Photo Top: Xuan Cheng and Brian Simcoe. Photo by Tatiana Wills.



Yuka Iino



How did you start dancing?

My mom took me to a ballet studio. She saw me dancing in the living room to the music from the TV. I was about three years old. The first school I started in was in my city, Isesaki. I saw the company in the city next to where I grew up. I moved to that school, and I danced in that company, Reiko Yamamoto Ballet, before I came to OBT.  

When did you decide to become a professional dancer?

It’s funny. In the kindergarten, you always write what you want to be, and I wrote down that I wanted to be a ballerina that dances in the world. Nobody told me that I should be, I just wanted it. This is what I dreamed about when I was four years old.

What do you enjoy most about dancing?

I see ballet as the way of expressing myself, as who I am, even when I’m dancing a role that has another personality than myself, like Odette/Odile in Swan Lake.

What do you like to do when you're not dancing?

On the weekend I just take it easy. Wake up whenever I wake up, do laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning. But on the layoff, I go somewhere with my boyfriend. If it’s short, we go to an outdoors place like Cannon Beach or Multnomah Falls, or take a walk on the trails. This summer we went to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Las Vegas. We got to hang out by the beach, paddle a kayak, ride a bicycle. We really enjoyed it. Every summer I go back to Japan too, for a long time or a little while.

Your English is very good. Did you study in Japan?

My mom put me into a school for English after the regular school day. After I graduated high school, I was thinking that I wanted to dance in the US or Europe, so I studied by myself.
Is it difficult to live so far from your family?

I lived in a dorm since I was 13, to 18, so I’m used to being away from my family, and they are used to having me far away. I graduated high school at 18, but I wasn’t brave enough to actually start auditioning, and for three years I tried to make it in Japan, and establish a life there as a dancer. In Japan, it’s hard. A big part of it is that dancers have to pay for their own pointe shoes, except for a couple of the key companies. I had to help teach to supplement my income, and I had to live at home. Then I auditioned for Pacific Northwest Ballet. They didn’t have a job for me, but Christopher saw me there in an open audition. You have to be in the right place at the right time. It was lucky for me. And my family really wanted me to be independent with what I do for a living, so they are happy for me. They are coming from Japan to see Swan Lake.
Do you feel at home dancing with OBT?

Many of us dancers started here during Christopher’s first year as artistic director, so it’s like we are growing up together as a company, like family. When I was sick last year and I missed a program, I watched from the audience. I thought, wow, this is a great company. Everyone looks good, you know. I’m very happy to be a part of it, and so happy to see the company growing.

Is there something you would like to tell us that people don't realize about ballet?

How painful it can be sometimes. (Laughs) It’s like swans, on the water they swim very smoothly, but if you look under the water, they are working hard. On the stage, we try to look beautiful, but in the studio, we sweat a lot and we hurt.

Growing up, did you dream of dancing Swan Lake?

When I was learning, in school in Japan, my company performed Swan Lake. I saw Kaori Nakamura in the role. It’s one of the famous ballets that everyone dreams of dancing. It might surprise you a little bit—I’m taller in Japan—so I did Big Swan. Then I learned Odette. It is very exciting to do the whole principal role. This year, I’m telling myself that I’ve done this before, so now I can do better.

Are there other roles you dream of dancing?

Everything! I’m ready to dance anything right now. This is just the beginning.

Who's Your Dancer? 

OBT / National Endowment for the Arts Oregon Arts Commission Regional Arts & Culture Council Work for Art Portland Monthly Oregon Community Foundation Jerome Robbins Foundation
Work for Art