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Snow Queen: Yuki Clark retires from Milwaukee Ballet

Yuki‘Yuki’ means ‘snow’ in Japanese. Which makes the story her husband, Rick Clark, shared with me, the other evening, all the more awesome—in the most literal sense. “When Yuki was first cast as Snow Queen in 2007, it snowed every single day when I drove her to the theatre... Pretty mystical.”

A lot of what Rick and Yuki told me, while sitting in their gorgeous loft, is mystical about Yuki and her career. She is retiring in the midst of her sixth season after an unfortunate injury on Friday, January 13, 2012. She has spent the past year getting back in shape. She finally returned to the stage during The Nutcracker, but things just didn’t feel the same. Having been through an identical injury with her other knee several years before (when she tore her ACL during The Sleeping Beauty - 2008) she knew what the road ahead of her entailed. She fought through the 2008 injury and came back stronger than ever—but this time, things just didn’t quite feel right. She couldn’t be alive onstage and in-the-moment while worrying about whether or not another injury was awaiting her next turn. It was never in her plan to retire so early —but Yuki is a rationalist. She’s dealing with the cards she’s been dealt and getting in shape, mentally and physically, for her next role—whatever that may be. And the offers are rolling in—while it may be too soon to report anything, I’ve gotten the sense that Yuki is a hot commodity in the ballet world. I have no doubt she’ll have exciting news very soon.

The night I spoke with Yuki and Rick, she was on the eve of another surgery—this procedure would remove the scar tissue around her knee, which was hampering her movement and causing some lingering pain.

As I finished up this piece I received a text from Yuki saying, “Surgery went great… I’m already walking around without crutches. I’m excited about that!!!” I texted back, "Yes!—We are too!" While Yuki admitted that it was definitely sad to have to make the decision to leave the stage, she always knew it wouldn’t last forever.

Yuki spoke of how lucky she feels to have performed and lived here in Milwaukee—a city she has grown to love. She’s chosen to be here longer than any other city in the history of her dance career, and she loves Milwaukee for all of its cultural influences. Yuki expressed how she feels loved and supported here in Milwaukee, and Rick laughed about how she’s recognized everywhere she Yuki performancegoes. She spoke fondly of all of her great partners – some of the most “exciting and talented” on our stage – David Hovhannisyan, Patrick Howell, Michael Linsmeier, Ryan Martin and Marc Petrocci.

We chatted about fun times—in the theatre and in life. I was fortunate enough to share a dressing room with Yuki when she was performing five different roles in The Nutcracker—she was always a calming presence. While I was worried about remembering steps to the whoop-dee-doo dance in the party scene, she would calmly wish me “Merde!” (ballet’s good luck wish to fellow performers) while prepping for Marie, Snow Queen or Shepherdess—such a pro. Though Yuki comes across as serious, hardworking, intense and fierce, she has a softer and lighter side that I was able to experience. We recalled a particularly silly gathering at their house whose stories won’t be told here—but if you’ve been to a gathering at their loft, there’s always a big crowd, lots of fun, and good memories.

It is so refreshing to be around Yuki and Rick—they are cool and drama free, ready to take on life’s adventures with a positive attitude. Their little dog Leo (who clearly adores Yuki) ran around our ankles throughout the entire evening. “Who named him?” I asked. Yuki giggled and said she named him after her favorite actor from the 90’s remake of Romeo and Juliet—Leonardo DiCaprio. Rick laughed, shocked, and said “I always thought he was named after a ‘Leotard!’” 

Ballet continues to surround Yuki’s existence and she’s taking this new phase of her life in stride, just as she did in her career on the stage. I imagine she will carry her ability to turn with a beautiful, crisp, fast intensity onstage, right into the next ‘turn’ in her life. I am eager to see where her skillful turns will take her next... I have no doubt they will, once again, bring people to their feet with applause.

Alyson Chavez
Director of Community Outreach

(Studio photo by Jessica Kaminski. Performance photo by Rick Brodzeller.)