Monday, January 27, 2014

Kaori Nakamura: Incandescent Ballerina

Kaori Nakamura in Twyla Tharp's "Water Baby Bagatelles". Photo @ Angela Sterling
Kaori's Nakamura's close friend Olivier Wevers calls her a true ballerina. Over almost 20 years, Seattle audiences have watched Kaori inhabit, seemingly without effort, every major ballet role. From Princess Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty," to Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot's stupendous "Romeo et Juliette," Kaori has transformed herself into love-struck princess, artistic muse, curious village girl. But this June, Kaori Nakamura will give her last official performance at Pacific Northwest Ballet. The 43-year old ballerina says it's time to retire.
Kaori Nakamura as Juliette, with her Romeo, James Moore. Photo@Angela Sterling
One of the saddest things about ballet is that by the time a dancer has the life experience to invest in a performance, the kind of knowledge she can combine with her technical prowess to really illuminate the dance from the inside, it's just about time for her ballet career to end. Ballet dancers spend their lives training, learning how to make us believe they are floating on air with every leap or pirouette. The goal is to make it look easy, but it's hard, hard work, and it takes a toll on the body. I once asked Kaori's PNB colleague and friend Jonathan Porretta what he wanted audiences to know. His answer: "we're athletes as well as artists." At some point, an athlete's body says "time to rest." 
Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta in PNB's "Nutcracker" photo @Angela Sterling

If you've ever seen Kaori Nakamura dance, you know this tiny woman has delicate grace braced by tensile steel strength. Like former PNB principal Louise Nadeau, Kaori has just gotten better and better over her years at PNB. Audiences take for granted that Kaori will execute, flawlessly, the technical demands of every role. What makes her so special is that Kaori can also imbue her Juliette with a gamine sassiness, bring a flair to her Kitri, a pathos to Giselle. It's clear from her performances that she loves each story ballet, that she's an actress as well as a technician.
Kaori Nakamura as Kitri in Ratmansky's "Don Quixote" photo @ Angela Sterling
Although those beautiful classical ballets fit Kaori's dancing style, she is equally capable of performing contemporary work. Twyla Tharp created the role of a savvy street urchin for her in "Afternoon Ball." Kaori was a ferocious figure in Ulysses Dove's "Red Angel", and she's premiered work by her former colleague Olivier Wevers for his company Whim W'him.
Kaori Nakamura in Ulysses Dove's "Red Angels" Photo@ Angela Sterling

Kaori Nakamura's retirement is a loss for the Seattle audience, but a huge gain for the PNB School. Artistic Director Peter Boal says Kaori will join the faculty there, to help transmit her artistry to a new generation.
Before that happens you still have a few chances to see Kaori dance.She will perform Princess Aurora on opening night of PNB's "Sleeping Beauty," January 31, 2014, and she's scheduled to dance the title role in "Giselle" later this spring.
After a farewell tribute in June, Kaori steps out of the spotlight. Thanks for your spectacular work, Kaori.

Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postelwaite in "Swan Lake" photo@Angela Sterling

1 comment:

  1. "Incandescent" is right!

    "delicate grace braced by tensile steel strength" is so apt a description of her.

    And you're right: we do take it for granted that she will be flawless. And she is!

    She holds so many surprises, is so gorgeously, heart-touchingly specific in her dancing... I think she was the first dancer I saw in Seattle. I feel so lucky to have seen her dance.