For ballet fans across Japan, The Royal Ballet represents the pinnacle in dance, and its upcoming summer tour of Tokyo and Yokohama from June 21 to 30 keeps expectations high.
As well as a gala program featuring a wide range of works, famed dancer and choreographer Carlos Acosta’s 2013 adaptation of the classic ballet “Don Quixote” will make its long-awaited Japan premiere.
Director Kevin O’Hare says that what fans will see in Tokyo will be exactly what can be enjoyed at the famed Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden.
“What I love about going on tour is that we are really showcasing the full company of The Royal Ballet,” says O’Hare. “All of our principal dancers are on stage. We enjoy the opportunity to evoke the authentic flavor of where the company is today across the globe. That’s important to us, that we’re not offering a second tier version, but it is really The Royal Ballet at its best, and we hope to give the best performances possible to our Japanese fans.”
Acosta’s “Don Quixote” has become both a critical success and an audience-favorite since its premiere six years ago.
“I’m so thrilled to be taking it to Tokyo, as ‘Don Quixote’ is really a brilliant show for The Royal Ballet of today,” O’Hare says. “Our dancers have fully accepted the challenge, from our veterans to our younger dancers: their exuberance, their skill — technically, they’re at the top of their game, and you can see they’re just having fun with it. We’ve had standing ovations, which are very rare at the Royal Opera House.”
The gala also promises to be a crowd pleaser in Japan, and gives people a chance to see all the company’s principals, including Sarah Lamb, Natalia Osipova and Lauren Cuthbertson, dancing a mix of popular favorites like George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C” and Kenneth MacMillan’s full “Winter Dreams” in addition to the Rose Adagio from “Sleeping Beauty” in homage to legendary ballerina, Margot Fonteyn.
For Japanese fans, The Royal Ballet is also special as two Japanese dancers hold the position of principal: Akane Takada and Ryoichi Hirano.
“Both Akane and Ryoichi were made principal right before our last tour to Japan in 2016,” O’Hare says. “In a few short years, both of them have really established themselves as admired principals of the company.”
In a role created for him, Hirano takes the stage as a matador named Espada in “Don Quixote.”
“He just really pulls the house down with the solo in the third act,” O’Hare says. “Particularly this season, all the reviews are talking about him. It’s become a sort of signature role for him and he has so much fun with the role, although technically it’s quite challenging. Ryoichi has taken on the mantle from Edward Watson as the dramatic dancer of the company. He brings his own personality to the role and really inhabits the character he plays. That will be really exciting for audiences in Japan to see him in a way they’ve maybe never seen him before.”
Unfortunately, fans will miss Takada on this tour. Slated to perform the lead role of Kitri in “Don Quixote,” she pulled out recently due to injuries, no doubt a huge disappointment to her fans across Japan.
“The role plays to all her strengths. She’s so technically proficient, nothing fazes her,” says O’Hare. “She just can do it all so easily. And she can have fun with it, which is what you need with a role like Kitri. Personality-wise, she’s really developed into a consummate artist over the past few years, so her comic timing is great, her rapport with her partners is always engaging.”
Takada and Hirano are in good company: for the pinnacle of Japanese dancers, The Royal Ballet has had a share in their success. Superstar Tetsuya Kumakawa became the youngest soloist in The Royal Ballet’s history, later promoted to principal in 1993. Miyako Yoshida, famed ballerina, enjoyed a long career in the U.K. with Sadler’s Wells and then The Royal Ballet. Last year she was named the next artistic director for the National Ballet of Japan, a role she will assume for the 2020 season.
“We did our school performance together and danced in the company together, so we’re very close,” says O’Hare, who attended The Royal Ballet school with Yoshida. “As a friend, I’m thrilled, but I am also happy for Japan. She was obviously a very talented dancer, with such varied experiences performing not only in England but around the world. Yet she’s also a really humane person, and morally, she will be a really good leader. She is someone who will care for the dancers and want what is best for them, and that will be one of her strengths, to make conditions as best as possible for the dancers in her time as director there. In the future, I hope we can do a project together.”
It’s possible, as The Royal Ballet has been regularly touring Japan, with 13 appearances over four decades, a fact that O’Hare believes is a credit to Japan’s strong ballet tradition that attracts numerous companies from around the world.
“In the ’80s and ’90s, New York used to be the most important place to perform and be seen, but now Japan is the ballet destination in the world,” O’Hare says. “Every year in Tokyo and across Japan fans can see so many brilliant companies, and as a big international company yourself, you want to be where everyone else is, to be compared to the other companies on show, and to be a part of that touring schedule in Tokyo. I think it’s really important if you are calling yourself an international company to be going to the places where the audiences are seeing all the great companies in the world.”
The company itself “always looks forward to Japan,” says O’Hare. “It’s the country I’ve been to more than any other country in the world, so it does feel a bit like coming home. Probably now for me the biggest thrill is seeing the reaction of the audience to the company, how they love our dancers. Especially for the younger dancers coming through the company now, how Japanese audiences take the younger dancers to their hearts, too. Our audiences in Japan really support us, and we know we’ll have a good time.”
The Royal Ballet’s Japan Tour 2019 takes place from June 21 to 30. Performances of “Don Quixote” will be held at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan from June 21 to 26. The Gala, including “Symphony in C” takes place at Kanagawa Kenmin Hall in Yokohama on June 29 and 30. For more details and to purchase tickets for the performances, visit www.nbs.or.jp/english/stages/2019/royalballet.