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Iino Enumerates Career

Oregon Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer Yuka Iino

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

August 29, 2007


We met with Yuka Iino following company class amidst Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “OBT Exposed!” week in the Park Blocks of downtown. What follows is a transcription of our conversation.

Thank you for taking the time to meet with us. We like to hear each person’s story – how you got into ballet, where you are from, your training and your journey to Oregon Ballet Theatre.

I’m from Japan. My mom loved watching ballet and took me to ballet school. I was about only four or five years old. This was in Gunma. I always wanted to be like Kaori [Nakamura, Principal Dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet, also from Gunma] who was – and still is – a star.

When I was 13, I went to École Superièure de Danse de Rosella Hightower in Cannes for two weeks in 2001 and also spent two weeks in Vienna. I took open classes which included multicultural forms such as African dance. In January 2003, I went to New York and took open classes and auditioned for ABT. I met Diana Cartier when I was there, and she arranged auditions for me with Washington Ballet and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. I also went to audition at Boston and San Francisco Ballet while they were in Orange County. Kaori suggested I come to PNB, and they kindly allowed me to take classes for three months. During this time, there were open auditions for OBT and Ballet Met, but Christopher [Stowell, OBT’s Artistic Director] offered me a full-year contract – extended from an original offer of a guest artist contract – negotiated on my behalf by Kaori as my English at that time was very minimal.

What have been some highlights here? Has this been your first exposure to the Balanchine repertory?

“Rubies” was certainly a highlight – and I had to pick up the Balanchine style on the job. Colleen Neary was the stager for this and she was very kind to me. I’ve also enjoyed the full lengths we’ve done. Great opportunities. “Swan Lake” and Yuri [Possokhov]’s “Firebird.”

Working with [choreographer] Yuri was particularly a good experience. He came during “Nutcracker” time and worked on setting it on myself and Alison [Roper]. But at the premiere, I got to do only one performance due to an injury – I begged Christopher to let me go on for at least this one time.

I was third cast of Peter Martin’s “Ash” and enjoyed learning the part, even though I didn’t get to perform. Working with Francia Russell when she’s been here to stage Balanchine ballets has been wonderful too. She also teaches classes and I feel that she’s helped me improve over a short period of time. I’ve found his ballets both fun and hard!  Other highlights have been when Ruben Martin [San Francisco Ballet] and Roman Rykine [formerly San Francisco Ballet and Boston Ballet] were here as guest artists and were my partners.

Our readers would like to know about your pointe shoes – what kind do you use and how do you like them and prepare them for performance?

I wear Freed 4XX and my maker is “Z” although I’m switching to “L.” I really like softer shoes, so I have a ¾ shank. I am someone who doesn’t like hard shoes for performance – except I do use harder shoes for fouettés, such as those in Act III of “Swan Lake.”

What are you looking forward to doing this season?

I’m thrilled to be a part of Christopher’s fifth year at OBT. I love working with him and OBT is in such an exciting period of growth. I’m very much looking forward to being in “Rubies” again and to doing James Kudelka’s “Almost Mozart” again. Working with him when he created this ballet for us was hard but also fun and such a good opportunity. I’m also really looking forward to dancing in Yuri’s “Raymonda.”

How do you like living in Portland? What are some of things that you like to do for relaxation outside of the ballet?

I’m applying for a Green Card, so this year I got to stay in Portland to enjoy the beautiful summer here. In the past, I’ve gone back to Japan in between seasons. The people in Portland and at OBT are very nice. I like movies!

Have you “connected” with the Japanese community here? I imagine you have a following among the Asian community…

Erik [Jones, OBT’s Publicity Manager] tells me I do have a fan club here! I don’t yet feel quite connected to the Japanese community here but do hope to do so in the future.

Might you have any words of wisdom to aspiring dancers out there?

Well, I don’t have a “typical” ballet body, and here I am, dancing. So I might say, even if you weren’t born to do ballet, don’t give up!

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