Stage

Ballet meets noh in unique 'Feast of Beauty'

by Ayako Takahashi

Special To The Japan Times

No matter what the weather early next year, a really special show being staged once only in Osaka and Tokyo is sure to set ablaze the hearts of noh and ballet fans alike.

Aptly titled “Bi no Kyoen (Feast of Beauty) 2015,” this will see two stars of the Paris Opera Ballet — Mathieu Ganio, an etoile (principal dancer), and his sister Marine, who, as a sujet is two ranks below that pinnacle — appear for the first time ever on a classical noh stage.

In that setting little changed since Japan’s classical form of musical dance-drama emerged some 700 years ago, Mathieu will perform a solo from “Eppur si muove,” choreographed by the renowned Giorgio Mancini, while Marine will dance a solo from “Sleeping Beauty” — and together they will dance the pas de deux “Meditation de Thais” from the two-act ballet “Ma Pavlova” by the dance legend Roland Petit (1924-2011).

This unique project will also feature the noh actor Gensho Umewaka, a living national treasure who will present “Tsuchigumo” in Osaka and “Kikujido” in Tokyo — and who has also created an original noh dance version of “Meditation de Thais” for this occasion.

As a warm-up for this red-hot event, I was lucky enough to contact Mathieu by email, where I began by asking how the project had come about.

“This summer, Mr. Umewaka came to see my stage in Osaka, and we spoke together afterward,” he explained. “Then later, this project was proposed and I agreed to it immediately.

“It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve never seen live noh, but I’ve seen Mr. Umewaka’s films and photographs. I hope I can learn a lot about his art by appearing on the same noh stage with him.”

Interestingly, as Petit’s “Meditation de Thais” was the signature piece of Mathieu and Marine’s parents, the star dancers Dominique Khalfouni and Denis Ganio, I wondered how he felt about following quite literally in their footsteps.

“It’s a heavy responsibility as their performance is etched in so many people’s memories,” he confessed. “But at the same time, I have a special feeling because we siblings have an opportunity to dance this piece created for them, and I’ll be happy if we can communicate our joy to the audience.”

As for debuting on a noh stage, the Paris etoile exuded excitement, saying, “I’ve always wanted to try placing myself within another art or a show that is different from the usual, and this challenge will certainly bring diversity to my future career — and I hope it will help me to evolve and mature.”

Even the stage’s compact size, low ceiling and floor designed to amplify sound didn’t dim that excitement, as he declared simply: “Putting myself in a position of risk will take me even further” — adding, before starting his new year with this project, “I hope 2015 will be full of discoveries and brilliance in both my public and private life.”

For this remarkable event’s audiences, too, the prospect is certainly for a brilliant and eye-opening start to the new year.

“Bi no Kyoen 2015” is at Osaka Nohgaku Kaikan on Jan. 6 and the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo on Jan. 8. For details, call 06-6447-1950. This story was written in Japanese and translated by Claire Tanaka.

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