NBA Ballet promises a fine and varied show

by

Special To The Japan Times

The NBA Ballet is set to stage an eclectic bill at Saitama Arts Theater next month, comprising the world premieres of two modern works and 1958’s contemporary-style classic, “Stars and Stripes,” by the so-called “father of American ballet,” Russian-born George Balanchine.

Not only do the three pieces offer something to tempt every dance appetite, but with 2014’s Prix de Lausanne winner Haruo Niyama appearing as a guest artist, audiences can expect a rare feast of performing art.

As Koichi Kubo, the NBA’s artistic director, said recently, “Balanchine created ‘Stars and Stripes’ as a salute to the United States, his adopted country, and as I spent most of my dancing career in America, I wanted to salute the country by showcasing this work.”

Based in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, the NBA Ballet — whose acronym stands for Nihon Ballet Academy — is a nonprofit founded in 1993 by Kubo’s father, ballet master Eiji Kubo. Yet though it only began staging regular public performances in 2012, Koichi Kubo received the 2014 Arts Festival Newcomer Award from the government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs.

However, Kubo is no stranger to success. In 1989, at age 16, he took first place in the Moscow International Ballet Festival prior to forging an international career that included 20 years as a principal dancer with the Colorado Ballet before returning to devote himself to the NBA.

Like Kubo, Niyama — Japanese ballet’s current wonderboy — is also spreading his wings, having recently joined the Washington Ballet based in the U.S. capital. Nonetheless, as he told The Japan Times, “I’m so happy to dance such diverse works and new types of performance, and also to return to see my friends, dance teachers and family.”

In the NBA’s program, that diversity kicks off with what Kubo called “a powerful, energetic creation.” Titled “Essence of the Enlightened,” it’s a piece by Darrell Grand Moultrie, a young U.S. choreographer and graduate of New York’s famed Juilliard School whose style has been variously described as “versatile” and “theatrical,” and whose resume already includes collaborations with Beyonce and the New York-based modern dance company Ailey II.

Next up, and featuring Niyama, there’s another world premiere, this time by the leading Japanese independent modern dancer Motoko Hirayama, who is known for her risk-taking, original choreography including one work this year that paired Spanish traditional music and an Ainu choral singer.

Then comes “Stars and Stripes” to top off the wide-ranging program in rousing style with its music by the renowned American bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932).

Arranged in five “campaigns” using different themes from Sousa’s marches, and totalling around 28 minutes in all, the ballet evokes a Fourth of July parade, complete with baton-twirling and marching, rifle-toting ballerinas — as well as a challenging pas de deux in which Niyama gets to garnish the whole show with his already legendary leaps and precise footwork.

NBA Ballet’s “Stars and Stripes” program runs Dec. 3 (11 a.m. & 3 p.m.) and Dec. 4 (2 p.m.). For details, visit www.saf.or.jp/en/stages/detail/3667.