Pacific Northwest Ballet Principal Dancer Kaori Nakamura remembers the day she got her first pointe shoes.
"I got pointe shoes from my teacher," says the small, soft-spoken Japanese native. "I slept with pointe shoes."
Now, 24 years later, Nakamura says it's time to hang up those precious pointe shoes.
"I don't want to stop," she explains. "I wish I could keep dancing, but my body, is getting tired. It's just time."
Nakamura came to Seattle 17 years ago. She started ballet class at age 7 in her native Japan, finished her training at New York's School of American Ballet, and got her first full time job with Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
Former Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell hired Nakamura and her former husband, Olivier Wevers, after seeing them perform "Sleeping Beauty" with the Canadian company.
Throughout her long career in Seattle, Nakamura has danced in everything from the neo-classical choreography of George Balanchine, to classics like "Coppelia" and "Swan Lake," to contemporary work by Twyla Tharp and Ulysses Dove. She's most fond of the classics, citing the role of Juliette in Jean-Christophe Maillot's "Romeo et Juliette" as one of her favorites.
Four years ago, when she turned 40, Nakamura knew she still had a few good years left as a dancer. But she also wanted to have a baby before she was too old. Nakamura returned to Pacific Northwest Ballet several months after giving birth to her daughter Maya, now 3. She performed the title role in a new production of the classic ballet "Giselle." It's a role she'll repeat May 30 in her farewell performance.
Nakamura has tried to imagine what her last performance will be like, but she says she can't know how she'll feel until she's in front of the Seattle audience for the last time. Since her retirement was announced last fall, local ballet fans have turned out to see Nakamura perform, and to cheer her at every curtain call.
"I feel that," she says. "I want to say thank you. Thank you to everybody, the audience. It's just amazing."
Nakamura's final performances are Friday, May 30 and Saturday, June 7. She will be featured in PNB's special Encore performance on Sunday, June 8.