The normally peaceful world of British ballet has been hitting the headlines recently, what with Sergei Polunin doing another no-show, Tamara Rojo, the new English National Ballet Director, likening male-dominated ballet to porn, Russian superstar Natalia Osipova joining the Royal and Alina Cojocaru jumping ship from the Royal to the ENB. But inside the hothouse world of the ballet fan other controversies rage, not least of which is, when are they going to promote Yuhui Choe?
When the 2013 Royal Ballet promotions were announced on the third of July, Twitter was filled with wailing and gnashing of teeth as Yuhui Choe’s name was absent again. A light, versatile and hugely popular dancer, she has been a first soloist since 2008 and has surely earned her place in the top rank, particularly given how many female principals slipped through the Royal’s fingers last year. Could 2014 be the year we see another Japanese principal at the Royal Ballet, following on from the much-loved Miyako Yoshida, who retired in 2010? (Japanese-born Choe is from a Korean family but counts as Japanese in my book).
Also jostling for a coveted principal rank are two other Japanese dancers – Hikaru Kobayashi and Ryoichi Hirano.
Hikaru Kobayashi has been a first soloist since 2009. Married to fellow dancer Federico Bonelli, she is a precise and charming dancer with a loyal following. Highlights of her past season include Gamzatti in La Bayadère and Countess Larisch in Mayerling.
Ryoichi Hirano is another dancer with potential to rise. Tall, elegant and very watchable, Hirano was promoted to first soloist in 2011, but faces plenty of competition from a slew of male dancers at first soloist level. Still, the loss of Johan Cobborg has opened up a space for a new male principal, so why not make it Ryoichi?
Looking further down the hierarchy, there’s Kenta Kura.
Currently a soloist, he’s danced some interesting roles over the season, including the Frog Footman in Christopher Wheeldon’s massively popular Alice in Wonderland.
Or Akane Takada, who’s currently a soloist.
There were great hopes for this fine dancer in the 2012/13 season with her first Sleeping Beauty planned, but injury kept her from dancing the role and it has been a long slow climb back to fitness. Hopefully this is the year we will see her fulfil her promise and develop a partnership with Stephen McRae with whom she was memorably paired in Eugene Onegin.
Fumi Kaneko is definitely one to watch.
Promoted to soloist in July 2013, Kaneko is still quite junior in the hierarchy but is already turning heads and dancing way above her weight. She’ll be dancing the lead role in Carlos Acosta’s new production of Don Quixote on 25th October and 2nd November 2013, partnered by Thiego Soares.
Finally, a new male dancer to look out for.
Masaya Yamamoto joins the company as the Prix de Lausanne dancer for 2013/14. The Prix de Lausanne helps talented dancers young get a foot on the ladder to a professional careers through one year scholarships with schools or professional dance companies. The Royal Ballet offers an annual place and nearly all their Japanese dancers have joined through that route. Can’t wait to see him.
Ballet is massively popular in Japan (the Royal Ballet are currently touring there) which may explain why there are so many Japanese dancers in the company. But there are plenty of obstacles on the route to the top. Former principal dancer Bryony Brind complained this year that there are currently only three British dancers among the twenty one principals. If the Director of the Royal Ballet, Kevin O’Hare, shares that view then we may see Japanese (and other nationalities) languishing in the ranks for rather longer while native dancers like Melissa Hamilton from Belfast, who was promoted to first soloist this year, leap ahead.
Update: of the four promotions to principal in the 2016/17 season, two are Japanese. Full details in my July 2016 post.