Archive for artistic meanderings

Birmingham Royal Ballet & Miyako Yoshida in Japan

To cap my week immersed in ballet, the dynamic duo of  E & L at The Ballet Bag published this photo-blog  — thanks, ladies.

Of course, I focused heavily on Miyako Yoshida in my writing, but all the dancers were impressive, professional, and showed a superior level of skill and stage presence.  It was most interesting to watch rehearsals and then see how each and every dancer pulled their talent up another level for the performance.  Campbella’s Puck — pure marvelous mischief, and the couples convinced us of their love and devotion (and disdain and rebellion) — even the little boy, Titania’s sweet crush, somehow overcame his stiff shyness at rehearsal to embody the beloved waif on stage.  The Dream was truly a dream, but The Sleeping Beauty was also fabulous, ( I caught the show in my adopted hometown, Kamakura) as was Daphnis and Chloe.

Sneaking backstage to peek at a dancer’s every day on tour, meeting so many people so positive about Japan, despite the world’s continuing wariness — trying not to gawk at the many stars of Tokyo Ballet who came out to support the benefit concert, the graceful graciousness of Yoshida san: all these memories blend wonderfully and leave a continuing residue of happiness.

Special thanks to Emilia and Linda for connecting me to BRB, and to Simon Harper, my guide backstage.

Birmingham Royal Ballet & Miyako Yoshida in Japan.


Yoshida returns to dance with the BRB as it tours her homeland | The Japan Times Online

Yoshida returns to dance with the BRB as it tours her homeland | The Japan Times Online.

Miyako Yoshida in “The Dream”, and like a dream for me, to interview and write about such a talented and graceful star of the ballet world.

Dancewears principal designer, on stage and off | The Japan Times Online

Every artist must find that elusive balance, satisfying the audience without sacrificing oneself.  Not that I can call myself an artist (yet) but slinging emails and trading wordplay with editors has taught me a little of what an artist must face.  Witness my latest effort in Japan Times, published today — here is my original lede (opening) with my concluding paragraph of the entire article immediately following it:

Yumiko Takeshima’s childhood memories are swathed in silk. Dying fabrics in the kitchen sink with her father or fingering ornate, gold-shot material in Kyoto with her mother, Takeshima, as the fourth generation of a kimono making family, found the threads of her creativity within her own heritage. But her heart spun with dance. Today her life weaves together both strands of her artistry, as a professional dancer, and founder of a popular line of hand-made, custom designed dancewear. YUMIKO boasts a global online store and boutiques in New York City and Tokyo. Her career onstage continues to thrive, as a Principal for Semperoper Ballet in Germany.

Takeshima remains too busy to think much about the boost, although she admits, “I feel very lucky to have such support from dancers themselves.” Last week she wrapped up performances of “La Bayadere” on stage; her newest design, “The Alicia” premiered recently in the boutiques, a v-neck leotard with inspiration from the kimono itself; she started a new coloring scheme, ‘dip-dyes’ following her father’s work with gradients at the kitchen sink, and she just finished designing wings for another production with Dawson, this summer’s “timelapse/(Mnemosyne)” in Holland. Her future spins on one certainty: Takeshima’s life will remain a whirl of interlocking threads, design, and creativity – like her heritage itself.

Nice, interlocking symmetry, I thought, a rather clever way to link together fashion and dance–  but immediately NIXED by my editor, as ‘too creative for the Arts page’.

Now, I trust and like this editor, and I realize there is a definite style to each section of the newspaper, and the responsibility of the editor is to keep faithful to that style. (blahblahblah!)  I have only written two other pieces for the Arts Page, so I need to be a nodding, earnest student and listen solemnly and  learn.  BUT, but, but ,but……

Please now read the entire article, with my editor’s changes.  She moved up all my factual bits and pieces, adding in the creative parts later.

Dancewears principal designer, on stage and off | The Japan Times Online.
I am still proud of the piece, and I still want it to bear my name.  But, and the main but, really, is simply this:

Somehow, in some essential way, anyone could have written this piece now.  It is not mine any more.  (Perhaps that’s the point  — the article is about Yumiko Takeshima, after all, not Kris Kosaka. )

Now that I have indulgently, selfishly taken the entire post for mememememeME – please remember Yumiko san and her fabulous talent and her leotards and costumes. If you dance or do yoga or fitness — order one!  They are truly gorgeous on the skin.

She was a most gracious interviewee, even after just finishing  a run of performances with a travel-induced cold.  Thank you, Yumiko san.  Thank  you, artists everywhere, for putting up the fight but still satisfying your customers. Us, the audience.

Dancewears principal designer, on stage and off | The Japan Times Online.

Sonnet Rave, Part II (Haru Ichi Ban)

My dreamwriting: I am currently working on a verse drama, (hopefully more Cyrano de Bergerac than Dr. Seuss) – and to exercise my rusty (non-existent?) poetic skills, more and more I turn to sonnets.  (I shared one back in October “To a ballet master”)  —

I love the form, despite my inadequacies. Sonnets mirror life:  set, precise framework, definitive ending, conventions, rules, tedium — but, oh, the possibilities within!

This one is not quite working. Something sops too much, something not quite clean in emotion.

But here it is, for my master, and for today in Kamakura (gorgeously warm weather with a fierce wind, haru ichi ban, the first wind of Spring in Japanese) so I will share with you:

Spring Tempest, 2/ 25/ 2011

What is better? To stay this hurricane,

this unnamed gale, this unruly, churning

wind inside? One look from you, one smile sustains

its growth immeasurably.  You, turning


away, said, “It is better…”, but how? Why?

What is better? And for whom? Better, still,

we never meet? Better to pretend my eyes

hold nothing but nothing for you? I will


not pretend they do not overflow, cyclone

seething.   I can only raise my blue skies

to you, choke back this truthful wind: You alone

can calm the storm.  You alone can let fly


the caged Spring in me. Better that I do

without all other, than whirl, adrift from you.




Sunday Plans —

Perhaps if desire could be set to music and revealed through dance, this is it.

This Bejart piece, ‘Bolero’ has 4 versions — I will see a woman in the lead on Sunday as part of a double bill (also the premiere of ‘Dances in the Mirror’), but this is a famous version with Guillem as the worshipped female.


YouTube – Sylvie Guillem – Bolero 2/2.


And, here is the Tokyo  Ballet with Bolero  — Ueno san is the woman I will see this Sunday.

YouTube – 東京バレエ団「ボレロ」[モーリス・ベジャール振付].

If you are hooked like I am on Bolero, watch Jorge Donn’s version; there are many on You Tube, and also a 3 hour French film (English title is simply Bolero) — fascinating.


Flights of Fancy —

Writing is a solitary art, and some writers enjoy staying inside the lovely cocoon of their own minds. My own mind, frankly, is not so hospitable, and I thus make concentrated efforts to connect with other writers to build a society, especially as a writer living in a foreign country.  I was pleased at the chance, therefore, to work with a performing arts buddy, who shares my love of ballet and opera in Japan.

It was not always a smooth collaboration; I worried about balancing my own agenda and ego, completely forgetting about her own, but ultimately I learned not only about opera, but about people and culture, communication and working styles.

Here is our finished piece, on opera in Japan.


New National Theatre, Tokyo, hopes Yuzuru will help Japanese opera soar | The Japan Times Online.

The Ballet Bag in Japan

Flyer for the upcoming production of "M".

The Ballet Bag, a wonderfully now and informative blog on ballet, graciously arranged for me to visit Tokyo Ballet recently, with the help of Maiko Uchida of NBS.   The photoblog of that day is here:  The Ballet Bag in Japan.

Check out the photoblog first, but my full text for the rehearsal is pasted below, in case there are any Mishima/ Bejart fans who need more details.

Thank you, Ballet Bag and Maiko san — and my ballet master, Yoshiaki Nagahata, who introduced me to Bejart and “M”, providing insight and wisdom I could (hopefully) pass along.

Full Text:

Clear and crisp, the blue sky freshly washed and gleaming, I clapped twice and bowed as I passed the Meguro river on my way to the Tokyo Ballet studios, to honor the shade of Yukio Mishima (1925-1970). Today, November 25, 2010, marks the 40th anniversary of Mishima’s seppuku, ritual suicide, at the age of 45, and to commemorate his death, Tokyo Ballet will stage Maurice Bejart’s “M” in mid December. Many of the original cast from 1993 will reprise their roles, including a return to ballet from a 7 years absence by Juichi Kobayashi, who was sidelined due to intervertebral disk degeneration. Kobayashi, who hails from a famous Japanese Rakugo (comedic storytelling) family, has kept busy in the last seven years, as a rehearsal advisor in 2005 for Tokyo Ballet’s last production of “M”, but also by spreading out into stage and television acting. Fans anticipate a new dramatic maturity as he reprises the enigmatic role of Shi (4). The other big news with this production: it marks the debut of Tokyo Ballet’s rising soloist, Naoyoshi Nagase, in the ingenuously erotic role of Saint Sebastian.

Rehearsal officially opened with a 30 minute speech by Administrative Director Norio Takahashi, in honor of the anniversary of Yukio Mishima’s death. Takahashi san spoke of Bejart’s desire to pay tribute to Mishima, as an avid fan, encouraged by the revered Japanese composer, Toshiro Mayuzumi, who had worked with Bejart earlier composing the music for “The Kabuki.” Mayuzumi himself spoke to Mishima’s widow during the collaboration, and Bejart choreographed the ballet in one month.

Rehearsals started with Bushido/ Kyoko’s House, the longest section, and a sequence that opens with a scene evocative of Mishima’s novel, Kyoko’s House. The novel presents four stages of man, and Bejart took this idea and expanded it in the ballet, with the characters, ichi (1), ni (2), san (3), shi (4). A homophone in Japanese, the number four also sounds like the word for death, and that double meaning is obvious with the character of shi in the ballet. Back to rehearsal: as the scene opens, a man and woman recline on a red couch, observing with ennui the pas de deux of ichi, Bejart’s first stage of Mishima, and woman. Naoki Takagishi and Mika Yoshioka, both reprising their roles from the original production, rehearsed first. Their ease together was evident, and with the advantage of such a close view, I gained new respect for the acting intrinsic to ballet. Seconds earlier the two were exchanging teasing smiles, but they transformed instantly into a young Mishima, struggling with his sexuality, and woman, both his tormentor and potential savior. Mizuka Ueno, who will perform the role of woman on the 19th, rehearsed next, and all three seasoned veterans, Takagishi, Yoshioka and artistic director Munetaka Iida, advised her through the difficult, contemporary steps.

This sequence moves from Mishima’s inner struggles and frustration to his discovery of the physical – he was an avid body builder and model, and later formed his own self-defense force, Tate no Kai. Revealed through the dance, the scene morphs to one of physical male, and the pas de deux segues into a powerful all-male sequence, led by Shi, (4). The sheer masculinity of the scene impresses, with traces of Noh and Kabuki in the steps. Bejart is known as a choreographer for the danseur, and this scene certainly showcases the beauty and power of masculinity. Kobayashi’s recovery is obviously complete, as he never marked during rehearsal, and danced with strength and power, although occasionally in some pain. Nagase san came by to graciously explain he is resting a slight injury, and will thus only mark his solo. Still, he somehow managed to exemplify beauty, youth, and grace in motion, and Japanese audiences are correct to anticipate his performance.

The next scene was Rokumeikan – an uplifting, joyful celebration of Western Culture that ends in disaster– another reference to Mishima, this time to his play of the same name. The play reveals Japan’s conflicted feelings towards the influx of Western Culture. Set in 1886, the title alludes to the historical Rokumeikan Hall in Tokyo, a controversial symbol of Japan’s Westernization. Balls and banquets were held there, with Japanese elite copying the latest styles and dances from Europe; foreign diplomats were housed nearby. In Bejart’s hands, the lively, classical scene, the refined energy of the dancers is interrupted by gunshots – another allusion to Mishima’s play – and the schoolboy returns onstage to disrupt the dance. In rehearsal, the dancers were elegant and genteel, the classical steps and Strauss’s waltz beautifully reflecting Western culture. Yuji Matsushita danced with particular energy, and the character “Moon on the Water” with her brief solo: in rehearsal, Reiko Koide and Rie Watanabe (debuting in the role) each revealed an ethereal and graceful luminescence.

Finally, the dancers practiced the ending, Tate no kai, the special self-defense force, formed and led by Mishima to “protect” the Emperor. Translated, it means shield, and the male dancers act as a barrier and then a background to the schoolboy’s reenactment of Mishima’s infamous seppuku, ritual suicide. The rehearsal required many stops and starts, as Artistic Director Iida san went through the timing and precision movements with the male corps several times. “Don’t run into each other!” he extolled good-naturedly, and reset the music again. Once the men were released, the woman went through the same treatment from Iida san, as the Tate no kai scene blends with the reentrance of the sea, another sequence requiring exact timing, this time from the female corps who mimic the oceans’ grace.

Rehearsal ended slightly later than scheduled, because of the speech by Takahashi san, but the dancers seemed still lively at the end. Juichi Kobayashi and Ryuta Takahashi practiced some hip hop in the corner, while other dancers moved to the side to go over steps or stretch. There did not seem to be any tension or frustrations, even at this early stage of rehearsal; perhaps with so many veterans reprising their roles, their confidence has permeated the company. I left the rehearsal hall with the sunshine dissipating and my stomach growling, so I found the nearest ramen stand and ate hot noodles with a beer, toasting Mishima san and the Tokyo Ballet, with a special thanks to Maiko Uchida of NBS and The Ballet Bag, for arranging this day, and Nagahata Yoshiaki of Nagahata Ballet, for sharing his insight of Bejart and “M”. Kampai to “M”.


Dancing on Mishimas waves | The Japan Times Online

Another alchemist, this time the famous Japanese writer, Yukio Mishima, and the French choreographer, Maurice Bejart.  I reviewed Tokyo Ballet’s upcoming production of “M” , an original ballet by Bejart, created in 1993, honoring Mishima.

I have never digested tragedy for tragedy’s sake very well in art, but the artist who transforms ugliness, tragedy, pettiness into the sublime —  they always have my admiration.  Like Mishima.

This piece also marks my first paid article in the Arts section.  Thanks for your support.

Dancing on Mishimas waves | The Japan Times Online.

Mendacity and NNTT’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Last weekend I was lucky to see NNTT’s production of Tennessee Williams’ famous play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”  Terajima Shinobu, an acclaimed Japanese  actress, admirably rendered Maggie in all her frustrated desperation, but the male lead caught my attention most, Kitamura Yukiya, as one of those ‘weak, beautiful people’ who can not face the necessary duplicity of the real world. His weary, almost cheerful apathy snagged my heart, and I was devastated by the end of the play, when he fully reveals his quiet inability to change or face reality.

In Japanese, practical terms exist to describe the many faces a human will wear, depending on the circumstance — tatemae (facade) and honne (real face).  In Japan, it is simply a part of human nature to dissemble, and no duplicity, hypocrisy, or untruth is seen, if a person does not show their ‘true’ face — it is even expected, in most social situations, to hide your true feelings behind set phrases and polite language.

Another aspect of Japanese culture that resonated within me with this very Western play is our Western need to brighten shadows.  Maggie can not let the possible homosexual darkness of Brick and Skipper’s feelings for each other pass unnoticed or unsaid — her own jealousy and anger forces her to name it or bring it out of the darkness, bullying Skipper to make a declaration that Brick can not accept, with tragic results. To me, Japanese are more likely to quietly acknowledge the presence of shadows while leaving them alone in darkness.  For better or worse, I think other cultures, and America in particular, feel the need to expose shadows to reality.  Both have their problems of course — ignoring shadows does not make them disappear, but shining light within can not fully dispel them either, as Brick and Maggie’s tragedy so beautifully shows in the play.

I want to be one of those people, like Maggie, who struggles and dances defiantly, aware of the constant hardship of deep feelings and lies but determined, even empowered to overcome.  Too often, I am like Brick, waiting for a ‘click’ inside my head to calm turbulent, unwanted feelings, either by running or writing or other distractions — thankfully not with Brick’s dependence on destructive substances.

Tennessee Williams was asked to write a second ending for the play, as the original (the one I saw last weekend) was deemed too hopeless, too ambiguous for Broadway.  I am thankful to see the original so movingly rendered on stage, although it has taken me a full week to be able to write about it without considerable lingering sadness.

For all of us, to keep dancing on the hot roofs, somehow managing to reach for stars. Maggie can not give up on her love for Brick, although he tells her: “You can just jump off” — Maggie’s emphatic ‘no’ affirmed everything that is lovely and loathsome about human feeling. Postings – K Ballet Coppelia

I posted this ballet review at a UK webzine — Please enjoy. Postings – K Ballet Coppelia – Tokyo, October 2010.

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