K-ballet brings back ‘Giselle’ and introduces new leads

by Kris Kosaka

Special To The Japan Times

As summer approaches with the misty other-worldliness of Japan’s rainy season, Tokyo’s K-Ballet graces the stage in June with a revival of the hauntingly romantic masterpiece “Giselle.” Six different ballerinas will perform the lead role as the production synthesizes K-Ballet’s changing image from a company that showcases its virtuoso artistic director and star, Tetsuya Kumakawa to a company committed to nurturing and improving its dancers.

Written in 1841 for Italy’s first great ballerina, Carlotta Grisi, the title role of Giselle remains one of the most coveted roles in ballet today. An innocent peasant girl dies after her aristocratic lover’s betrayal. Awakened from the dead to join the wilis, a group of forest spirits dedicated to avenging unrequited love, the ghostly Giselle must save her former lover from their retribution. The role demands incredible technical prowess and dramatic versatility.

Three ballerinas mark their debut as Giselle: Shiori Asakawa, Satoko Hinata and Kayo Sasabe. Notable veteran Yuko Arai also brings her experience to the stage. Kumakawa will partner the novice ballerinas as Albrecht, while Arai will take the stage opposite Yusuke Osozawa and Shuntaro Miyao, two rising young principal soloists. Assistant director Stuart Cassidy, always a crowd favorite with his dramatic characterizations, reprises his role for the company as Hilarion, Giselle’s spurned suitor driven to a fatal, exhausting dance by the wilis. One newcomer to look out for is Kayo Sasabe in the lead for nine of the 15 productions partnered by Kumakawa. Sasabe joined the company last year and Giselle will mark her first significant debut in a lead role.

Known for his incredible leaps and technical skills, Kumakawa is also keen to educate younger artists with three schools in Tokyo and one in Yokohama to improve ballet in Japan. He brings this same focus to his company.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the different casts, both our novices and veterans,” he says in a recent interview. “The whole process becomes valuable for the company. Since Giselle is such a difficult role, it allows our dancers to grow, both in technique and individual interpretation.”

With the original 2001 costumes by veteran designer Peter Farmer, the K-Ballet stage crew focused on redesigning the set: “This ‘Giselle,’ our first production in four years, will be reborn as a more complete artistic vision. We comprehensively transformed the design and staging for a fresh atmosphere,” he says.

Kumakawa admits the role of Abrecht is “a completed character” for him with his many past performances, but partnering six different ballerinas adds a new challenge he finds enjoyable: “As the years go by, of course the way I view things and my own experiences change, but I feel I can express myself more profoundly as I get older. Dramatically, I must somehow express my feelings to the audience, so it is most important that I enjoy every role.”

Fight the encroaching heat of summer with the chilling elegance of Giselle.

K-Ballet’s Giselle opens June 1 at Omiya Sonic City Hall, Saitama, before continuing to Tokyo. Ticket prices run from ¥8,000 to ¥18,000. The company will travel to Tosu, Osaka, Iwate, and Niigata before returning to Tokyo on June 29th. For more information, visit k-ballet.co.jp/company (Japanese only)