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Joint performances of big 4 companies in Tokyo

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On March 2 and 4, the Tokyo Ballet Association comprised of 4 Tokyo-based ballet companies - Asami Maki Ballet, the Tokyo Ballet, Tokyo City ballet, and Star Dancers Ballet -- provided joint performance. It's an event irregularly held, and the last one was in 1997. It's a good chance for our audiences to see different companies on the same stage at one night.

There were 2 programs. I saw the program A which composed of four classical and neo-classical masterpieces (though I doubt the value of one of them ...)

The first piece was "Suit en Blance" (Lifar/Lalo) by the Tokyo Ballet. The Tokyo Ballet, I think, is the best known Japanese company in Japan and abroad; because it energetically tour around Japan as well as Europe. It's good at Bejart's works such as the Firebird, Bolero, and Le Sacre du Printemps but this time it chose Lifar's neo-classical ballet. The opening was welcomed with admiration. When curtains up, the audience breathed a sigh for beautiful composition by dancers in white tutus and tunics. The dancers generally did a good job. The most impressive was Ms. Yuko Arai danced the variation La Flute. She had brilliant charm as well as strong technique. Her perfectly controlled turns and developee were amazing. In coda she showed single- double combination fouette to the last, and that was perfect again. Among male dancers, one of the principals Mr. Kazuo Kimura was outstanding. He danced elegant and majestic Mazurka

The second one was "Chabrier Dance" (Petit/Chabrier) by Asami Maki Ballet. Asami Maki Ballet has had friendship with Roland Petit from 1997, and got several pieces in its repertory, such as Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, Notre-Dam de Paris, and L'arlesoenne. The relationship will lead to a brand new full-length ballet gDuke Ellington Ballet" in August. Well, let's back to the performance. "Chabrier Dance" was a leotard ballet Petit choreographed to Sadlers Wells Ballet in 1950. I thought it was pretty but not much more. The leading role was one of the youngest principals in the company Ms. Mizuka Ueno. Petit picked up her among the corps when the company premiered "Chabrier Dance" in 1999. This young leggy ballerina has extraordinary extension like Guillem and the ability was appealed enough in some contortioned pauses - but, to tell the truth, I don't care for her showy performance. Mr. Naoya Kojima as a second male principal showed special virtuosity and favorable humor in every moment. He is a principal with double nationality in Asami Maki Ballet and the New National Theater of Tokyo. Someone might have heard his name because he danced in ABT as a soloist about five years ago (though just for a season). Although I have regarded him as a boring technician for a long time, he seems to be quite well in these days.

After 20 minutes intermission, Tokyo City Ballet performed "Coppelia" Act 3. Tokyo City Ballet, I think, is the youngest (33 years old) but most orthodox company. Most of its repertory is popular classics revised by in-house ballet masters/mistresses. Honestly, the level of dancers is slightly lower than other three companies, but I still favor their sincerity and warm atmosphere. Ms. Ikue Shiga as Swanilda was very charming. She wasn't a type of strong characteristics, but I adored her cheerful and beautifully controlled movements.

The evening ended with "Western Symphony" (Balanchine/Kay) by Star Dancers Ballet -- my favorites smile.gif Star Dancers Ballet has wide repertories from classic to modern, and its peculiar repertory is American ballet such as Balanchine, Robbins, and Tudor. "Western" coached by Melissa Hayden is one of the most applauded repertory. The leading couple in the first movement, a short dynamo-ballerina Ms. Hiroko Kohira and a guest artist Mr. Ben Huys, was really excellent. I'd already known Ms. Kohira's strong technique and musicality, but I struck once more. Her jump was surprising -- she seemed never falling to stage! Ms. Aya Atsugi and Mr. Tomohiro Nitta in the third movement were fine, too. It was a debut for Ms. Atsugi in a principal role (she joined the company three years ago) and she proved she deserved it. This tall, beautiful ballerina hopped around vigorously as if she never got tired. Her continuous entrechat was far better than those some poor male dancers did in the evening. It was pity that the second and forth movement were a little bit weaker than above two, but I totally enjoyed this gorgeous entertaining ballet.

I hope the Tokyo Ballet Association will continue the joint stage in the future. I would be happy if I could see "Symphony in C" starring four principal couples from four companies. How it'd be nice!

[This message has been edited by TATSU (edited March 06, 2001).]

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Thank you for that review, TATSU. It's great to know what's going on around the world and to learn about dancers that most of us have not had a chance to see.

I have a question for you. I've heard that ballet audiences in Japan are, as a friend put it, "99% female." Is that your observation? If so, is the stigma of men going into ballet even worse than it is in America and much of Europe?

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Alexandra, it isn't an exaggeration. At least 90% of ballet audiences in Japan are female, and I'm female, too. I think there are mainly three reasons for overwhelming of female audiences.

First, the public tendency to think ballet is for women and children or high society -- the biggest but ridiculous reason, IMO. Second, there is no tradition of escorting their wives to a theater. Third, most of ballet performances start too early; it starts from 18:30 on weekday. It's hard to go after finishing office work at 17:30 or 18:00 (indeed, I'm always struggling.)

It's pity that so many people get away from ballet without trying. However, conditions have been changing since Tetsuya Kumakawa, ex-principal of Royal Ballet, returned to Japan with his company. Yet I'm not his fan, I admit his contribution to spreading ballet fans to young and old, men and women.

[This message has been edited by TATSU (edited March 07, 2001).]

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TATSU, thank you for your very interesting analysis. I was especially interested in the comment that Japanese men are not accustomed to escorting their wives to the theater. This is a bit of a diversion, but does that mean that women were historically NOT part of the audience for Japanese traditional theater (Noh)?

(p.s., I'm not a fan of Tetsuya Kumakawa either, but if he's helping to make ballet more popular, well, I guess that's good smile.gif )

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I'm not sure the historical ratio of men and women in audiences for Japanese traditional performances (such as Noh and Kabuki). I can say, however, the audiences for those perfomances today are predominantly female. I think the tendency, more or less, has been kept from hundreds years ago.

I wrote in the previous post, "there is no tradition of escorting their wives." It means, most of Japanese don't think that husbands should bring their wives to the party, theater, or other public occasion. And it doesn't mean HUSBANDS won't take their wives out: sometimes (or often?) WIVES won't take their husbands out. When going to the theater, wives generally choose their friends as companions, not their husbands. Maybe they want to devote themselves to dreamy performances rather than take care for their ordinary husbands -- well, it's just my imagination smile.gif.

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Tatsu, good point, and it may well be true and not only your imagination. Actually most of the Japanese ballet fans that I see in the Opera Garnier in Paris and in Covent Garden are female. In 1998, I was told that 300 Japanese fans flew to Hong Kong to follow Tetsuya Kumakawa's guest performances in Nutcracker. And last autumn, I got to know a very elegantly dressed Japanese fan who flew here specially to watch the ABT's tour. She knew most of the principals including Angel Corella, Irina Dvorovenko etc.

One observation I have on Japanese ballet-goers is that they are extremely well dressed. I remember that in the Opera Garnier on New Year's Eve last year, a number of Japanese were dressed in traditional kimonos.

[This message has been edited by Kevin Ng (edited March 14, 2001).]

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Guest Nakako

I also enjoyed the performance.(And I am female too, but not so well dressed. wink.gif)

I would be happy if I could see "Symphony in C" starring four principal couples from four companies. How it'd be nice!

What an attractive idea! I am eager to see!

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I attended this 4 company show too, on March 2.

To tell the truth, I did not enjoy it very much. The new star Ueno Mizuka was just a disappointment for me. She has long limbs and high leg extension and pretty strong body ability, but danced in a way rather athletic than artistic for me.

I went to NHK Hall to see K ballet on March4 too. The performance was quite enjoyable but I did not know why the Japanese fans prefer Tetsuya Kumakawa to Adam Cooper. Yes, Kuwakawa has wonderful technique, but itfs not sports. I think Adam Cooper (in "Afternoon of a Faun" ) was much better in artistic presentation.

I do not like the way the company set the ticket price (the cheapest ticket was nearly $90 and even the program pamphlet cost nearly $30!) either.

I guess Tetsuya is taken in Japan more as an (so called) idol than a dancer.

BTW, I saw New Swan Lake by Matsuyama Ballet on March 10. Morishita Yoko was still very nice in her age of 53. I like her very much and take her as Asian Ulanova.

[This message has been edited by Hu Xinxin (edited March 14, 2001).]

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Xinxin, will you still be in Japan in April to see the English National Ballet's Swan Lake? I heard that Kumakawa will dance half of the performances.

I did see Yoko Morishita once in the 1980s in London when she danced with Nureyev in Giselle in the Nureyev Festival at the Coliseum.

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XinXin, Ifm little bit pity you donft enjoy it. I, however, totally agree to your negative impressions of UENO Mizuka. She has much more reputation than she deserves. Audiences say WOOOW when she kicks her leg sky-high, but the admiration is only to her physical ability not her artistic talent. I donft know why the company cast her in big roles. Her Odette I saw last year was just awful...

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Dear TATSU San:

UENO Mizuka. She has much more reputation than she deserves.


Dear Kevin San:

Unfortunately, I am planning to fly back to Beijing on April 2 after seeing Zhang Yimo`s opera production of Turandot (Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, with Zubin Mehta conducting) on March 30 and another opera performance on April 1. So I can not attend ENB performances.

I think ENB will give 3 performances at the international Forum A Hall. It is a very large hall with 5000 seats. Tickets are quite expensive, for the performances with Kuwakawa (on April 21 and 22) will range between 6000-17000 Yen, and 3500-13000 Yen without Kuwakawa (22 matinee).

[This message has been edited by Hu Xinxin (edited March 15, 2001).]

[This message has been edited by Hu Xinxin (edited March 15, 2001).]

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Xinxin, it's interesting to hear from you that English National Ballet (ENB) has two ticketing categories in Japan, depending on whether Tetsuya Kumakawa will dance. I think he will dance with Monica Perego. I also heard that ENB's usual guest stars Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks won't join the company in Japan, since most of the performances will go to Kumakawa.

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