Yuhui Choe and Nehemiah Kish are fresh from The Royal Ballet’s Japan tour, a four week stint dancing in some of Japan’s biggest cities. As they walk into the lobby of the hotel where they are staying ahead of their appearance at the inaugural Fukuoka International Ballet Festival (FIBF) in Kitakyushu, they ooze elegance and grace. Speaking to Fukuoka Now before their upcoming performance on 28th July, they tell us “ballet is not just about pink tutus.”
Yuhui is a native of Kitakyushu where she first became interested in ballet as a child; her mother asked her what she would like to learn and she replied “dance”. She vividly remembers the first time she watched a ballet and was determined to succeed in the profession, knowing exactly what she wanted. Her passion and dedication are clear and, obsessed with the Paris Opera Ballet since a very early age, it is no surprise that at the age of 14 she realised her dream of learning ballet in Paris, where she studied privately for three years. Hard working and incredibly talented, at the age of 17 Yuhui won the prestigious Prix de Lausanne and entered the Royal Ballet just shy of 18 to undertake an apprenticeship with the company. 13 years later she is still with the company, performing at London’s Royal Opera House and touring the world as a first soloist.
Her partner Nehemiah is a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet Company. He began taking tap and jazz classes in his native Midwest America as a child and was told to undertake ballet training in order to gain a good dance foundation. He quickly developed a keen interest in ballet and attended ballet school in Toronto. From here his career grew as he went on to dance with the Royal Danish Ballet before joining the Royal Ballet Company six years ago. He approached Monica Mason, then director of the company, about joining the company and soon became a principal dancer, a prestigious role which is very “rewarding.”
As part of the Royal Ballet’s annual international summer tour, Nehemiah and Yuhui have just finished performing Giselle and Romeo and Juliette in Tokyo, Fukuoka, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuyama. The pair loves performing for the enthusiastic Japanese audiences and are often met by hundreds of fans waiting for autographs at the stage doors following their performances.
Of course one does not dance at such a high level without a combination of talent and deep passion and both Nehemiah and Yuhui were keen to share their love of dance this summer when approached by David Pickering, head of outreach with the Royal Ballet. Moved by this year’s devastating Kumamoto earthquake, the pair followed the story keenly in the UK and wanted to help out in some way. Together they visited a school in Kumamoto to share their love of ballet, performing and running a workshop at the school for the children.
Despite having performed recently at Fukuoka’s Sun Palace Hall with the Royal Ballet, when FIBF’s organisers Frank and Machi approached Yuhui about their plans for a ballet festival in Fukuoka, Yuhui jumped at the chance. It feels “very special” for her to be performing back in Kitakyushu, having left her hometown at such a young age. Although her parents have followed her success elsewhere in Asia and to London, she is delighted to be performing closer to their home.
Their repertoire is comprised of two pieces: the first is Tchaikovsky’s Grand Pas de Deux and the second is a neo-classical piece, the Asphodel Meadows pas de deux choreographed by the Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer Liam Scarlett. The pair picked the Tchaikovsky piece as not only is it very “dancey”, it is also the piece Yuhui performed at a competition in Kitakyushu when she was young. There is something magical about her returning here to perform it once again, this time with her partner and as a first soloist dancer with one of the best ballet companies in the world.
Fukuoka Now was invited along to watch the dancers take a ballet class prior to rehearsals. Watching the dancers warm up is an experience in itself. Outfits come in every colour from black to neon pink, and many of the women wear space boot-esque slippers to help warm up and protect their feet. On the floor, at the barre, using elastics or foam rollers, each warms up in his or her own way. The class is carried out with concentration and focus as each artist continues to prepare their body for rehearsals with a variety of different exercises. Nehemiah and Yuhui, alongside their fellow dancers, perform explosive leaps, great jumps and quick movements with such precision and attention to detail.
Keeping their bodies in shape at all times is crucial for the pair and after taking a week long break to explore Japan and catch-up with family and friends, Nehemiah and Yuhui have been rehearsing in Yuhui’s former ballet teacher’s studio in Kitakyushu since finishing their tour. Nehemiah describes the ballet world as “very small” and he has enjoyed watching the other dancers – his friends, colleagues and mutual friends – rehearsing. With a blend of nationalities and training styles, all dancers can learn from each other and offer advice. Although the ballet world is inevitably competitive at times, dancers are above all competitive with themselves and festivals such as this one are a chance to share knowledge, experience and a love of dance.
Yuhui will appear as the star performer at the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center on 28th July 2016 whilst her childhood idol Fukuoka-born Shoko Nakamura, a guest principal dancer with Japan’s K Ballet Company, will be the headline performer at the Fukuoka Symphony Hall, 27th July 2016.
Nehemiah explains that a gala concert is a fantastic way into ballet for novices and a special treat for those who already love dance. It contains highlights of major, classical ballets as well as new and exciting choreography. This is a performance not to be missed!
For more information and details of the programme for the two performances, visit the Fukuoka International Ballet Festival’s official website.
Fukuoka City Performance
• 7/27 (Wed.)
• 19:00~ (doors open: 18:30)
• Fukuoka Symphony Hall, ACROS Fukuoka
• 7/28 (Thu.)
• 19:00~ (doors open: 18:30)
• Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center (Large Hall)
• New! Students: From 18:00 on the day of the performances you can buy half-price Seat B tickets (¥3,000 instead of ¥6,000)
• SS: ¥ 12,000, S: ¥ 10,000, A: ¥ 8,000, B: ¥ 6,000, C: ¥ 4,000 (reserved seating)
• Tickets available from:
– MandM, 092-751-8257 (Mon. ~ Fri.: 10:00~18:00)
– Ticket Pia, 0570-02-9999, http://t.pia.jp, Pcode: 449-637
– Lawson Ticket, 0570-084-008, http://l-tike.com, Lcode: 81599 (Fukuoka), 81600 (Kitakyushu)
– Seven Eleven
– Circle K Sunkus
– Mini Stop
– ACROS Fukuoka Ticket Office: 092-725-9112 *Fukuoka performance only
– Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center Ticket Office: 093-562-2655 *Kitakyushu performance only