Ballet and diplomacy — the two may not be the most obvious match. But Yosuke Nakae, former ambassador to China, has successfully blended the disciplines to achieve one goal: international understanding.
This December, a ballet scenario written by Nakae, “Magpies’s Bridge,” will be performed at the inauguration ceremony of the Shanghai Grand Theater in Shanghai. The performance will mark the 20th anniversary of the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty. “My two passions have come together in a strange combination to complement each other,” said Nakae, 75.
A joint effort by China and Japan, the 30 million yen project will be produced by a mixed staff; the scenario writer and choreographers are Japanese, the composers and directors Chinese, and the ballerinas hail from both countries. “I didn’t write the scenario with a political intention. I simply wanted a splendid show,” Nakae said. “But I hope at least some participants get to interact with one another, raising interest in each others’ cultures as a result of this performance,” he added.
Nakae’s passion for both diplomacy and theatrical arts was ignited after World War II. His experience in the military during the war resulted in his mission — to banish war from the world. “I wanted to make the world a place without fighting or even without countries. Becoming a diplomat was the most direct way to achieve this goal,” he said.
He joined the Foreign Ministry in 1947. At about the same time, he encountered “shingeki,” a new type of theatrical performance, in Osaka and was mesmerized by the power of dramatic arts. In his initial years at the ministry, he formed a theatrical group called Kasumi-za and staged several plays.
He was transferred to France in 1952, and during his two years there he attended nearly 400 theatrical performances. Meanwhile, he translated a script he had written into French and showed it to a French theater producer, who liked it. The script was just about to be turned into a play when the director died of a heart attack. “If the play had taken place, then I would have quit being a diplomat and stayed in Paris as a poor playwright,” he said, smiling.
So “luckily or unluckily,” he was transferred back to Japan, where he progressed down the diplomatic path, serving in various places such as Brazil, the United States, Vietnam, France, the former Yugoslavia, Egypt and eventually China.
He retired from government service in 1987 and is now an adviser for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which is installing equipment for the Shanghai theater project. It was during Mitsubishi’s negotiations for their part in the theater project that Nakae’s interest in writing a ballet script came to the attention of Shanghai city authorities.
His experience in France made him realize that spoken dramatic arts, when translated, lose an important essence, and he began investigating the possibilities of performing without language, leading him to ballet. “On an international occasion, ballet is what people from various background can share the pleasure of without a language barrier,” Nakae said.
Under the pen name Kan Kasumi, he wrote scripts and scenarios, penning seven plays and four ballets, the first two of which were performed in Japan, Zagreb and Cairo. “Theatrical art has been like a leisure (activity) for me. Just like some people play golf in their free time, I write scenarios,” he said.
Regarding today’s Sino-Japanese relations, Nakae expressed concern over the diminishing interest in China by most Japanese, especially the younger generation.
“China and Japan are different in many ways,” he pointed out. “So we need to make continuous efforts to interact with China in different ways to maintain our friendship.”
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