Interview

Yaoqian Shang on dancing principal roles and debuting as the Rose Fairy

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Yaoqian started dancing when she was six years old. 'I wasn’t very good with eating so my mum thought I needed to do more exercise. First I did salsa and traditional Chinese dancing. I started ballet when I was nine, training straight away at the Beijing Dance Academy. I found it more challenging and more interesting; when something is hard to achieve you feel really good when you get it right. The first ballet I was saw was Swan Lake by the National Ballet of China, when I was about ten. I was amazed by the dancers and couldn’t imagine ever being able to do that.'

This is Yaoqian’s fourth year with Birmingham Royal Ballet, as she joined in 2013. 'In my first season I performed a principal role – Princess Belle Sakura in The Prince of the Pagodas. David trusted me for some reason and put me in as a cover. It was hard season with a difficult repertoire, but it set my mind to working hard and I was physically fit, which helped.'

She discusses the challenges of performing a principal role so early in her career. 'The hardest part was telling the story really clearly and communicating with the audience. In the corps it’s different because you’re not responsible for carrying the story. By working hard and watching other dancers in rehearsal, I now find telling the story much easier. It’s really helped my career and shown me that storytelling and communicating are the most important parts of a performance.'

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When discussing her favourite experiences since joining the company, she explains 'I loved the Japan tour in 2015. We were dancing Swan Lake and Cinderella, and I performed corps roles like the Swans and the Mazurka. I was just back from injury – I went over on my ankle – and it was a really hard experience. As a Swan, standing still is the hardest part; my feet always seem to get cramp!'

'Japan is an amazing country, and we had lots of free time to experience the culture. We were treated like princes in this beautiful hotel with lovely food. I really hope we tour to China one day – all of my family could come and I would give the dancers a personal tour of Beijing.'

'Juliet has been my favourite principal role. It’s less technical than Odette/Odile so you’re never worrying about what’s coming up next. Juliet can be a challenge, as the story goes through life and death, but the stunning music carries you all the way. I love the freedom of movement. You can also use your own experiences to make the performance really special. When I’m dancing Juliet, I feel like I’m an actress as well as a dancer.'

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Yaoqian will be performing the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker for the third year. 'It’s such a hard role. You wait for the whole ballet, about 1 ½ hours, for 15 minutes of dancing. It’s really technically demanding and it’s easy to get stressed whilst waiting, but it’s classical, glamorous and I love dancing it.'

'I’m so excited to be dancing my first Rose Fairy this year. I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s such a generous role with lots of jumping. I love being able to fly across the stage, with all of those big, rounded movements. It’s really pretty.'

'I’ve enjoyed opportunities with Birmingham Royal Ballet that I just wouldn’t have had somewhere else. At such young age it’s rare to be believed in by your director, and I’ve loved all of my principal roles. I’m definitely not wasting time because dancing is such a short career. I feel super lucky; it’s the best thing ever.'