Yukari Thiesen, heart and soul of the Valley Performing Arts Council, leaves behind a long line of tiny, grateful dancers

With what I’m sure was a final, graceful plie as she left this earthly plane, Yukari Thiesen died this afternoon. She’d been suffering a long illness. She didn’t let it slow her down. Defying the medical odds, she continued her work with her beloved Valley Performing Arts Council till the end, staging one ballet after another, including “The Nutcracker” in November and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in March.

Pictured above: Yukari Thiesen takes her littlest dancers across the lobby of the Saroyan Theatre before the performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in March.

She was single-minded in giving children the opportunity to dance. In her final appearance on “The Munro Review on CMAC” to talk about the production, she came straight from chemotherapy for the taping. She was as elegant and sure-spoken as ever, like the professional ballerina that she would always remain.

Her husband, Eldon, reached out to me with this message:

Yukari’s battle is finally over. She passed away at approximately 1:40 this afternoon with all her children and husband present.

Although a public figure, Yukari always wanted to keep her private life private. She never sought fame and wouldn’t want it now. However she touched so many with her work I understand many would like to know. It is in this light I pass this information on to you.


I spent some time with Yukari during the final months of her life, including a memorable evening backstage at her final ballet. I was struck by the bond she had with her dancers, from wee ones up to college age, and thought about her impact on their lives.

I will be following up with more of what it was like behind the scenes with this remarkable woman. For now, I extend my deepest sympathies to her family, friends and the ballet community.

Yukari’s CMAC interview begins at the 2:30 mark:

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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