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 Chloë.
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-floored luxury for dancers. Miyako Yoshida with her diminutive Japanese frame, partnered by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Robert Parker, looks especially small and well, fairylike, centered in that great space, surrounded by considerably taller dancers. They are rehearsing the roles of Titania and Bottom for Ashton’s The Dream. It is Sunday, and a special gala benefit to aid Tsunami Relief has been added to the tour, meaning the first show will now be in just two days.
Despite this potential stress, only occasional tendrils of tension permeate the great hall. Yoshida’s face, concentrated but somehow relaxed, belies her familiar determination to get things right, but also her comfort at dancing with Birmingham Royal Ballet again. It is truly a homecoming for the recently retired star of Royal Ballet. “I was so happy to see the company”, Yoshida later explains, “especially with what recently happened in Japan. I was wondering if they could really come or not. But seeing them, it’s like I feel back home. It is strange, since I left the company in ’95, but I still feel so comfortable. They are such lovely people.”
Although the feeling is the same, the principals have changed and Tuesday’s benefit concert marks the first time Yoshida will be partnered by Robert Parker as Bottom and César Morales as Oberon. Morales flew to Japan a few days earlier for extra practice, and Yoshida was in Birmingham in March to rehearse with the company. Yoshida admits “I do feel we should spend more time together rehearsing, the whole company together. It was a little crazy today, the run-through. I did not know where to go always with the rest of the dancers together, the staging is so different. I have been rehearsing all by myself.”
Yoshida thus brings up a cultural difference between Japan and the ballet world of other countries: “Everything is on time in Japan, but rehearsals will go on forever. When I went to England, I was so surprised, in the middle of the orchestra rehearsal, the orchestra all left, because it was time to officially end. But I thought, wait, we have to finish rehearsal!” In Japan, rehearsals do not end until everything has been practiced to the director’s satisfaction, regardless of promised end times.
Of Ashton ballets, Yoshida says: “I love Ashton. At the beginning, I found his choreography so difficult; it looks so easy, like nothing, but actually trying to do it is nearly impossible. Stamina-wise, The Sleeping Beauty, for example, is hard, but the dancing is simpler, all the classics are more straightforward. But Macmillan ballets and Ashton ballets are quite tricky to learn, and to get the steps into your body; it takes a while to get used to.”
Adjusting to life back in her native land after nearly 25 years away has not been without a few cultural stumbles, but in her view the audiences share more similarities than differences: “When I performed my last Cinderella for The Royal Ballet, people came up to me and said, ‘I have been watching you since your last school show.’ I felt like the support of this audience made me a ballerina. They waited a long time, they were very patient with me, and I think the British audience is why I could work there for such a long time. Of course, my colleagues and teachers and all those in the dance world supported me, but the audiences have always been wonderful and I will really miss them.”
Yoshida also feels the support of the Japanese audience: “Every time I come back, it is such a welcome, a true welcome home, so both audiences have been supportive but differently. The Japanese audiences are so quiet, but I can still feel it, you know, their warmth and energy.”
The connection between Japan and the UK, linked by Yoshida, revealed its strength in the days following the March 11th tragedy. Yoshida was in Birmingham rehearsing for this Japan Tour, and instantly mobilized fellow dancers to participate in a Tsunami Charity Concert at The Royal Opera House. Encouraged by her fellow dancers, Yoshida organized everything in two days, calling The Royal Opera House herself to secure the space and negotiate rehearsal time, inviting students from The Royal Academy of Music to join the benefit concert, confirming the dance participants. Yoshida insists she had help every step of the way: “Everyone wanted to do something to help. The day before, the pianist sent me a text message saying, ‘By the way, do you need a pianist’. But everything was like that, people helping out so we could help Japan, and I think it really showed how much people wanted to help.”
Since returning home to Japan last summer after her retirement from The Royal Ballet, Yoshida has kept busy, dancing with The Mariinsky, Star Dancers Ballet in Japan, and now this tour with BRB. Upcoming plans include a production of Coppélia in Japan, as well as an original piece to help Bunka Kaikan, the main performing arts theatre in Tokyo, celebrate its 50th anniversary in November. She also has an educational DVD on teaching children ballet out later this month, and a photo-book coming out this year, showcasing her final performances in Japan and in London with The Royal Ballet.
Tuesday 17 May – Gala day:
When asked about tonight’s double bill, Yoshida explains “It is an unusual program, to pick two Ashtons. They normally mix a double bill with two different choreographers. I don’t know why they decided on two Ashtons, but maybe David [Bintley] wanted to bring a really British ballet to Japan. Even with the Royal Ballet, it is difficult to bring an Ashton ballet because the Japanese audience likes to see the classics, big narratives like The Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake. So I am pleased they could bring Daphnis and Chloë and The Dream to Japan, because they are so British.”
After hearing about the earthquake, students from the Elmhurst School for Dance made one thousand cranes in support. David Bintley introduced this story on stage, and then three students from Elmhurst presented the cranes to NBS’s Standing Director, Norio Takahashi.
The audience was touched, and Takahashi complimented BRB for coming, despite the worries about the nuclear power plant, and how we (Japan) could really feel their hearts. It was a lovely speech, and I wish I were a better translator!
The gala was a great success, with the company collecting in excess of £10,000 for the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami relief fund. They sold pictures of the dancers for 300 yen each. Booklets on Birmingham Royal Ballet signed by the company – 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 awe of a dancer (César, too, if I am completely honest. Wow!). Titania’s leap onto Bottom’s back, which had required a few adjustments between Yoshida and Parker during the rehearsal I attended, flowed beautifully. The audience really appreciated all the comic touches and laughed in all the right places. The Dream was an absolute triumph. Daphnis and Chloë was wonderful too. It 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. 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. Kris writes frequently for Japan Times, and has also submitted to Ballet Magazine and The Opera Critic, two webzines on the arts. Anything she can’t get accepted elsewhere, she posts to her blog, Across Cobwebs and Chasms.