July ended with a real treat for all those who attended one-of-a-kind performances at Fukuoka’s ACROS Symphony Hall and Kitakyushu’s Performing Arts Centre. World-class ballet dancers from companies such as England’s Royal Ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the State Ballet of Georgia and the Dutch National Ballet, and a Guest Principal from Japan’s K-Ballet Company took to the stage as part of the Fukuoka International Ballet Festival (FIBF). They entertained and amazed the audience with their pas de deux and solo routines. Read on to discover the many breathtaking highlights from a magical evening of dance.
The Tenjin performance opened with a piece by students from Minokami Mayumi Ballet Studio and Sakamoto Ballet Studio, with girls as young as 3 years old performing in white tutus and crystal tiaras; they captured the hearts of the audience. All dancers performed impeccably and the littlest (very cute!) ballerinas were a particular hit with all those watching.
The program was very well put-together with modern and classical pieces intertwined, surprising and delighting the audience in equal measure. Organisers Frank van Tongeren and Machi Muto decided to open and close with classical pieces but showcase more modern works in between. The aim was to show the audience the depth and breadth of ‘ballet’; the world of dance is vast with much to explore and enjoy and the pair wanted the eye-opening lineup to engender further interest and respect for new, contemporary creations, as well as affirm a love for traditional work.
A grand pas de deux is the highlight of any ballet; a sequence of performances by the two main protagonists in the ballet, first dancing together, then solo, and then ending together again. The grand pas de deux is lively, passionate and highly enjoyable. Machi Muto and Frank van Tongeren closed the first act with a pas de deux from popular ballet “Coppélia”. The couple’s off-stage relationship could be seen through their tender, charming on-stage performance, which was met with rousing applause from the audience.
A beautiful performance from wonderful organisers Machi Muto and Frank van Tongeren closes the first act. Their hard work is part of what made this festival such a success.
Frank also performed the final solo of the ballet ‘La Strada’ which combined video-imaging and dance. The piece was choreographed by Italian choreographer Gianluca Schiavoni and the ballet was inspired by the film of the same name. The performance made intriguing use of video footage; a video clip was played and as it drew to a close and Frank began his performance, it was clear he was embodying the distressed male character we had just seen in the video clip. This piece, in which he wore very casual clothing as though he could be any passer-by in the street, consisted of many leaps and rolls as the protagonist appeared to grapple with a kind of emotional struggle.
The event attracted a varied audience: young ballerinas thrilled at the chance to see such great talent from Japan and around the world, friends and family who jumped at the chance to see their loved ones perform professionally so close to home, ballet enthusiasts and first-time viewers.
Perhaps the most unique element of this festival was its strong, deep-rooted connection with Fukuoka. Dancers and choreographers who originate from the prefecture all showcased work over the two performances in Tenjin and Kitakyushu.
Two of the three brand new contemporary pieces which were created especially for the FIBF and debuted at the opening night of the festival were performed or choreographed by a native of Fukuoka. These performances challenged the audience’s preconception of what “ballet” means and involves.
The first contemporary performance of the evening was ‘Die Verlorene Seele,’ a solo danced by Damien Nazabal and choreographed by Fukuoka born Yuka Kawaza. Dressed in suit trousers and jacket (which was removed as part of the performance), his routine displayed flexibility and grace as he covered the vast stage with a very unique vocabulary of movement.
The second new creation was ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’ danced by Riho Sakamoto and Matthew Pawlicki-Sinclair and choreographed by British choreographer Peter Leung.
This performance surprised the audience as it consisted of an introduction and finale without music. The unsuspecting audience were at first unaware that the next piece had begun as Riho and Matthew emerged silently on to the stage. Soon, however, hush fell amongst those watching and the audience was transfixed by the dancers’ movements in a thought-provoking and very unique piece.
The second act opened with the third of the three, never-before-seen pieces of choreography.
This piece, entitled ‘Different Futures,’ was danced by Miharu Maki, a native of Fukuoka, and Douwe Dekkers. It was choreographed by Kaloyan Boyadjiev and was a piece that Miharu was really excited to perform as she really loves being kept, quite literally, on her toes by the challenges and unknowns of modern choreography. The piece had a muted, urban feel to it. It was a very moving performance, evoking a feeling of longing and heartbreak. The choreography juxtaposed closeness and distance as the pair’s impulsive and tender movements spread to every corner of the stage. (Read our interview with Miharu Maki here.)
The festival was a wonderful blend of the contemporary and the traditional. For those who love quirky, modern work Rie Aoyagi’s passionate performance was particularly notable; she performed her stirring and emotional solo ‘Ne me quitte pas’ (‘Don’t leave me’) in an ethereal jumpsuit in a routine which saw classic ballet movements combined with more gymnastic-esque ones.
Top Japanese ballet star Shoko Nakamura performed a pas de deux, a fusion of classical and more modern work, which was a real treat for the Japanese members of the audience especially. Together with her partner Yusuke Osozawa, Shoko Nakamura performed a pas de deux from a ballet called ‘Promenade Sentimentale,’ choreographer by Liam Scarlett. Waiting for the second act to commence, many were eagerly anticipating Shoko Nakamura’s performance; she is particularly renowned for her attention to detail and delicacy, as she appears to float across the stage.
Another Fukuoka-born dancer to perform at the festival was Nao Sakuma. Together with her partner Yasuo Atsuji she performed the pas de deux from ‘The Two Pigeons,’ choreographed by Frederik Ashton, who is considered one of the greatest choreographers, with a very high reputation in Britain especially. The pair also performed a second piece, the Grand pas de deux from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ a piece choreographed by another esteemed choreographer, Kenneth MacMillan.
Internationally acclaimed dancer Yoel Carreño and partner Sonia Vinograd closed the evening. Yoel was originally set to perform with a different partner, but she had to pull-out due to injury. Yoel thus suggested 20 year-old Sonia Vinograd, a very talented dancer who performs with a maturity beyond her years, as a suitable replacement.
The pair closed the gala with ‘Diana and Acteon,’ a very striking piece. Classical pas de deux are very popular with a Japanese audience and ending with such a spectacular, traditional piece as this led to rapturous applause and numerous curtain calls.
The sheer variety of performances offered and the dancers’ skill made the evening a truly memorable and eye-opening one; here’s to the next FIBF!
Text: Hannah Smith, for Fukuoka Now