This spring, Pacific Northwest Ballet celebrates the conclusion of principal dancer Kaori Nakamura’s brilliant, 17-year career with the Company. Ms. Nakamura will retire from performing in June of 2014 and join PNB School’s distinguished faculty. With over 40 lead roles to her name and guest appearances worldwide, her accomplishments and contributions to the art form are extraordinary.  

“A transformation takes place in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s exquisite fairy-tale ballet The Sleeping Beauty and it isn’t just from sleep to wakefulness—it’s a character who begins the ballet a very young girl and ends it as a woman. This requires two very different kinds of dancing, and on opening night Kaori Nakamura demonstrated both beautifully.”

Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times

Kaori Nakamura with PNB Company dancers in Giselle.

“There were chills in the air…I came backstage to them and said, ‘That was just amazing. I have this little Top 10 list in my head of the greatest performances I’ve seen in my whole career and I just had to bump one out and put you guys in there.’ ”

PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal regarding Kaori’s 2009 Swan Lake performance with Lucien Postlewaite

Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite in Swan Lake.

“Kaori is a very focused and disciplined dancer. She learns and moves extremely quickly, which was critical in building Afternoon Ball.” 

Choreographer Twyla Tharp

Kaori Nakamura in three Twyla Tharp works (l-r) Brief Fling, Waterbaby Bagatelles, and Afternoon Ball.

“Kaori Nakamura, in the lead role of Kitri, earned a prolonged standing ovation with her exuberant but gorgeously precise dancing. This is a great role for her, bringing new levels of warmth and color to her always stunning technical skill and speed.”

Mary Murfin Bailey, The Seattle Times

Kaori Nakamura with PNB Company dancers in Don Quixote.

“Light as a feather. That’s Kaori’s main quality for me—and a rare one. … Her technique is effortless.  [She has] a lovely personality, which shines onstage. Of course, she was at the start of her career when we danced together in Winnipeg and we were good friends. …When I came to Seattle, she was one of the senior ballerinas and a proud mama. But she was the same brilliant, light and lovely dancer I knew almost 20 years ago.”

Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky

Kaori Nakamura and James Yoichi Moore in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette

“When I think of Kaori, two vivid images spring to mind:  of Valencienne in Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow and of Juliet in Kent’s The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.  Kaori has for years excelled in abstract ballets and wildly contemporary works, but the contrasts in those two roles show the breadth of her artistry as a dancing actress.  As Valencienne, Kaori began the ballet as a clever, funny and very flirtatious soubrette and then found true love with Christophe Maraval in a fiendishly difficult pas de deux that was so heart-stoppingly tender I could never watch it without stifled tears and the hope that it would never end. Her Juliet revealed an even wider palette of emotions as she grew from almost childlike, tremulous girlhood to rapturous young lover, to resourceful, noble and ultimately tragic womanhood, breaking every heart in the audience–and backstage too.  In her subtle and poignant way, Kaori ‘lived’ these roles and many others.” –PNB Founding Artistic Director Francia Russell

Kaori Nakamura and Christophe Maraval with Paul Gibson (left) in The Merry Widow.

“Onstage and in the studio, Kaori is a genuinely giving artist, always participating fully and whole-heartedly in the creative process.” 

PNB Founding Artistic Director Kent Stowell

Olivier Wevers and Kaori Nakamura in The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

“The leading roles in Serenade were danced with considerable flair…Kaori Nakamura…was quicksilver and intense.”

R. M. Campbell, The Seattle P-I

Kaori Nakamura in (l-r) George Balanchine’s Serenade and Concerto Barocco. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust.

“To try to sum up the extraordinary talents of Kaori Nakamura is like asking to capture all the beautiful butterflies in the world with one swoop of a net…impossible. Kaori embodies both artist and athlete. She is the epitome of grace and lightness, strength and fierceness. Getting to perform with her on opening night of Coppélia was a dream; she is the most humble and gracious partner. She has taught me so much about having a genuine relationship on stage with your partner. I have had some of the most amazing and fun times dancing with her. She has a twinkle in her eyes that is both full of mischief and love all at the same time. She is truly a dream come true. In a word, I would call her my idol.” 

Principal dancer Jonathan Porretta

Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta in George Balanchine’s Coppélia. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust.

“Kaori has always been a dancer I have looked up to and respected from the first moment I saw her dance. She has a way of owning the stage, as well as the audience. She will be sorely missed on stage and off.”

PNB Principal dancer Carrie Imler

Kaori Nakamura and PNB Company Dancers in Petite Mort. 

PNB’s Season Encore Performance on June 8, 2014 will feature Ms. Nakamura reprising some of her signature perforamnces. Tickets to this special tribute performance are currently available for purchase by PNB’s renewing subscribers, and go on sale to the general public on March 3. Save the Date! 

Blog by Judith May Austin. All photos © Angela Sterling unless otherwise noted. Select quotes courtesy of Rosie Gaynor’s Still One to Watch, Dance International, Winter 2012.