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Japanese Ballet Dancers Pirouette into the World (December 3, 2004)

The three Japanese prizewinners at the Prix de Lausanne, including Nieda Moe (center) (Jiji)
As the physiques of Japanese people Westernize, Japanese ballet dancers are rising up the ranks of top ballet companies of the world as principals and soloists. In addition to the improved physiques of contemporary Japanese, the diligence for which the Japanese are known has also been noted as a factor behind the success of these dancers in a world that demands steady effort.

Dancing Larger Than Life
For close to 10 years Yoshida Miyako has been in the coveted position of principal at the prestigious British Royal Ballet, where top dancers are gathered from around the world. Though only 159 centimeters tall Yoshida appears much taller on the stage, and she has been hailed for her fine and elegant dancing style as the "crown jewel of British ballet." Techniques to make her look larger than life are indispensable to the petite prima ballerina. In her daily lessons Yoshida makes microadjustments to the height of her raised leg in search of the position that makes her look the most graceful and sleek.

Other Japanese principals at ballet theaters overseas include Takahashi Hironao of the Northern Ballet Theatre in Britain and Saito Aki at the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium. Nakamura Shoko is a soloist at the Ballet Ensemble of the Vienna State Opera in Austria, and she became the first Japanese to dance the lead role of Swan Lake at the opera house. While dancing as a principal for the Dutch National Ballet, Takeshima Yumiko also owns a company that produces dancewear that she has designed.

Perhaps the best-known Japanese ballet dancer is Kumakawa Tetsuya, who has gone from a principal of the British Royal Ballet to the founder of his own ballet company. In July 2004 his K-Ballet Company became the first ballet troupe from Japan to appear at the Met. At the performance, which marked its US debut, the company presented Rhapsody, one of the major works of choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton. A review in the New York Times wrote that Kumakawa executed "unimaginable steps in the air."

Meanwhile the Tokyo Ballet, of which Ueno Mizuka is a principal, toured four countries in Europe in 2004. Ueno danced the lead role in Don Quixote and the solo part in Bolero and was praised by a Belgian newspaper as an excellent ballerina who dances with both grace and precision.

Diligence and Mental Strength
Japanese dancers regularly win prizes at the Prix de Lausanne, a major international ballet competition that is held every year in Switzerland. In fact, many of the dancers named above have received one prize or another at the competition. In 2004 there were three Japanese winners, including 15-year-old Nieda Moe, who won a Prix de Lausanne Scholarship. The award is equivalent to second place and offers the opportunity to study at a world-class ballet school abroad for one year at no cost to the winner. Nieda is currently training at the Royal Ballet School in London.

The Japanese physique, typically characterized by longer torsos and shorter legs than Westerners, was once considered unsuited to ballet. But over the decades this has changed, and today's young Japanese have longer limbs and higher waists. This endows these dancers with the ability to perform ballet with more expression and flair.

More importantly, though, the characteristic diligence of the Japanese is seen to be an important factor in the emergence of Japanese dancers on the international ballet scene. Surviving in the world of ballet requires an enormous amount of daily effort and training, so much so that ballet can be said to start and end with the basics. Also, those who overcome the language barrier and live comfortably overseas all share a mental toughness. Japanese ballet dancers performing internationally are undoubtedly contributing to the better understanding and appreciation of Japan and its people around the world.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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