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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kobayashi Ballet The Invitation

Last night I saw Noriko Kobayashi Ballet Theatre perform their "English" mixed program.

Noriko Kobayashi Ballet Theatre, a small but ambitious Tokyo-based company founded in 1973, specializes in performing the 20th-century repertoire of the Royal Ballet, keeping alive many masterpieces of the Ashton, MacMillan and de Valois repertoire rarely seen elsewhere. Their mixed program performed August 19 and 20 in Tokyo was no exception. "Mixed" was the word, as the combination of Ashton's frothy display of classical virtuosity from 1933, Les Rendezvous, with MacMillan's dark and tormented The Invitation, followed by his fun-filled Elite Syncopations, made for a very varied night.

Female principal Ayako Ono's lovely lightness and joyousness, with plenty of Ashtonian épaulement and beautiful arms, were the highlight of Les Rendezvous, a typically charming Ashton work in which "Walkers Out" meet in a park and dance. Unfortunately, her partner, Makoto Nakamura, performed somewhat mechanically and without much elegance or musicality. Indeed, the male dancers, many of them borrowed from Tokyo's New National Theatre, were the weakest part of the company; there was a notable lack of pointed feet in jumps. Auber's music, at times a little bombastic, was nonetheless dancy. The costumes, to the original design by William Chappell, white romantic tutus for the women edged with pink, were suitably charming, although the pink-ribbon headdresses looked unfortunately like gift bows taped to their heads.

Elite Syncopations, which usually has western audiences in fits of laughter, fell a little flat. The requisite charisma and pizzazz are perhaps qualities that do not come so easily to Japanese-trained dancers. The Calliope Rag solo performed by Kizuna Takahata, which needs a lot of sexpot glamour to come across the footlights, was simply perky. Undermined from the start by the fact that both dancers were the same height, the pas de deux for the tall girl and short boy (Ikuko Kusumoto and Atsushi Sasaki) failed to elicit even so much as a ripple of laughter from the audience on opening night. The second cast (Yuki Ohmori and Akimitsu Yahata) were much more successful at capturing the comedy of this pas de deux.

Ripples of laughter were the last thing on anyone's mind during The Invitation, a one-act story ballet depicting the loss of an Edwardian-era teenage girl's innocence when she is raped by an older man visiting her family. This ballet is a little like a Mayerling in embryo, and, watching the story inexorably unfold, the audience feels the same sensation of impending horror. The whole cast acquitted themselves well with finely delineated characters. As the girl, a part created by Lynn Seymour, Akiko Shimazoe was excellent. A particularly moving moment was when she tottered on not-fully-pointed pointe after being raped. As The Husband, guest artist Robert Tewsley displayed compelling stage presence and dramatic intensity. Convincingly remorseful after the rape, he nonetheless quickly collected himself to walk off arm in arm with his wife as if nothing had happened.

Ms. Kobayashi is to be commended for presenting such an audience-challenging program, especially a mere week after Japanese balletomanes had sated themselves on several weeks of classical warhorses and international guest stars in the World Ballet Festival.

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