FRIENDS OF NINA IN JAPAN'S IMPRESSIONS OF NINA'S 20TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR OF JAPAN 2001

 

Two Japanese Friends of Nina have generously written up their impressions of the various events that comprised Nina’s all-star tour of Japan in September 2001. This (edited) English translation was also prepared by them, and appears in the original Japanese version in our affiliated website [www.friendsofnina.org].

September 15: Dress Rehearsal at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan

Friends of Nina, Japan, were invited to view the dress rehearsal of “Ananiashvili, Bolshoi and World Stars 2001.”

Friend No. 1: When we entered the theater, we immediately noticed the hall was filled with a strained and tense atmosphere, so we became nervous and tried not to make any noise---not even the beating of our hearts. This was a first experience for us, and we were most excited. We somehow felt it was not even appropriate that we should be there. The tension was due to the artists’ sincere and serious attitude---all the dancers, the artistic director, conductor and technical staff were united in their goal to give the audience the best possible performance. Their uncompromising attitude charged the atmosphere of the 2,300-seat hall.

Communication was made mostly in Russian, occasionally in English and a little Japanese. Though we could not understand much from the spoken words, we could discern much from the action. During Three Preludes the dancers were concerned about tempo, the timing of the first notes and the ending of the piece---especially the male dancer’s landing after a jump. The dancers explained their idea by humming the music and beat to the conductor---and they repeated this until all were satisfied with the results. Sometimes the conversations became heated; steps and positions were also repeated until dancers and musicians were comfortably synchronized.

Though we were told the dancers might not be wearing costumes for this rehearsal, most did so, a further proof of their professional concern for the success of the gala.

The Japanese audience had not seen Nina since the autumn of 1999, when she danced her amazing Kitri and Giselle with the Bolshoi. [I] observed that Nina’s brilliance has increased and her warmth and grace as Aurora enchanted us. At the last pose of Don Quixote (part of the surprise encore in Tokyo) Nina moved her arm over her head as if saying, “We have finished!.” This pose was very suitable for Kitri’s character—so charming!

Some people may say that this is a matter of course since these dancers are professionals. However, even they are human, and their physical condition might vary due to jet lag and tight scheduling. We need not have worried however. The dancers’ vigor and high spirits at this rehearsal assured us that our high expectations for the gala would be met.

September 16: Opening Night, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan

Friend No. 2: The long awaited opening day finally came. Although it was a bit cloudy outside, my heart was leaping as I headed for the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan to see Nina’s 20th Anniversary Performance Tour. The interior of the hall overflowed with a virtually sold-out crowd, all filled with expectations for the performance. I heard the announcement for the start, the lights dimmed, and finally the moment I had been anticipating for weeks and months came. I felt ecstatic as I always do whenever I see Nina onstage.

Alexei Fadeyechev, artistic director of the tour, appeared first. Although he seemed wider compared to his prime days as a star of the Bolshoi, his warmth and dignity communicated to the audience. And it was a delightful surprise to see him wearing one of Nina’s 20th anniversary commemorative T-shirts. He directed the dancers in the first number, an idealized lesson at the barre. (For a detailed review, please turn to the “As We See It” section of this website.) The lesson began in a quiet atmosphere. As the class progressed, it was interesting to get a glimpse of how demanding professional dancers’ lessons really are. When the “lesson” ended, it was equally enlightening to see the dancers pack their belongings to exit the stage.

Nina and Uvarov remained for Three Preludes; the sad piano music, the pure white costumes of the dancers and the atmospheric lighting, gave me a melancholic but romantic feeling, taking me beyond the everyday world. The harmony of the dancers’ height and dancing, especially  Nina’s delicate movements which extended to her fingertips, proved supremely beautiful. I am sure I was not the only one wishing that time would just stop.

[To avoid repetition, the editor has excerpted the following from Friend No. 2’s extensive comments]:

On Yuri Possokhov’s Aria---I was pleasantly surprised by his latest performance…[In 1993] I remember thinking it was regretful that he didn’t move my heart, even though his technical level was fantastic… [this time] his technique could deeply express the inner side of mankind.  On Agon---It appeared that they [Inna Petrova and Dmitri Belogolotsev] were challenged by the tempo of the music, but the cool performance of these two stylish dancers was fiercely fabulous… Nioradze’s Giselle was a fragile but dignified beauty…Picone lacked the profound feeling for Albrecht but his jumps were superb…The highlight of Part I was the Black Swan Pas de Deux from Swan Lake [Nina and Sergei Filin]. It seemed that many of the audience had been anticipating this performance and the hall reverberated with excitement…Nina makes you think that she has overwhelming magical powers that could enthrall everyone watching her. With that soft, lovely smiling face, you don’t have to be Siegfried to be effortlessly mocked by this ultimately charming Odile. As for Filin, his supreme elegance makes him the ultimate prince. He is dazzling even just standing on the stage. He may not be as dynamic as Uvarov, but his neat, refined dancing is extremely beautiful.

Part II consisted of excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty. [While the orchestra played the Garland Waltz] my heart was filled with a happy feeling at Tchaikovsky’s lilting melody; the image of the color pink, like cherry blossoms filled my mind.  Then, Nina as Princess Aurora made her appearance; watching her pure and innocent loveliness brought a smile to my face. Her light and bright steps made one believe that this princess was brought up filled with happiness, not knowing any anxieties or complaints. Nina was indeed a gorgeous Aurora—an ideal  who would be difficult to imitate because in many ways her interpretation is a reflection of her own warm personality.

Before seeing this excerpted version of The Sleeping Beauty, I was worried that the production, without corps de ballet and elaborate stage scenery, might not reflect the splendor of the complete ballet. However,  this constellation of stars, with their brilliant dancing, more than made up for the missing elements. At the start of the Rose Adagio, an incomparable line-up of princes swept onto the stage and bowed to the audience, their elegance and dignity making a masterpiece of this moment. [Later], when Nina stood still in incredibly long balances on pointe, the hall reverberated with applause and “bravos.” What makes Nina’s balances incredible is the seeming lack of struggle---she flows into the pose and stays there as if with complete ease and naturalness, showing no strain from head to toe.

The Bolshoi version of the “Entrance of Prince Desiré” overflows with vitality and dynamism, and with Sergei Filin dancing the role, it seemed even richer and more colorful. His finesse, even in fast jumps imbues his character with nobility. In the “Bluebird Pas de Deux,” Petrova’s Princess Florine touched my heart---her elegant gaze and delicate hand motions were admirable. Belogolotsev’s valiant jumps were also unforgettable.

As the “Grand Pas” commenced, I had mixed feelings of delight and sadness, knowing the program was about to end. In a pure white costume, Nina danced with clarity and freshness; Uvarov, as her prince, displayed dynamic jumps. At the finale, it was clear that in this company of stars, Nina was like the central jewel in a necklace of brilliant gems.

When Fadeyechev reappeared on stage to ask if we wanted an encore, the entire hall erupted in joy. Nioradze offered a solo called Etude and Picone showed off his form in Blue Blood. Then, to loud cheers, the music of the “Grand Pas” from Don Quixote started.  No matter how many times I see Nina’s Kitri, it always makes me feel energized, regardless of how depressed I am feeling. Her performance is really magnanimous, filled with brightness, like a large sunflower.

I was impressed again by Nina’s ability to change the color of her aura to suit each character she performs. She seems to reveal a different side of herself with each role. I believe I am not the only one who is dying to see her in new ballets---perhaps Raymonda and The Snow Maiden, which she has never danced in Japan

September 17: Tokyo Bunka Kaikan

As soon as I finished my work at the office, I rushed to the Bunka Kaikan with my heart pounding. Of course it was not enough for me to see the gala just once, and I was impatient to see the same program again. (Friends of Nina in New York made it to this performance, braving air travel after the horrific September 11 terrorist attack on that city.)

Although they danced the same numbers, the performances this evening seemed much smoother and lyrical. I myself should have been physically tired after working all day, but it was amazing that I felt so much better physically and mentally when I saw Nina dance. Her energy onstage seems to reach out to me---her performances have become like essential vitamins for me! During the intermission, I heard lots of people saying they loved Nina’s beautiful performance. I was happy to share the feeling of excitement conveyed by her magnificent artistry.

September 20: Workshop at Dream Hall in Fuchu, Tokyo

Friend No. 1: The Fuchu-no-mori Foundation, wishing to have an active ballerina coach their students, had asked Nina about that possibility in 1997. Aware of her status as one of the biggest stars in the world, and her tight schedule in Japan, they did not expect her ready consent. To the foundation’s delighted surprise, however, Nina accepted immediately saying, “I am so happy if I can do something to help bring up children.”  That first workshop in January, 1998, was followed by a second one on September 20, 2001. We heard some students took both workshops and Nina remembered them.

Qualification for the workshop was simple and fair. Ballet students 10 to 18 years of age (5th grade of elementary school to 3rd grade of senior high school) were eligible. Students who had more than five years’ experience in toe shoes took intermediate class; the others were placed in the beginners class. Each class had approximately 25 students; a pianist and interpreter were provided. The beginners class was held from 17:00 - 18:30, followed by the intermediate class, 19:00 - 20:30. This report covers only the latter.

Nina entered the studio with Alexei Fadeyechev, her longtime partner at the Bolshoi. Both of them wore Nina’s “Sketch” T-shirt—Alexei’s in black, Nina’s in one of her favorite colors, blue, which contrasted well with her black pants. The barre lesson started with pliés and ended with grand battements and stretch, in common with usual ballet classes, although some may do stretch before grand battement. Nina commented that she recommends doing the stretch at the end of the barre series because the body needs to be fully warmed up when the stretch is done. She also stated that stretching is very important and encouraged the students to do it everyday at home, further recommending that they do it after taking a bath; if the body is not warm enough, it could cause damage.

The center lesson consisted of adagio, battement tendu and combinations such as tendu and pirouette, fondu and pirouette, grand battement and changement and some sequences of steps such as assemblé, échappé, glissade, sauté, brisé, sissone, etc. The class ended with port de bras. Throughout the class, Alexei showed the order of movement, while Nina set the example for the adagio. The audience arose in spontaneous admiration of her graceful and free and easy execution.

At the beginning, every student seemed understandably nervous. However, they paid serious attention to the instructions and remembered the order of each series of steps. When they became uncertain at the grand battement, Alexei stopped the pianist and showed them the sequence again. Although Alexei’s figure is not as trim as when he was still an active dancer, his fifth position is just perfect, and his leg movements, for example, at tendu, were beautiful. They were exactly those of a principal dancer of the Bolshoi---showing the importance of excellent basic ballet technique. Alexei and Nina created a warm atmosphere and tried to put the students at ease.

Nina is an excellent teacher and gave detailed explanations. She gave equal attention to each student, taking their hands, feet and legs to show correct positions. She often demonstrated the correct movement and position herself and also showed wrong examples. It seemed the students understood her demonstrations clearly. They repeated the movements, with Nina reviewing their progress and giving further pointers. Nina tried to find good points for each student and mentioned them. This must be quite encouraging, and it impressed the audience, along with her detailed explanations. There was one student who had broken her arm and could not do the barre. However, during the pirouettes, Nina encouraged her to do the step without using her arms, just like Kitri---thus using her handicap in a positive manner. This really showed Nina’s consideration and warmth.

For the Question and Answer session after the class, the organizer collected questions in advance. Questions included how to have a good instep as a dancer, achieve a beautiful arabesque, turn-out, keep balance, turn pirouette and fouetté and dance with a smile onstage.

Nina actually executed the steps and taught key points. She also demonstrated exercises to achieve good instep and turn-out. She emphasized that she herself did not have good insteps when she started as a dancer ( she was a figure skater before taking up ballet), so she had to practice everyday to get them. As with the stretch, she stressed the importance of daily practice. Conscientiousness at daily lessons is the key to dancing with a smile on stage. [By this, she probably meant that a dancer must master the basics of technique, so she can concentrate on expression when she is preparing to go onstage.] She added that, “If I don’t dance with a smile, nobody can enjoy my performance.” She continued that a ballerina cannot dance Giselle only with a smile, so it is important to be conscious of various expressions at daily class.

The Foundation opened the workshop for free to students who couldn’t participate in the class, and also for fans of Nina. It was very worthwhile to see and an excellent opportunity to learn. Friends of Nina, Japan, will try to get information about the next workshop well in advance, so those who are interested may be able to plan to participate or watch. Please watch this website for news.

(There are articles on this workshop in Clara, December 2001 issue by Shinshokan and Ballet, January 2002 issue by Ongaku no tomo sha. Top ballet photographer Hidemi Seto kindly allowed us to post photos he took at the workshop, please enjoy them. We take this opportunity to express our sincerest and greatest appreciation for his cooperation.)

September 22: Fuchu

Friend No. 2: I was thrilled to go to Fuchunomori Geijutsu Gekijo Hall, knowing the response of the audience would be wonderful there. I have been to the Hall several times, and I have learned that the audience in Fuchu is knowledgeable about ballet and other cultural activities. So I was quite certain that the Nina gala would be greatly appreciated by such an audience.

At these performance, I had the impression that the movement of the dancers had become even lighter and more joyful compared to the Bunka Kaikan ones. Unfortunately, instead of a live orchestra, the music was played on tape here. The noises on the tape were a little unpleasant to my ears. Nevertheless my heart filled with joy at Nina’s gorgeous Odile and splendid Aurora. It was interesting to further observe the differences between Filin’s [Entrance of the Prince] and Uvarov’s Prince Desiré [Grand Pas], both excellent but varying in dynamic nuance. Amanda McKerrow, who did not arrive in time for the Tokyo dates, danced Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux with Picone, and a variation from Sleeping Beauty. I loved the Balanchine piece—performed with joy and brightness. Possokhov took over Albrecht in Giselle, and impressed me with his deep expression of emotion. Regrettably, there was no encore.

September 24: Takamatsu

This was my first visit to Takamatsu. I left home at 7:00 a.m. in order make the performance scheduled to start at 14:00. The Kagawakenmin Hall, which stands by the beautiful Tamamo Park, was very clean and comfortable. I found that some of the audience were also coming form other Prefectures, travelling a long time just to see the Nina gala. And it was really worth taking five hours for me to come as far as Takamatsu. It was obvious others felt the same way. The music was played on tape again, and the dancers seemed a bit tired. However, the performances were still lovely and met the expectations of the audience---to judge from the enthusiastic applause for Nina and the other stars at the end of each number.

September 30: Otsu, Biwako Hall

On Sunday morning I headed for Otsu by bullet train, my heart filled with excitement and expectations. But I had heard that Nina had a slight injury in Hiroshima, so I was a bit worried. However, to my surprise, Nina danced very cleanly and without a single sign of injury. I was touched by her extra-graceful performance---especially her Princess Aurora. Biwako Hall is such a fantastic theater, with a wonderful stage and well-designed hall, as well as great acoustics, so it was regrettable that there was no live orchestra here either. With its magnificent view of Lake Biwa from the lobby, Biwako Hall has it all. I wish there were such a wonderful theater in Tokyo, because Nina’s brilliant performances deserve such a gorgeous setting.

October 6: Sapporo

As this date approached, I was sad to realize that this was the last day of Nina’s 20th Anniversary Tour. The day before the performance, I went to bed early so that I could be in my best condition---not to miss a single second of the gala.

Hokkaido Koseinenkin Kaikan Hall, probably the largest hall in Sapporo, was a letdown after Biwako. However, my heart leaped with happiness when I heard someone in the audience excitedly saying it was the first time for Nina to dance in Sapporo, and that she had been waiting a long time for Nina to perform in her home city. When Nina’s performance began, I was so thrilled to see how eagerly, powerfully and radiantly she was dancing this evening. As wonderfully as she danced in the other cities, I believe that her best performance during this tour was in Sapporo! There was a richer, sharper flow in her movements—emitting sparkle with each step. Her Black Swan was especially brilliant: speed, balance, power and elegance, everything came together. I was very happy that I could see such a fantastic performance on the very last night of the tour.