Originally from Anshan, China, WanTing Zhao joined the San Francisco Ballet as a corps de ballet dancer in 2011. She has danced numerous principal and featured roles in Helgi Tomasson’s classical productions, and in Balanchine repertoire including “The Four Temperaments” (3rd Theme), and “Rubies” (principal). Recently Zhao danced in Benjamin Millepied’s “The Chairman Dances,” which will return as an extended ballet in the company’s 2018 season. In 2016 Zhao represented SFB with Carlo Di Lanno at the Eleventh International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize in Toronto, Canada, and she was awarded a silver medal at the 2010 Youth America Grand Prix. She was recently promoted to soloist. WanTing answered our questions via email. Photographs by Karolina Kuras, dresses by Louiza Babouryan.
Where are you from, and how did you start in ballet?
I am from Anshan, China. My mother influenced me to start taking ballet classes when I was six.
How did you come to join SFB?
I was fortunate to be granted a scholarship by the Rock School in Philadelphia, and one of my teachers recommended that I audition for SFB summer program. Luckily, I received an invitation to be a part of the trainee program. During that time I fell in love with the city and the company, and I joined the company after I completed my year as a trainee.
Who has especially influenced your career?
Helgi Tomasson, the artistic director at SFB, has played such a pivotal role in my career. He has made so many opportunities possible and showed belief in me very early on.
When did you get promoted to soloist?
I received my promotion to soloist in April 2016.
How were you promoted and what did you feel?
The day I got promoted was totally unexpected. In the middle of class Helgi asked me to come outside for a moment, and shared with me that I was to get the promotion. After class had ended he announced the news to the rest of the dancers. It was kind of surreal, really.
How has your life changed since your promotion?
Since the promotion I have had more opportunity to explore lead parts. I feel I have more responsibility and love rising to the challenge of growing myself as a professional dancer and expanding my role in the company.
How would you describe yourself as a dancer?
I would say that I enjoy the classical work; I love performing the beautiful and graceful pas de deux on stage. I also enjoy roles that require strong emotions and that are character driven.
What are you biggest challenges as a dancer?
Honestly, one of the most challenging times for me is “Nutcracker” season—32 shows in a row and trying not to get acne from the heavy stage makeup, haha.
Which ballets do you most enjoy performing?
I love performing “La Bayadere.” It’s such a classical role, the costumes are gorgeous; there is just something that is so powerful when you see all the dancers dressed in white performing in unison on stage. Pure beauty.
Stage or rehearsal?
I love that glorious moment of performing on stage in front of a crowded theater.
Which choreographers have you particularly enjoyed working with, and who would you like to work with?
It’s always a pleasure to work with Liam Scarlett. He’s very musical, and is able to translate his ideas very clearly and logically. An opportunity to work with Justin [Peck] would be amazing. I love his contemporary works.
Is there an iconic role that you’d like to dance, and why?
“Lady of the Camellias,” “Swan Lake,” and “Carmen” because they each have a large acting component and lots of drama.
What have been your favourite / most memorable moments onstage so far?
My favorite moment on stage is when I feel fully serene. The moment of inner peace, when I feel perfectly in tune with my partner, the steps are completely natural and free, as if I don’t have to think about them. When all the hours of practice have paid off, and I can simply enjoy the moment.
What do you do on your day off in San Francisco?
Eat, haha. I love going to the museum, spending time with my boyfriend Ryan, and relaxing at home with my cat Jerry.