Yuan Yuan Tan
Yuan Yuan Tan | Credit: Erik Tomasson

Yuan Yuan Tan, who at age 20 became San Francisco Ballet’s youngest principal dancer, as well as its first Chinese one, will give her last performance with the company on Feb. 14, as Marguerite in Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand.

Tan has been with the company for an astonishing 29 seasons, joining as a soloist in 1995 and being promoted to principal dancer two years later by then-Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson.

Audiences here and internationally love Tan, whom Dance Magazine called “the pinnacle of ballet beauty.” She trained at the Shanghai Dancing School, in the city where she was born, and then at Stuttgart Ballet’s John Cranko School. She has danced in classical, neoclassical, and contemporary ballets choreographed by Tomasson, George Balanchine, John Neumeier, Yuri Possokhov, and Edwaard Liang, among others. Her roles have included Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, and the title roles in Giselle and The Little Mermaid. In the last one, she worked with Neumeier, and she describes him as a mentor who shaped her as a dancer.

SF Ballet Artistic Director Tamara Rojo said in a statement, “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.”

Those contributions go beyond performing. In 2016, Tan established the Tan Yuan Yuan International Ballet Art Studio, fostering cultural exchange between the United States and China and leading to SF Ballet going to China in 2009 and 2015. She has published books on ballet, taught children and adults, and has given lectures around the world. Chelsea Clinton featured Tan along with other women leaders in her 2018 children’s book She Persisted Around the World. There’s a Barbie doll of Tan wearing her Swan Lake costume in the Barbie Global Role Model series, and she received the Mayor of San Francisco Art Award twice, in 2018 and in 2022, the latter the same year that she received SF Ballet’s inaugural Silver Artists Society award.

In a statement, Tan expressed her gratitude to San Francisco audiences for their support over the last 29 years. “Your belief in me has been a driving force, and I am grateful for the inspiration you have provided.”