, over high heat until they have opened (about 5 minutes). Shake the pan gently every so often to make sure the clams cook through evenly.

Allow the clams to cool a little, then remove the meat from most of the clamshells, keeping some intact for decoration. Set the meat aside and discard the empty shells.

Filter the clam liquid from the pan several times. Don't discard it; this liquid is crucial to the flavoring of your pasta!

Cook the pasta for half the time it says on the box. You don't need salt, as the clams will already be a little salty.

In the meantime, heat up a wok or deep frying pan with olive oil and the rest of the garlic, chopped parsley and chili.

Once your pasta is half cooked, don't drain it; instead, transfer it into your frying pan, allowing some pasta water to go with it. Add the clam juice you previously filtered bit by bit, which allows the pasta to continue to cook while absorbing the juice's flavor. Add the white wine, and once the juice has been absorbed and you are 1 minute away from the full cooking time of your pasta, add the clam meat. Continue cooking for 3 minutes.

Mix everything together well and serve immediately, with another sprinkling of chopped parsley and olive oil.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Louisville Ballet in Andrea Schermoly's Rite of Spring. Sam English, Courtesy Louisville Ballet.

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Schermoly is also no stranger to film, having created a digital short called In Passing for the Ashley Bouder Project in 2015. But her most recent film project for Louisville Ballet, a new version of the iconic Rite of Spring, breaks ground—or, rather, ice—with its fresh, arctic take on the Stravinsky masterwork.

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