Birmingham Royal Ballet are currently on tour in Japan. This is a very welcome visit during challenging times for the Japanese people. In the wake of the post-earthquake nuclear crisis, when so many concerts and dance performances have been canceled, BRB are bringing two different programmes to four cities. On Tuesday the company also helped raise money for the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami relief fund with a special gala performance of Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, paired with Daphnis and ChloÃ«.
From Tokyo, our lovely guest blogger Kris Kosaka reports on the gala and rehearsals for The Dream, where she had the opportunity to catch up with BRB’s special guest, Miyako Yoshida:
Sunday 15 May:
The Tokyo Ballet rehearsal hall stretches out, a cavernous, black-flooredÂ luxury for dancers. Miyako Yoshida with her diminutive Japanese frame,Â partnered by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Robert Parker, looks especially smallÂ and well, fairylike, centered in that great space, surrounded byÂ considerably taller dancers. They are rehearsing the roles of Titania andÂ Bottom for Ashton’s The Dream. It is Sunday, and a special gala benefit toÂ aid Tsunami Relief has been added to the tour, meaning the first show willÂ now be in just two days.
Despite this potential stress, only occasional tendrils of tension permeateÂ the great hall. Yoshida’s face, concentrated but somehow relaxed, belies herÂ familiar determination to get things right, but also her comfort at dancingÂ with Birmingham Royal Ballet again. It is truly a homecoming for theÂ recently retired star of Royal Ballet. â€œI was so happy to see the companyâ€,Â Yoshida later explains, â€œespecially with what recently happened in Japan. IÂ was wondering if they could really come or not. But seeing them, it’s likeÂ I feel back home. It is strange, since I left the company in ’95, but I stillÂ feel so comfortable. They are such lovely people.â€
Although the feeling is the same, the principals have changed and Tuesday’s benefit concert marks the first time Yoshida will be partneredÂ by Robert Parker as Bottom and CÃ©sar Morales as Oberon. Morales flew toÂ Japan a few days earlier for extra practice, and YoshidaÂ was in Birmingham in March to rehearse with the company. Yoshida admits â€œIÂ do feel we should spend more time together rehearsing, the whole companyÂ together. It was a little crazy today, the run-through. I did not knowÂ where to go always with the rest of the dancers together, the staging is soÂ different. I have been rehearsing all by myself.â€
Yoshida thus brings up aÂ cultural difference between Japan and the ballet world of other countries:Â â€œEverything is on time in Japan, but rehearsals will go on forever. When IÂ went to England, I was so surprised, in the middle of the orchestraÂ rehearsal, the orchestra all left, because it was time to officially end.Â But I thought, wait, we have to finish rehearsal!â€ In Japan, rehearsals doÂ not end until everything has been practiced to the director’s satisfaction,Â regardless of promised end times.
Of Ashton ballets, Yoshida says: “I love Ashton. At the beginning, I found hisÂ choreography so difficult; it looks so easy, like nothing, but actuallyÂ trying to do it is nearly impossible. Stamina-wise, The Sleeping Beauty, forÂ example, is hard, but the dancing is simpler, all the classics are moreÂ straightforward. But Macmillan ballets and Ashton ballets are quite trickyÂ to learn, and to get the steps into your body; it takes a while to get used to.â€
Adjusting to life back in her native land after nearly 25 years away has notÂ been without a few cultural stumbles, but in her view the audiences share more similarities than differences: â€œWhen I performed myÂ last Cinderella for The Royal Ballet, people came up to me and said, ‘I haveÂ been watching you since your last school show.’ I felt like the support ofÂ this audience made me a ballerina. They waited a long time, they were veryÂ patient with me, and I think the British audience is why I could work thereÂ for such a long time. Of course, my colleagues and teachers and all those inÂ the dance world supported me, but the audiences have always been wonderful andÂ I will really miss them.â€
Yoshida also feels the support of the JapaneseÂ audience: â€œEvery time I come back, it is such aÂ welcome, a true welcome home, so both audiences have been supportive butÂ differently. The Japanese audiences are so quiet, but I can still feel it,Â you know, their warmth and energy.â€
The connection between Japan and the UK, linked by Yoshida, revealed itsÂ strength in the days following the March 11th tragedy. Yoshida was inÂ Birmingham rehearsing for this Japan Tour, and instantly mobilized fellowÂ dancers to participate in a Tsunami Charity Concert at The Royal OperaÂ House. Encouraged by her fellow dancers, Yoshida organized everything inÂ two days, calling The Royal Opera House herself to secure the space andÂ negotiate rehearsal time, inviting students from The Royal Academy of MusicÂ to join the benefit concert, confirming the dance participants. YoshidaÂ insists she had help every step of the way: â€œEveryone wanted to do somethingÂ to help. The day before, the pianist sent me a text message saying, ‘By theÂ way, do you need a pianist’. ButÂ everything was like that, people helping out so we could help Japan, and IÂ think it really showed how much people wanted to help.â€
Since returning home to Japan last summer after her retirement from TheÂ Royal Ballet, Yoshida has kept busy, dancing with The Mariinsky, Star Dancers Ballet in Japan, and now this tour with BRB. Upcoming plans include aÂ production of CoppÃ©lia in Japan, as well as an original piece to help BunkaÂ Kaikan, the main performing arts theatre in Tokyo, celebrate its 50thÂ anniversary in November. She also has an educational DVD on teachingÂ children ballet out later this month, and a photo-book coming out this year,Â showcasing her final performances in Japan and in London with The RoyalÂ Ballet.
Tuesday 17 May – Gala day:
When asked about tonight’s double bill, Yoshida explains â€œIt is an unusual program, to pick two Ashtons. They normally mix a doubleÂ bill with two different choreographers. I don’t know why they decided onÂ two Ashtons, but maybe David [Bintley] wanted to bring a really BritishÂ ballet to Japan. Even with the Royal Ballet, it is difficult to bring anÂ Ashton ballet because the Japanese audience likesÂ to see the classics, big narratives like The Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake. So I am pleased they could bring Daphnis and ChloÃ« and The Dream to Japan,Â because they are so British.”
AfterÂ hearing about the earthquake, students from the Elmhurst School for Dance made one thousand cranes in support. David Bintley introduced this story on stage,Â and then three students from Elmhurst presented the cranes to NBS’s Standing Director, Norio Takahashi.
The audience was touched, and Takahashi complimented BRB forÂ coming, despite the worries about the nuclear power plant, and how weÂ (Japan) could really feel their hearts. It was a lovely speech, and I wishÂ I were a better translator!
The gala was a great success, with the company collecting in excess of Â£10,000 for the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami relief fund. They sold pictures of the dancers for 300 yenÂ each. Booklets on Birmingham Royal Ballet signed by the companyÂ – rather underpriced at 5,000 yen – also sold out very quickly.
BRB’s fundraising efforts included an auction for a costume of Marion Tait as Titania. Principal dancers Chi Cao, Nao Sakuma and Iain Mackay were also present, assisting with the collections.
As for the performance, Miyako san was brilliant. I felt like a little girl again, to be so in aweÂ of a dancer (CÃ©sar, too, if I am completely honest. Wow!). Titaniaâ€™s leapÂ onto Bottomâ€™s back, which had required a few adjustments between Yoshida andÂ Parker during the rehearsal I attended, flowed beautifully. The audience reallyÂ appreciated all the comic touches and laughed in all the right places. TheÂ Dream was an absolute triumph. Daphnis and ChloÃ« was wonderful too. ItÂ was my first time seeing it, as I did not catch any of the rehearsals. The public was happy and the dancers amazing, but one could sense in the atmosphere that The Dream was what the crowds were waiting for, and it did not disappoint.
- Kris Kosaka’s recent interview with Miyako Yoshida for The Japan Times
- Check BRB’s Touring Blog for updates directly from the Company in Japan
- Gala report from Chacott’s Dance Cube
With thanks to The Ballet Bag & Birmingham Royal Ballet, especially Simon Harper, for being such a friendly and gracious company.Â Companies are still canceling their Japan Tours, unfortunately, but if only more could follow BRB’s example, the arts world in Tokyo will revive quicker.
About the Author:
Kris Kosaka lives in Kamakura, Japan.Â Kris writes frequently for Japan Times, and has also submitted to Ballet Magazine and The Opera Critic, two webzines on the arts.Â Anything she canâ€™t get accepted elsewhere, she posts to her blog, Across Cobwebs and Chasms.