Sho Yamada
Photo: Sebastien Galtier

Sho Yamada


“That’s what I’m going to do!”, said Sho Yamada firmly at the age of five, when he went with his mother to watch the ballet class of his sister, who was four years older than him. For the next twelve years, he took classes with the Koshiba Hazaki Ballet School in his hometown of Ibaraki. “As I got a bit older, I thought briefly about switching to baseball, but in the end I chose to stick to dancing.” Although the school is not a professional dance academy, Sho’s teacher had good connections, so Sho regularly got to dance children’s roles in full-length productions like The Nutcracker and Don Quixote, by Asami Maki Ballet and New National Theatre, both in Tokyo. “Seeing all those professional dancers and guest dancers from outside Japan was really inspiring. So when I was about fifteen I knew for sure I wanted to be a dancer myself!” 

Monte Carlo 

At the age of thirteen, Sho had already won a bronze medal at the Youth American Grand Prix final in New York, which resulted in an invitation to a summer course at Canada’s National Ballet School. Four years later, he won first prize at the Japanese pre-selection in Osaka, following which he got a scholarship to train for a year at the Académie Princesse Grace in Monte Carlo. “Canada was just for two weeks, but a year away from home was a different matter altogether. I’m a real family person, and on top of that I only spoke Japanese at the time.” Nevertheless, he liked it in Monaco, and as there are more opportunities for dancers in Europe than in Japan, he auditioned – successfully – for several European companies. On the advice of Luca Masala, director of the Académie Princesse Grace, he chose for Amsterdam. “I’m still so happy”, says Sho, “that I took his advice. The first year in the Junior Company was tough – the company had more than forty performances of its own besides those with Dutch National Ballet – but it was hugely inspiring to work with the group, as well as with Ernst Meisner (artistic coordinator – ed.).” 

Don Quixote

Just one year later, in 2014, Sho moved up to Dutch National Ballet, and in the years that followed, he says his career had its ups and downs. “At first, I didn’t get the roles I’d hoped for straight away, and when they did come I broke a bone in my foot twice in two years.” It taught him to look after his body better and be more mindful of how he does things. “By making small adjustments in your technique, you can also reach your destination.” 

Shortly after his injury, in 2018, he got his first leading role and shone as Basilio in Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quixote. “That was so special. I could hardly believe it was happening to me.” He’s since proved himself time and again in both the classical and the contemporary repertoire. “My training was very traditional, so I’m comfortable in the classical work, but in contemporary choreography I feel freer and can discover other sides to myself.” As far as the latter is concerned, one highlight was working with William Forsythe in June 2023. “Being in the studio for days at a time with him was absolutely fantastic. The way he thinks about every step and pays attention to the tiniest detail is amazing, and on top of that he’s incredibly musical as well.” 


Rehearsing in the studio is something Sho really enjoys anyway. “I love playing around with steps and possibilities, and testing things out. It may not work at first, but if you keep trying over and over again, at a certain point it does – and then the trick is to puzzle out how on earth you managed it.” 

For a long time, he thought it was mainly the technical aspect of ballet that was important, but more and more he’s coming to realise that technique is actually no more than a tool. So his biggest goal is to get closer to his emotions, so that he can let his audience feel things more as well. Another goal is to get even more enjoyment from what he’s doing. “Before, I could get very stressed if I fell or if a step didn’t work, but in the end it’s all about mindset. Now I’m increasingly able to focus on my joy of dancing and on everything that does work.” 


Place of birth: 
Ibaraki (Japan)

With Dutch National Ballet since: 

Career with Dutch National Ballet: 
Soloist (2019), grand sujet (2018), coryphée (2017), corps de ballet (2015), élève (2014), Junior Company (2013) 

Koshiba Hazaki Ballet School (Ibaraki, Japan), Académie Princesse Grace (Monte Carlo, Monaco) 


  • 2012: Youth America Grand Prix, preliminary rounds Japan, first prize 

  • 2012: NBA Ballet Competition, Japan, fourth prize 

  • 2011: NBA Ballet Competition, Japan, third prize 

  • 2009: FLAP Ballet Competition, Japan, second prize 

  • 2008: Youth America Grand Prix, finals New York, third prize 

  • 2008: Youth America Grand Prix, preliminary rounds Japan, second prize 

  • 2007: Tokyo Shinbun Ballet Competition, first prize 

Honourable mentions:

  • 2019: ‘Outstanding performance by a male dancer’, Critics’ Choice Dance Europe 

  • 2017: ‘New name to watch’, Critics’ Choice Dance Europe