Riho Sakamoto
Photo: Sebastien Galtier

Riho Sakamoto


An unstoppable whirlwind, who was happiest running around outdoors all day. As a young child, Riho Sakamoto had so much energy that her mother and grandmother went in search of a way for her to let off steam. And as her grandmother also thought it was important to have a nice, straight posture – “I had rather droopy shoulders” – Riho ended up at the ballet school in her hometown Nara, in Japan. In the beginning, the classes were more stressful than anything. “For a tomboy like me, the strict ballet discipline took some getting used to.” But gradually, Riho’s enjoyment of moving to music grew and grew. Dancing and creating beauty with your body turned out to be her refuge from a home situation that was not so nice and stable. So when her ballet teacher told her one day that in order to become a professional dancer she should really go abroad, the idea appealed. She got a scholarship for a summer course at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington DC and when the school invited her to stay on, her mother took the plunge, and Riho moved to the US at the age of ten – alone. “I was confused and had no idea what to expect. I didn’t speak a word of English and wasn’t even familiar with the Latin alphabet. Yet I never regretted it for a moment. I soon settled in and made friends, and the teachers – who were mostly Russian – were tough but kind.”


In Riho’s final year of training, one of them, the Georgian teacher Nikoloz Makhateli, offered to show her CV and audition video to Ted Brandsen and to his daughter Maia, who had been dancing as a principal with Dutch National Ballet for some years. Shortly afterwards, Riho got a phone call to say that in August 2014 she could take up a contract with the group’s Junior Company. “That was surreal! I’d seen some fantastic videos of Dutch National Ballet on YouTube, but at the time I didn’t think I had much chance of joining. I thought I’d be happy to be accepted anywhere at all. The Junior Company’s offer really opened a new door for me.”

Yet the move to the Netherlands proved more difficult in the beginning than the move from Japan to the US. Whereas in Washington Riho had been at a boarding school under the wing of a house parent, in Amsterdam she suddenly had her own flat and salary, and plenty of evenings with no classes, rehearsals or housemates. She laughs, “In the beginning, I had absolutely no idea what to do with all that freedom.”

Riho Sakamoto
Riho Sakamoto rehearsing for Giselle with Constantine Allen - HNB 23-24 | Photo: Altin Kaftira
Riho Sakamoto in Giselle - HNB 19-20 | Photo: Altin Kaftira
Riho Sakamoto in Giselle - HNB 19-20 | Photo: Altin Kaftira
Riho Sakamoto en Remi Wörtmeyer - Repetitie Notekraker & Muizenkoning
Riho Sakamoto en Remi Wörtmeyer - Rehearsal The Nutcracker and the Mouse King HNB 21-22 | Photo: Altin Kaftira
Mata Hari
Riho Sakamoto in Mata Hari - HNB 21-22 | Photo: Altin Kaftira
Mata Hari
Riho Sakamoto in Mata Hari - HNB 21-22 | Photo: Altin Kaftira
Riho Sakamoto in Raymonda - HNB 21-22 | Photo: Michel Schnater

Interpretation and feeling

She’s thankful that she was able to start her career with the Junior Company. “In that first year, we were given so many opportunities straight away, and Ernst Meisner (the company’s artistic coordinator – ed.) really knows how to get the best out of each dancer.” After just one year, she made the transition to the main company, since when she has been promoted nearly every year. In 2017, still in the rank of coryphée, she danced her first leading role, as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. “As a coryphée, I also danced many other roles in the same series of performances. That was tough, but it made me realise I could cope with it! And working for the first time with a personal coach was really special (at the time Igone de Jongh, and now Larissa Lezhnina – ed.). That teaches you a whole different way of working, which involves not just endlessly repeating each step, but also learning the importance of interpretation and of visualising your role.”

Of all the leading roles in the classical repertoire she has danced since then, her favourite is Giselle, in the ballet of the same name. “It was the first role in which I could put all my emotions. Technique is important, but my focus is mainly on conveying the story. I want to touch people and let them share my feelings.”

Japanese cooking

Though she may have been a bit lonely at the start in Amsterdam – “All the Junior Company dancers that year were shy, so it took a while for us to become close” – nowadays Riho has a busy social life. She wants to enjoy what life has to offer to the full, and in her free time she likes to meet up with friends for a walk in the park, for example, or for dinner at her place. She loves to cook, and then preferably Japanese food. “When friends enjoy my Japanese dishes, it makes me feel really proud.”

Read more:
Riho Sakamoto promoted to principal

Riho Sakamoto (Princess Florine) and Sho Yamada (Blue Bird) in The Sleeping Beauty 22-23 | Dutch National Ballet

Riho Sakamoto in The Sleeping Beauty


Place of birth: 
Nara (Japan)

With Dutch National Ballet since: 

Career with Dutch National Ballet:
Principal (2021), soloist (2019), grand sujet (2018), coryphée (2017), corps de ballet (2016), élève (2015), Junior Company (2014)

Kirov Academy of Ballet (Washington DC, United States)


  • 2010: Youth America Grand Prix, gold medal

Honourable mentions:

  • 2021: ‘Outstanding performance by a female dancer’, Critics’ Choice Dance Europe