Nanako Yamamoto has been with American Repertory Ballet for seven years, and she has a wonderfully unique dance background. Read on to hear more about Nani!
Introduce yourself! Tell us your name, where you’re from, how long you’ve been dancing, where you were trained, and how long you’ve been at ARB.
Nanako: I am Nanako Yamamoto. I was born in a town called Shizuoka, Japan. I started dancing when I was about 5 as a kindergarten after school activity. That’s where I met my first dance friends who introduced me to my dance teacher/ballet school where I grew up until I was 16. My life changing experience was when I attended the Royal Ballet Summer School where I saw the ballet world outside of Japan for the first time and those two weeks were full of new adventures. This is where I decided that dance was what I wanted to pursue and led me to my dance career. Soon after I joined one of the most prestigious Vocational schools, Elmhurst Ballet School associated with Birmingham Royal Ballet where I had dance training and academic curriculum that most young ballerinas would dream of. Since graduation, I jumped on any experiences and job opportunities I was offered, and I found my ARB family in 2013. I have been with ARB for 7 years, creating lots of memories and growing still as a dancer.
Definitely, I see your work in the studio every day. I am always surprised at how much you grow every day, even after you went through so many years of rigorous training. So how has your training affected your dancing today?
Nanako: I am so thankful to every single teacher/mentor I have met and received coaching from. Not only does ballet training teach you discipline, my dance teacher in Japan taught me dedication and love for ballet. There were so many memories and experiences in the past where I faced so many obstacles and challenges, and I truly believe that I was able to keep pushing for my dream and not giving up what I love because of the training I had in Japan. Elmhurst was where I was introduced to a bigger world, where I was only able to speak very basic English at first. It was a whole new environment with a wide range of genres in dance training. It was not always easy, but I had friends who had the same passion. We went through ups and downs together and learned a tremendous amount of not only technique but knowledge in dance and how to have a career as a ballet dancer. A HUGE thank you goes to my family who understood my love and let me go for my dreams. I have been away from home for a long time, but they have been right by me my whole life. I cannot express enough how valuable the lessons were that I have had from my training. Life lessons though my teachers, family, and friends who helped me get to where I am, and more so who I am as a dancer now.
That must have been hard being away from your family for so long during such formative years of your life, but it must be so rewarding to have such good friends and teachers! Now that you are at ARB, what do you love about being here?
Nanako: ARB is my new home. I was brand new as an artist when I joined. I have always been fortunate with meeting new friends and many great coaches and now I have wonderful artists around me who inspire me every day. We are like family, we grow, share amazing stage experiences, go through hard times and fun times together. I am so attached to my ballet family that we have here at American Repertory Ballet.
I know one of your biggest debuts here at ARB was dancing Belle in Beauty and the Beast. I remember watching you having such an amazing time in rehearsals. What were some of your favorite moments in Kirk Peterson’s choreography and rehearsal process?
Nanako: That was probably the first time a brand new ballet has been set on me. It was the most incredible journey I have experienced. Kirk Peterson’s vision and magic all happened in our studio and he helped me become Belle. I remember I constantly listened to the music, on my way to rehearsal, on my way to teaching, on my way home… almost to the point where I was not myself! I was trying to become Belle for the duration of the rehearsal process through the performances. It was such an amazing process to be a part of, and I felt so much support and teamwork as a company. It was incredible to see everyone’s hard work in studio, the magic happening in wardrobe, the artistic and production work coming together. I definitely felt a lot of pressure to be playing the role of Belle, knowing this ballet has been growing in Peterson’s mind since he was young. I was able to do something I never thought I could because of the support and trust from everybody. The biggest difference in performing Belle from any other role for me is that I was so focused on the character and emotionally telling the story that I didn’t get nervous about the difficult technical steps. It was a different type of nervousness for each show! Instead of worrying about the difficult pirouettes or balances, I was nervous about conveying my emotions in a genuine way.
You’ve performed a lot of challenging roles here at ARB. It must be very nerve-racking getting on stage each time! What are some rituals or habits you have before a performance that help you get ready?
Nanako: I have two special pictures that I always put up in my dressing room in the theater. One is of my cat Simba, and the other is my best friend. Those pictures help keep me calm and remind me to not get too in my head before a performance. Also, I always eat chicken nuggets for lunch before I perform Sugar Plum in the Nutcracker. I don’t know why, I guess the protein keeps my energy up!
Those are interesting rituals! I think it especially helps young dancers to see that even you get nervous. What advice would you give young dancers who are serious about a professional career in dance?
Nanako: I would say that your journey to become a professional dancer and pursue a career in performing arts is not always easy, but ballet also teaches you the discipline and dedication you need to achieve your goals and dreams. I have had many ups and downs in the past, but my love and passion for ballet as well as the lessons learned through my training have helped me get through all obstacles and made me who I am today. As long as you have a complete love for the art of dance, you can make it.
That is so inspiring! I must say we all need that, especially now as we navigate through these strange times. How are you passing the time in quarantine?
Nanako: I am very fortunate to say that I am still able to share my love of dance with many future ballerinas and it is bringing me such joy, smiles, and laughs despite this hard time we are going through. Thanks to the amazing technology we have now I am still able to teach and dance with all my students from home.
You mentioned your cat, Simba earlier. He must be happy you are home a lot! Are you a cat or dog person?
Nanako: I am an animal lover in general, but I have a kitty named Simba. He is so full of personality that I can easily call him a cat who thinks he is a dog! He follows me everywhere and is very friendly with everyone. I am so lucky to have company at home during this time and I hope he feels the same way too!
Since we’ve all been home a lot more recently, you must have more time to cook. I know in the company we all talk about Japanese curry nights at Nani’s! What is your favorite Japanese dish to cook or to eat?
Nanako: That is a tough question! I enjoy most seafood, so I definitely have to list sushi, but any Japanese cuisine is comfort food to me. I actually have been exploring cooking dishes that remind me of being home in Japan during this quarantine and I am enjoying it a lot.
I’m sure you miss home! Tell us about one place in Japan you would love for ARB’s followers to check out.
Nanako: My hometown is very close to Mount Fuji. The coastline with the mountain view is beautiful! I also recommend experiencing the modern city of Tokyo, and cities in the west like Kyoto where you can experience more traditional culture in Japan.
Thank you so much, Nani, it’s been such a joy to hear about your life and experiences.