Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Kuu Sakuragi as the Jester in Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake • Photo by Angela Sterling

Every year, Pacific Northwest Ballet presents a full season of ballet, creating performance opportunities for dancers as principals, soloists, and corps dancers. Each season, the company promotes dancers to new roles. This season, dancer and Bellevue native Kuu Sakuragi is performing in solo roles following his promotion to soloist in 2023.

After receiving his promotion, Sakuragi felt a mix of emotions. “On one hand, a part of me feels a sense of accomplishment, as if I’ve finally made it,” he said. “But on the other hand, there’s a voice inside my head that reminds me that this is just the beginning. I’m eager to continue growing both as an artist and as a person, so that I can share even more of myself with the audience.”

Sakuragi’s journey has been full of dedication and exploration. “I slowly began taking dance seriously when I first started performing,” he said. “Initially, I played children’s roles, which helped me understand the importance of training for hours on technique.”

The more time that he gave to dance, the more that dance revealed to him as an art form. “As I progressed, I became fascinated by the layers of artistry and imagination that come with dance,” he recounted. “It reminds me of when I was a child and would play outside, pretending to be a superhero with powers like lightning speed, super strength, and invincibility.”

Through this kind of play, he found that dance isn’t just a repetition of a series of steps.  “I enjoyed using my imagination to create storylines with fight scenes and other interesting elements,” he said. “As I improved, I became more skilled at creating these imaginary worlds, and it has helped me in my dance career.”

Over the years, Sakuragi studied and performed at over half a dozen ballet schools and companies, but returned here to his hometown to join PNB in 2020. “I attribute my success to PNB’s DanceChance program, which helped me grow and develop as a dancer,” he remembered. “After joining Alberta Ballet for three seasons, I returned to PNB upon receiving a contract offer.”

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancer Kuu Sakuragi onstage at the announcement of his promotion to soloist, November 3, 2023 • Photo by Angela Sterling

But performing with Pacific Northwest Ballet is more than just a return home. “Performing at McCaw Hall is a dream come true for me, as it was the very theater where I first discovered ballet,” Sakuragi enthused. “It serves as a reminder of my humble beginnings and motivates me to continue striving for excellence.”

Sakuragi has many fond memories of his early roles. “Ghost Variation, choreographed by Jessica Lang, is the first piece I performed a solo with PNB as a professional dancer,” he recalled. “The solo represents the composer Robert Schumann, who was committed to an asylum for insanity.”

The role required Sakuragi to plumb his emotional depths. “Robert kept hearing his last composed piece called Ghost Variation,” Sakuragi said, “which he believed was being haunted by composers from the grave who were dictating the theme for him, forgetting he had already written it himself.”

In Swan Lake, choreographed by Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, Sakuragi performed the role of the Jester. “The Jester is playful, funny, foolish, sassy, and loyal,” Sakuragi said. “With these traits, I can approach this character in so many different ways which always keeps me on my toes.”

Despite the vast differences in these two roles, Sakuragi also finds important commonalities. “Both of these roles demand a combination of excellent ballet technique and artistry to effectively portray a character that resonates with the audience as well as with oneself,” he said. “The biggest challenge was to make the portrayal authentic to myself, without trying to force the emotions, but instead bringing the character to life in my own way.”

The step up to soloist will propel Sakuragi toward another leg on his journey toward his goals. “The title role of George Balanchine’s Prodigal Son is a dream role for me,” he shared. “I feel deeply connected to this character due to the complexity of the role and the similarities I share with the character outside of dance.”

He would also like to become one of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s principal dancers. “Along with that, I would like to develop a career as a ballet teacher or coach,” he said. “I can imagine myself guiding ballet students to become the best version of themselves because I was fortunate to have had teachers who challenged me mentally and physically in every class.” 

Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Kuu Sakuragi (with company dancers Lucien Postlewaite and Luther DeMyer) in the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Wartime Elegy” • Photo by Angela Sterling
Previous articleIn new essay collection ‘Autumn Light,’ Pico Iyer returns to Japan older, wiser
Next articleDespite promising themes, ‘My Mechanical Romance’ falls flat on race, feminism