Not many people fly to Fukuoka with a tutu as their carry-on luggage, but seasoned ballerina Miharu Maki did just that. Back in her home city preparing for the inaugural Fukuoka International Ballet Festival (FIBF) taking place on 27th and 28th July 2016 (tickets are still available – click here for details), she is everything you imagine a ballerina to be: elegant, graceful, strong and in love with her work.
Miharu began her ballet career at the Sakamoto Ballet School in Fukuoka aged six before moving to the Netherlands, aged 17, to pursue her dancing career professionally, where she trained 8.30am to 5pm day in, day out. This rigorous training programme confirmed that she wanted to dedicate herself to ballet. She loves the feeling of letting herself go on stage, communicating a story through her movements and seeing the audience’s reaction.
Speaking to Miharu ahead of the upcoming Ballet Festival, she explains that it was a little difficult for an Asian ballerina to find work in Europe given ballet’s notoriously ‘picky’ criteria and desire for the perfect ‘look’. Undeterred, Miharu worked hard to hone her talents and after an apprenticeship with the Dutch National Ballet, she gained her first professional contract with the The Norwegian National Ballet (Den Norske Opera and Ballett) in Norway aged 19.
Now with ten years’ experience at the company to her name, she has evolved greatly as a dancer and grown with the company, relishing the opportunities she has been given. Just as the FIBF will combine classical and modern ballet styles, Miharu’s career has also been a mélange of traditional and contemporary performances. Her favourite part to date was Kitri in Don Quixote, and whilst she has performed in the great classics such as The Nutcracker, she also learns contemporary choreography which keeps her on her toes.
She has returned to Fukuoka, as she does most summers, for a well-deserved summer break. Her schedule is full to say the least; she performs 19 shows a year, takes class every day, and spends the day rehearsing for one show and the evening performing another. I’m very intrigued to know what a ‘break’ means for someone who trains non-stop and lives and breathes their job; Miharu explains that she constantly feels the urge to dance, move and keep her body, memory and muscles supple, and so takes ballet and pilates classes to keep her in shape, whilst also allowing herself some recovery.
Miharu describes her career as “lucky!”: she has been injury-free and loves living in beautiful Norway. The Den Norske Opera and Ballet is 20% international ballerinas, affording the opportunity to learn from different cultures: different ways of expressing oneself and interpreting the music.
Although she has performed extensively abroad, this will be Miharu’s first performance in her hometown, an opportunity for her family, friends and former teachers to see her work. Last year, she was approached by FIBF organisers (and husband and wife duo) Machi and Frank about joining the cast for the festival, and after agreeing she eagerly set about finding a partner to accompany her in her performance.
Together with her Dutch dance partner Douwe Dekkers she will perform two pieces at the FIBF, a very classical pas-de-deux from Satanella and a contemporary piece choreographed especially for the FIBF by Bulgarian choreographer Kaloyan Boyadjiev. The trio have been finding any moment they can to practice and Miharu is excited to introduce her colleagues to her homeland, for whom it is a “dream” to be coming to perform in Japan.
Miharu’s passion, excitement and dedication are infectious. But for someone who has no prior experience of ballet? Miharu emphasises the universal appeal of dance; with no words, the story can be understood by all. She encourages people to come and see just how much can be communicated through the body and to use our imaginations to lose ourselves in the magic on stage.
With such a talented and diverse cast list, with well-known and never-before-seen choreography being performed in the modern, beautiful ACROS building and a second performance at the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center the following day, this is an evening not to be missed and a very rare opportunity to see such internationally acclaimed talent in Japan.
More information on the festival available here.
Tickets information here.
Text: Hannah Smith for Fukuoka Now