Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

NNTBallet of Tokyo in DC, 2/15-17'08


Recommended Posts

One of Japan's top -- and youngest -- classical dance troupes is making it's international debut right here in Washington, DC, this weekend. Welcome to the New National Theater Ballet of Tokyo, whose academy's students participated in the Kennedy Center's initial Proteges program two years ago. The promise of an excellent group of students has blossomed into a first-class professional troupe.

I'll get this topic started with some announcements on the Raymonda castings, which were included in the Playbill for last night's mixed bill. Two shockers: (1) the troupe's long-time 'prima,' Hana Sakai, will not be dancing in this run. This saddens me, as I very much admired her artistry (and amazing feet) when I saw her dance Euridice last March in Tokyo, although tonight's first-cast Raymonda, Hiromi Terashima, has the longest, most incredible lines of all; and (2) ex-Bolshoi (now StPetersburg Mikhailovsky Ballet) star Denis Matvienko will dance Jean de Briene in BOTH performances -- partnering Terashima in tonight's opener and young Miwa Motojima tomorrow afternoon. A third surprise is the absence of two of the troupe's principal men: Tomohiko Henmi, Terashima's usual partner back home, and Akimitsu Yahata. Perhaps this explains the sudden appearance of Matvienko, who is a regular guest with the troupe in Tokyo? Yet...their #1 male star & Hana Sakai's main partner, Ryuji Yamamoto, *is* here in DC & danced leading roles in two of last night's short ballets...but perhaps he is not being cast as Jean de Briene because Sakai is not here? Very odd.

Now back to last night's opener. It was an evening of high-quality, beautiful dancing, if a bit 'lightweight' in the second half. [The evening began at 7:30 and ended before 9:30, including one longish intermission.]

Balanchine's 'Serenade' began the program. The NNTB corps acquitted themselves beautifully if a tad carefully. The soloists were lovely and lyrical. My only complaint is that, having seen this masterpiece of a ballet performed so often by multiple troupes, I could tell when steps were not quite what they should have been, such as the lack of a true 'arc' in the circular manege of springy jetes around the stage by one of the female soloists; she did not make any attempt to create an arc and land each jete on the beat of the music...that sort of thing throughout. Nevertheless, it was a fine first impression.

Following the lone intermission, we were treated to company director Asami Maki's short work for 20 dancers, "And Waltz," set to Ravel's Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (which comprise most of the music of Balanchine's La Valse...everything minus the closing 'La Valse' work in Balanchine's ballet). This is a lovely soft mood-ballet for a series of couples, soloists and mini-ensembles, capturing the many hues of love. The females dance on pointe, in chiffony chemises, mostly light beige with thick colored stripe on the side -- a different color for each lady and her partner; the men in matching 'blousy' shirts and tights. One female soloist is in all-pale colors while the other is in a long dark chemise -- perhaps representing the positive and negative sides of one woman's character? [These two female soloists both begin and end the ballet alone on the dark stage with spotlights.] Kudos to all dancers but I particularly admired the eloquent, ribbon-like arms and dreamy 'plastique' of Mia Atsugi in the "Assez Anime" solo.

After a brief pause came Nacho Duato's well-known work to Debussy melodies, Duende ('Elf' in Spanish..and the dancers, in dark green outfits, indeed looked like elves). Here the NNT Ballet troupe showed that it is equally as comfortable doing modern as they are with the classical cannon. They moved in and out of Duato's magical shapes with ease and a gracious lightness. The final upside-down pose by a lady, quickly lifted by her partner & 'frozen' into position, was a beauty!

A lovely evening but one that was just too brief for me and for other enthusiastic members of a somewhat-sparse audience (in the balconies...orchestra seemed full). No doubt that we'll see a much longer & meatier program with Raymonda!

Link to comment

It was indeed a lovely evening. The dancers are beautifully trained with wonderful physiques for ballet, and they all have very secure technique. Their short preparations for surprisingly calm and consistent pirouettes were a standout, as well as their remarkably clean petit allegro and light jumps with silent landings. One criticism is that in Serenade and And Waltz, they looked to me like very well-rehearsed students at an end-of-year concert--dancing beautifully but a bit nervously and without much emotion. They appeared to relax in Duende, which was for me the most enjoyable piece of the evening. I look forward to reading reviews of "Raymonda."

Link to comment

New National "Theater Ballet of Tokyo

RAYMONDA - Asami Maki, after M. Petipa (and, though uncredited, bits of K. Sergeyev & R. Nureyev)

Saturday, February 17, 2008

Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

(main dancing cast)

Raymonda - Hiromi Terashima

Jean de Brienne - Denis Matvyenko (guest from St. Petersburg Mikhailovsky Theater Ballet...Ruzimatov's troupe)

Abderakhman - Kentaro Morita

Clemence - Yuko Nishiyama (replacing Kumiko Matada)

Henriette - Maki Kawamura

Bernard - Makoto Nakamura

Beranger - Maylen Tleubaev

Dream Variation 1 - Miho Saito

Dream Variation 2 - Ayako Ono (also amazingly danced in the corps just before catching breath & coming out to do a solo, in place of an indisposed dancer)

Act 3 Male Classical Pas de 4 - Maylen Tleubaev, Taku Emoto, Yuki Tomikawa & Makoto Nakamura

Act 3 Famale Classical Pas de 3 - Maki Kawamura, Mayumi Terashima & Mia Atsugi

Act 3 Female Classical solo - Yuko Nishiyama


The long-awaited return of the full-length Raymonda to the Kennedy Center happened last night. It was sweet with cotton-candy colors, it somewhat resembled the St. Petersburg-Kirov version, it included a beautifully drilled corps de ballet, it (sadly) had serious deficiencies in most of the soloist performances, not the least of which was a surprisingly sloppy -- no other word for it -- Jean de Brienne by the highly-touted Denis Matvienko.

As Raymonda, Hiromi Terashima delighted for her sheer physical beauty, long elegant lines, charming nuances and musicality and, finally, for the stamina displayed in getting through this most taxing of classical female roles with its seven solos & multiple pas de deuxs (in this version with extra duos with Jean de Brienne)...but she struggled, often giving up on holding up the back leg in full arabesque.

Matvienko, as I said, was a mess, especially from the waist up, including an inflexible back in arabesque, making him tilt the torso forward. He reminded me of Igor Zelensky at age 35...but Matvienko is much younger! True, for his solo in Act 3, he loaded up the fire-power and delivered some high cabrioles and a fine circle of jetes and double tours but without the elegant ease that one has come to expect from top male stars in the 21st century.

As Abderakhman, Kentaro Morita seemed out of shape, especially evident in the Act 2 jazzy solo that should be credited to Rudolf Nureyev, as it includes many moves from a solo to similar music that is danced by the Paris Opera Ballet's Abderakhmans! It is a shame that the NNTB's first-cast Abderakhman back in Tokyo -- its leading male star, Ryuji Yamamoto, of the sleek long lines -- could not be cast here in DC.

Relief from all of this came in the form of some of the female solos and demisolos, most notably the Dream Scene's second variation performer, Ayako Ono, who was deliciously musical and spot-on. Also, kudos to the four Male Classical Quartet performers in the final act, who absolutely wowed the appreciative audience.

Asami Maki changed the text of the ballet considerably from the various versions out there -- and I have seen, many times, the Kirov's (by K. Sergeyev after Petipa), Bolshoi's (Grigorovich) and POB's (Nureyev, with many additions, especially Abderakhman's choreography). Maki seems to take the best bits and pieces from all of these versions, coat them in sorbet colors, add more dancing for the female corps.

Most additions -- such as the extra female corps segment that precedes the usual female-corps start of the dream scene -- are quite lovely and inoffensive. However, the mutilation that she has performed on the Act 2 Classical Pas de Six (my personal favorite section of any Raymonda...an extended classical pas for Raymonda/Abderakhman and the two 'friends couples,' Clemence/Bernard and Henriette/Beranger) is unpardonable. Gone are the delectable solos for Clemence and Henriette, as well as the Male Duo for Bernard & Beranger. The segment begins with Raymonda's solo, then fast-forwards to the usual coda, then ends with the opening adagio. Huh?????

Another offense, IMO: the removal of the 'edge' in the whole Abderakhman (Muslim) vs Jean (Christian Crusader) mofif. Raymonda's Act 1 Dream is now all about Mr. Clean - Jean de Brienne. There is no Abderakhman 'Rape of Raymonda' segment as in the original Petipa and in all versions subsequent! The sexual edge is totally gone. The NNTB version is all about powder-blue twinkle toes.

Happily, Act 3 is pretty much untouched -- just was not very well danced, except for the moments that I pointed out above. Maki has added a new pas de deux-adagio for the leading couple in the middle of the Grand Pas Classique Hongroise, presumably to make the scene 'fit' with audiences, expectations that every Big Petipa Wedding Scene include a pas de deux with adagio, male & female solos and coda?

Still, it's a joy to see this fine up-and-coming ballet troupe, which has so much potential.

Now, more than ever, I long for the Kennedy Center to present the Kirov-Mariinsky's definitive, uncut, Raymonda during next season. We have to see it here, in full, at last!

Link to comment

I saw the Sunday matinee. Believe it or not, this was my first Raymonda, even though I've been going to ballet for - well let's just say quite a few years. Since I didn't know that ballet, I was not looking critically, just sat back and enjoyed and tried to figure out that complicated plot :yucky:

Cast changes from Sat. were: Miwa Motojima as Raymonda, with subs Yuko Nishiyama for Matada Kumiko (Clemens), Ayako Ono for Yuko Nishiyama (Waltz), and Miho Saito for Matada Kumiko (Grand Pas Classique).

My overall impression of the company was that they danced delicately and perhaps over-carefully; that goes for all - soloists, demis, and corps. At least their joints aren't likely to suffer from the hyperextensions that we are seeing lately in other companies. I liked Motojima from her first (scrimmed) entrance; to me there was something winning and genuine about her performance. Technically I think she has ankles of steel, and sitting up close I saw some very nice foot- and leg-work. She sometimes (not often) leaned slightly in pirouette, corrected in several landings, didn't take chances, and won me over with her combination of artistry and "heart" (shin, genuineness).

Denys Matviyenko ("y" spelling in "Denys" from the KC program) pretty much nailed his solos, but during a couple of the more difficult lifts I swear I thought he was going to drop her! Sweaty hands? I dunno. Fortunately he and Miwa were both skillful enough to recover gracefully; I'm not sure if most of the audience even noticed.

The woman's entrance in the Act II Spanish Dance was awkward, and there was a timing problem with one of the four male dancers in the Act III Classical Quartet.

All praise to the corps - they were really together, not only technically but emotively; come to think of it, in my opinion the corps from various companies visiting DC this year are _much_ stronger than corps, from the same companies, in the past. What do you all think? And if it's true, why?

One thing I felt throughout was the emotional connection of the characters to each other - For example, in Act II Abderachman vs. Raymonda and her protective demis. It seemed really real, and I hope it projected up to the farther seats as well as it did up close.

Summing up, lots of artistry and heart from this company. I'd like to know how they managed to train themselves up to international standard in so few years. (PS - conducting the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra was Ormsby Wilkins, the new ABT Music Director. It's a small world!)

Link to comment

Yesterday's matinee was an altogether much more satisfying experience for me. For starters, I sat in center-orchestra, rather than uppermost-level-sides, allowing me to fully appreciate the gorgeous scenery (painted canvas for each scene, at the back of the stage) and front curtain reminiscent of the French-Medieval illustrated manuscript, les Tres Riches Heures du Berry.

Raymonda was danced by Miwa Motijima -- a stronger technician, if lacking the gorgeous physique of Terashima on Saturday (Motojima very beautiful in her own way but a more petite presence). Motojima was not perfect in her initial variations but by the time Act 3 rolled around, she was totally In the Zone...her Clapping Variation was spot-on - one of the finest I've ever seen.

Ayako Ono once again 'took the cake' as the most brilliant soloist in her 2nd Dream Variation at the end of Act I. WOW! I'd love to see her in a full ballet some day.

The corps of ladies was particularly exquisite in the Dream Scene's 'Valse Fantastique,' receiving applause in the middle of an especially-impressive sequence of fast pique turns, performed in a big circle.

Ah..but sitting up close has its drawbacks, too. Matvienko. I could see his drops of sweat and knawing of teeth even better from the 6th row. Still sloppy and with the same weak carriage of torso as before. However, I'll grant him two -- make that three -- kudos: (1) nice soft, endless pirouettes; (2) excellent lifting capability (especially with the petite Motojima); and (3) a spectacular enchainement during the coda of the Grand Pas Hongroise, reminding me of his competition glory-days. Maybe it's just my 'thing,' but I can't stand obviously-faked smiles. There was zero raport between him and his ballerina. Sorry but Matvienko should stick to 'Radio and Juliet' at endless galas instead of full-length classics.

The cuts and reshuffling of segments bothered me less at this second viewing. I was mentally prepared for them.

A much-deserved standing ovation and 'bravos' for this lovely company and its founder, Asami Maki, at the end of the show. Domo Arigato! :yucky:

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...