With the 2014/15 season opening at the Royal Opera House (yes, they’ll be doing Swan Lake), it’s a good time to take another look at the Japanese dancers and see what changes the last year has brought. Some ups and downs and a few leavers is the answer, but so far no dramatic announcements about new principals. Will we see a Japanese dancer reach principal this year? Who knows. But this is how the runners and riders look at the moment.
Akane Takada was promoted to first soloist (the level below principal) this year. This fine dancer has had a a meteoric rise from Prix de Lausanne dancer in 2008 to her position today. She’s won plaudits for her performance as Olga, the younger sister, in John Cranko’s Onegin, which will return to the stage in January 2015, when she will be paired with Vadim Muntagirov. She’s also got a fine record in modern works, like Wayne McGregor’s Live Fire Exercise.
First soloist Ryoichi Hirano gets my vote for most improved dancer. He really looks like principal material now, tall, with a lovely classical line. He comes from Osaka and his elder brother Keiichi is a first soloist with the National Ballet of Canada. He danced his first Prince Florimund in The Sleeping Beauty last season, and is cast as a principal in Aeternum in November.
First soloist, Yuhui Choe is of Korean heritage but was born and brought up in Japan, moving to Paris when she was fourteen. She has a huge following and a vocal support group calling for her to be made principal. She’s been with the company since 2003 and has danced most of the main principal roles, including Alice in Christopher Wheeldon’s smash hit three-act Alice in Wonderland. The Royal are doing Alice as their Christmas ballet this year, in place of the traditional Nutcracker, and Choe will be dancing Alice in December.
First soloist Hikaru Kobayashi joined the company in 2003 as a first artist, having previously danced with the Jeune Ballet de France, the Zurich Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet. She’s been a first soloist since 2009 and has a wide-ranging repertoire. She’s married to Royal Ballet principal Federico Bonelli.
Fumi Kaneko is on the next rank down, soloist, but she only joined the Company in 2011 and was promoted to first artist in 2012 and soloist in 2013 – pretty good going. She’ll be dancing the principal role of Kitri in Carlos Acosta’s new version of Don Quixote in January, partnered by Thiago Soares.
Luca Acri trained at The Royal Ballet School and graduated into the Company in 2013. He was promoted to first artist in 2014. He He created a role in Alastair Marriott’s Connectome and is featured in Ashton’s Symphonic Variations this season.
Mariko Sasaki joins the company as an artist after a year at the Birmingham Royal Ballet. She graduated from the Royal Ballet upper school, where she studied on a scholarship won at the 2010 Prix de Lausanne.
And a couple of dancers won’t be around this season.
Soloist Kenta Kura has left the Company after seventeen years to take up a new appointment as boys’ artistic teacher at White Lodge, the Royal Ballet junior school, having graduated from school’s professional dancer’s teachers course.
Masaya Yamamoto, the Prix de Lausanne dancer in 2013/14, has also left the company at the end of his apprentice year.