For Yumi Kanazawa, a Small Dramatic Role Led to Deep Artistic Growth

June 11, 2020

Last fall, The Joffrey Ballet’s Yumi Kanazawa had a breakout moment as Young Jane in Cathy Marston’s Jane Eyre. “She suddenly had a dramatic role that required a lot more of her as a human being, rather than just as a dancer,” says artistic director Ashley Wheater. Kanazawa played a child dealing with the death of her parents and best friend, rejection from family and a punitive reform school. Capturing all of this within Marston’s cinematic choreography, Kanazawa honed the complexity of her character while showing off her technical ability. “She dug really deep,” says Wheater, “and became an amazingly expressive artist.”


The Joffrey Ballet

Tokyo, Japan

South Bay Ballet, San Francisco Ballet School

On searching for “normal” ballet:
Kanazawa started ballet in Japan when she was 3. “Their classes are normal ballet classes, even at that age,” she says. Shortly after, her family moved to Los Angeles. Kanazawa recalls looking into a pre-ballet class and telling her mom, “This isn’t ballet; I can’t do this. So, my mom had to find a class for 5-year-olds that actually did barre and center.”

With her arms extended as she falls forward off pointe, Yumi Kanazawa, in a short, blue dress, is partnered by two shirtless men.

Yumi Kanazawa, Evan Boersma and Stefan Goncalvez in Stephanie Martinez’s Bliss!

Todd Rosenberg Photography, Courtesy Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Joining Joffrey:
Kanazawa finished her training at the San Francisco Ballet School, including one season as a trainee. In 2016, she was invited to audition for The Joffrey in company class. “I hadn’t really done a lot of auditions,” she says. But her first class, with ballet master Suzanne Lopez, was similar to those at SFB—where Wheater had once danced. “I felt like I belonged right away.”

Staying humble:
“I think I can see myself pretty clearly and realistically,” says Kanazawa. “Sometimes I don’t want to go in the front for something like pirouettes, but it’s important to push yourself in class, and then onstage, keep it a little safer.” That’s not to say she appears timid in performance. Featured roles have come to her from choreographers like Wayne McGregor and Stephanie Martinez, showing off her flexibility and intrepid partnering skills.

On her work ethic:
“She’s incredibly intelligent about herself, her work and where she wants to go,” says Wheater. “She finishes class every day. I’ve never seen her drop back. I’ve only seen her proceed forward.”

Favorite Chicago haunts:
Kanazawa loves Millennium Park and raves about taking visitors on the architectural boat tour on the Chicago River. She swears by Cho Sun Ok, a hole-in-the-wall Korean BBQ place. “They literally throw food at you,” she says. “But it’s so good and so cheap.”