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Principal Dancer Yuan Yuan Tan gives final performance with San Francisco Ballet

Yuan Yuan Tan in Yuri Possokhov's 'Firebird'. Photo by Erik Tomasson.
Yuan Yuan Tan in Yuri Possokhov's 'Firebird'. Photo by Erik Tomasson.

San Francisco Ballet (SF Ballet) Principal Dancer Yuan Yuan Tan will give her final performance with the Company on February 14, dancing the role of Marguerite in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand at the War Memorial Opera House.

“I am indebted to my mentors and teachers, whose wisdom, encouragement and belief in my potential have been instrumental in my success,” said Tan. “To my dancer colleagues and collaborators, thank you for the shared moments of triumph. Through collective dedication and hard work, we have created a legacy that goes beyond individual accomplishments. Finally, to the San Francisco audiences over the last three decades, I express my sincere thanks. Your belief in me has been a driving force, and I am grateful for the inspiration you have provided. As I reflect on the years gone by and enter the next stage of my career, I am reminded of the importance of contributing to the growth and success of others and inspired to continue making a positive impact in ballet and beyond.”

Yuan Yuan Tan. Photo by Chris Hardy.
Yuan Yuan Tan. Photo by Chris Hardy.

“Yuan Yuan has made an extraordinary contribution to San Francisco Ballet and to the global community of artists and has inspired generations of ballerinas and audience members. I look forward to following her future endeavors,” said SF Ballet Artistic Director Tamara Rojo. 

Born in Shanghai, Tan joined SF Ballet as a soloist in 1995, and was promoted to principal dancer in 1997, making her the youngest and first Chinese principal dancer in the company’s history. Her unprecedented 29-year career at SF Ballet has exemplified her devotion to dance and a passion to create art that is elegant, human and astonishing. Her repertoire encompasses nearly 100 classical, neoclassical and contemporary ballets choreographed by George Balanchine, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, John Neumeier, Christopher Wheeldon, Helgi Tomasson, Yuri Possokhov, Edwaard Liang and Wayne McGregor, among others. Most notably, she has memorably interpreted classical characters such as Giselle, Aurora and Odette/Odile, as well as contemporary characters such as the Little Mermaid, Tatiana and the Princess (RAkU).

As an international ambassador of ballet, she is a role model for and symbol of ballet across the world. Since 2002, she has served as the artistic director and co-choreographer for the Tan Yuan Yuan and Her Friends production in China. In 2016, she established the Tan Yuan Yuan International Ballet Art Studio in partnership with the Shanghai Theater Academy, dedicated to building a community of ballet exchange, creation, teaching, and performance. This community of patrons promoted ballet as a popular art form in China, enhanced cultural exchange between the United States and China, and gave rise to SF Ballet’s first two tours to China in 2009 and 2015. She has published ballet books; served as a dance instructor training children, adults, professionals and amateurs; and given numerous lectures and seminars on ballet — touching audiences globally.

Yuan Yuan Tan in Liam Scarlett's 'Hummingbird'. Photo by Erik Tomasson.
Yuan Yuan Tan in Liam Scarlett’s ‘Hummingbird’. Photo by Erik Tomasson.

Tan’s remarkable artistry and the inspiration she imparts on aspiring dancers continue to define the role of a principal dancer. She has been awarded the Mayor of San Francisco Art Award on two separate occasions, in 2018 and in 2022. Former San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell noted, “Her grace, skill, versatility and strength have helped her become the first Chinese prima ballerina in the United States and one of the greatest Chinese ballerinas of all time. She has gracefully served as cultural ambassador for San Francisco and the United States. We are immensely grateful for her contributions to our city’s cultural history.” Tan received SF Ballet’s inaugural Silver Artists Society award in 2022, recognizing her 27th anniversary with the Company and longstanding contributions to SF Ballet.

Tan was the first Asian dancer appearing in the World Star Show in Prague. Her appearance on TEDxShanghai in 2016 titled “My Life as a Ballerina” was critically received and garnered her the reputation as the “irreplaceable pride of China on the global stage.” In 2004, Tan was featured on a cover of Time as a “Hero of Asia;” named one of the world’s most influential Chinese people for her contribution to the arts by Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV in 2015; was honored with the “You Bring Charm to the World” award from HKSTV in 2017; and in 2018, appeared on the Chinese cultural program The Reader. Chelsea Clinton featured Tan in her 2018 children’s book, She Persisted Around the World, alongside other female leaders in science, the arts, sports and activism who are role models in their determination to break barriers and change the status quo. 

Tickets to Tan’s farewell performance on February 14 may be purchased online at www.sfballet.org.

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