Photo Credit: Bill Cooper

Photo Credit: Bill Cooper


A principal dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Chi Cao is undoubtedly driven and focused on striving for the best. A beautiful, precise dancer with jumps akin to Baryshnikov, he is described on the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s website as a virtuoso classical dancer. American audiences may be most familiar with Chi Cao’s work on the big screen. He portrays Li Cunxin in the motion picture Mao’s Last Dancer, the true story of a boy in Mao’s China who is chosen from a poor village at the age of eleven to train with Beijing Dance Academy. Li later defects to Texas and becomes a classical-dance star in America.

Mao’s Last Dancer Trailer

It is not surprising that Chi was cast in this role. There are many parallels between the two dancers. Born in China, Chi Cao began his training at the Beijing Dance Academy where his father was one of Li’s teachers. At fifteen, Chi was offered a student exchange at the Royal Ballet School. Leaving China at a young age for the western world, he faced a different culture and language alone, as did his movie counterpart. He expected to live in the U.K. for 6 months, but was then offered another year and then a contract. In the pursuit of opportunity to further their artistic ballet training, both dancers left their country and families not knowing if or when they could return to see their families. It was Li who suggested that Chi play his part. For his portrayal of this role, Chi Cao received a nomination for Best Actor from the Australian Inside Film awards.

Favorite Quote: “Train hard and the fight becomes easy.” 

Chi Cao as Qebhsnuf Photo Credit: Bill Cooper

Chi Cao as Qebhsnuf
Photo Credit: Bill Cooper

Chi joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1995 and was promoted to Principal in 2002. His superb technique won him the gold medal in 1998 at Varna, the ‘Grandaddy’ of all ballet competitions. With his frequent partner, Nao Sakuma, Chi has also represented the Birmingham Royal Ballet at a number of prestigious occasions, dancing at the NATO gala in Birmingham (2000) and Her Majesty The Queen’s golden jubilee (2002). Later this year Chi and Nao will dance as guests of the National Ballet of Japan in the roles created for them in Sylvia. In 2008 Chi .

His repertory includes: Frederick Ashton: La Fille mal gardée (Colas), The Two Pigeons (Young Man), The Dream (Puck), Enigma Variations (Tryote Griffiths), Les Patineurs (Blue Boy),Symphonic Variations and Voices of Spring. George Balanchine: Agon (pas de trois), The Four Temperaments (Melancholic Variation), Mozartiana (Solo boy) and Tarantella. David Bintley: Arthur (Lancelot), Beauty and the Beast (Beast, Raven), Edward II(Gaveston, Warwick, Lancaster), Hobson’s Choice (Fred Beenstock, Salvation Army),Allegri diversi (lead role), The Orpheus Suite (Orpheus), The Seasons (‘Spring’), The Shakespeare Suite (Hamlet), The Sons of Horus (Qebhsnuf), ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café (Southern Cape Zebra), ChorosDance House and David Bintley and Galina Samsova’s production of Giselle (Albrecht, Peasant pas de deux).

Watch Chi Cao in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux Coda 

Chi CaoOliver Hindle: The Four Seasons (‘Spring’, ‘Summer’) and Bright Young Things. Kenneth MacMillan: Romeo and Juliet (Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, Mandolin Dance lead) and Elite Syncopations (‘Friday Night’), Twyla Tharp: In the Upper Room. Peter Wright’s productions of Coppélia (Franz), The Nutcracker (Prince), The Sleeping Beauty (Prince Florimund, Bluebird) and Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s production of Swan Lake (Siegfried, pas de trios), Pas de deux from Don Quixote and Le Corsaire.

 Watch Maos Last Dancer – Don Quixote

Birmingham Royal Ballet, directed by David Bintley, was formed in 1990, when Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet moved to Birmingham from its original home at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. It is one of the three major ballet companies of the United Kingdom, alongside The Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet. 

Dancer Answer: Advice for Aspiring Young Dancers

Q: From @DanceAddict- How do you balance family and friends with your dance schedule?

A: Chi-It is hard to balance but I would always put family and friends first because you can be the greatest dancer in the world and people will see you and love you because you  have that title – but the minute you stop dancing your family and friends will still be there. So you have to pay attention to them along the way. They will be the ones who will make you the star you want to be.  

Visit the Birmingham Royal Ballet Website
Visit the official associate school Elmhurst School for Dance Website
Follow Chi Cao on  Twitter

Photo Credit: Bill Cooper

Photo Credit: Bill Cooper

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