‘Second Steps’ marks a great leap forward for dancers

by Kris Kosaka

Special To The Japan Times

From The Royal Ballet’s innovative 2011 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” at Covent Garden to Paris Opera Ballet’s devotion to contemporary choreographers such as Mats Ek, Wayne McGregor and Pina Bausch, national dance companies across the globe are taking steps to ensure ballet transforms into a modern art form.

The New National Theatre in Tokyo is also striving to keep the pace — and one stride forward is this weekend’s “Second Steps.”

The work is the second part in a series of choreographic ensembles featuring the original works of NNTT dancers that was launched with the premiere of “First Steps” in December 2012. Heralded as the first performances featuring works “by the dancers for the dancers,” the events have been sold out both last year and this (although it is still worth calling the box office in hope of cancelations).

As the NNTT’s Artistic Director David Bintley — a former resident choreographer with the Royal Ballet who is also artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet — explained, “It is tremendous that ‘Second Steps’ has sold out. It is exciting for the company and the theater, as there are definitely some dancers here with real choreographic talent.

“Youth brings with it a sense of excitement, and though some of them are experienced dancers and have been around for a while, they are all relatively inexperienced as choreographers, so there is an excitement, a freshness about what they are doing.”

“Second Steps” brings back together nine of the original choreographers from “First Steps” along with two other dancers from the company who have also ventured to turn their skills towards creation.

Bintley, however, believes choreography must be an essential part of any company’s ethos.

“I always say to the dancers, in the end your work is meant to be performed,” he said. “I got my start in much the same kind of way, except that my start was earlier, when I was in ballet school.

“Yet even if the experience does not reveal new choreographic potential, it gives dancers the opportunity to experience what it is like to choreograph — not just in terms of putting steps together but also how you manage people, how you relate to people and how to get ideas out of your head and onto the stage or onto bodies. It is what our profession is all about.”

Although Bintley is quick to praise the NNTT’s support of new works, he more importantly compliments the audience.

“I imagine most of the people who will come to see ‘Second Steps’ are genuinely interested in developments in dance, not just people wishing it were ‘Swan Lake’ instead, so it is very encouraging.

“As the NNTT is a national company, it has a duty toward those areas of dance which are frequently untouched in other Japanese companies. Ballet is not only about the classics, and it is important to recognize that, as the rest of the ballet world is moving on. It is a bit anachronistic of Japanese audiences to dwell so much on the classical aspect of ballet.”

With the success of ‘Second Steps,’ Bintley sees a definite move forward, and expresses the hope that, “This spirit of inquiry and adventure will be a part of what the company represents. It’s a great bunch of dancers and a great company, and it is ripe for really going somewhere.

“I hope the audience will go with them, because without the audience and the support of the audience for more adventurous work, it won’t happen. They won’t have the economic circumstances in which to take risks, if people will only come and buy the easy tickets — ones for the classics.”

“Second Steps” will be staged at 2 p.m. on Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 at the New National Theatre Tokyo’s The Pit near Hatsudai Station. Tickets are ¥3,150 to ¥5,250. For details, call the box office at 03-5352-9999.