In 1996, Nana Kawashima invited me to Japan to dance Prince Desiré in “The Sleeping Beauty” as part of her studio’s 25th anniversary celebrations. Recently, eighteen years later, we finally met again and with her nephew Ryota Kodera talked about her ballet studio in Gifu, Japan, his company, RK Dance, and his approach to choreography…
CriticalDance: Tell us about the Nana Kawashima Ballet Studio. How and when did you found the studio?
Nana Kawashima: I started my ballet training at the age of fifteen. I trained under a number of ballet dancers and teachers including Jean-Claude Ruiz, Nora Kiss and Hideo Fukagawa. The Nana Kawashima Ballet Studio was founded in Gifu in 1972. When I opened, there were only three students in one studio. Now, I run two main studios and also facilitate regular ballet classes with three cultural centres. In total there are now almost 200 students enrolled.
The Nana Kawashima Ballet Company was formed in 1998 and currently has 10 members.
CD: Tell us about Hideo Fukagawa.
NK: Hideo Fukagawa trained together with me at the Minoru Ochi Ballet Company. In 1969, he won a silver medal and the Nijinsky Award from Serge Lifar at the Moscow International Ballet Competition, and is still the only Japanese ballet dancer to have received that award. He danced as a soloist in various ballet companies in Germany including the Komische Oper Berlin, Stuttgarter Ballett and the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Munich. He has worked as a ballet teacher and choreographer with my Studio and Company after his return to Japan.
CD: Tell us about Ryota Kodera and RK Dance.
NK: Ryota Kodera is my nephew. He started his ballet training at the age of six in my school. He flew to England when he was fourteen. In 2009, he graduated from Roehampton University in London with a BA (Hons) in Dance studies, and Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. It was there he started learning other contemporary techniques. He also received an MA in Choreography at Middlesex University in 2011.
RK Dance was formed in 2011. The company and Ryota have participated in a number of events and performances both in the UK and Japan, including Resolution! 2013 at The Place in London.
CD: Ryota, tell us about the Japanese wabi sabi concept in your choreographies.
Ryota Kodera: As a Japanese choreographer, one of my ultimate goals is to create a truly Japanese ballet. By that, I do not just mean a ballet that simply represents certain aspects of Japanese culture, but one that also embodies the aesthetics and characteristics of it.
The concept of wabi sabi is one of the key principles of Japanese aesthetics. It sees beauty in transience and imperfection. I find it as one of the most distinctive natures of Japanese art and culture. It is a crucial factor in my choreography.
So far, I have created two pieces based on this theme. The first piece, “Kurashikku Baree”, which means ‘Classical Ballet’ in Japanese, is a ballet in which I applied the key principles of wabi sabi to construct movements, so that the ballet could potentially become classical to Japanese. The second piece, “Yamato-Nadeshiko”, goes one step further and focuses more on the ideal model of traditional Japanese womanhood. In this piece, balletic movements again reveal the quiet, subtle quality of wabi sabi that traditional Japanese women possess, but their brave and tenacious nature is also expressed through the use of contemporary dance movements.
At this early stage of my career, I have many themes and goals as a choreographer. Yet as a Japanese, pursuing the wabi sabi concept is by far my most significant goal. I believe that one day I could achieve the truly Japanese ballet.CD: Tell us about your students. Who are the best, and for which professional companies have they danced?
NK: Up to today, my studio has produced three professional ballet dancers: Yukari Hatano, who danced as a soloist at the Oper Leipzig in Germany; Senri Kou, presently a Soloist with English National Ballet in London; and Miyuki Imamura, who is dancing with the National Ballet of Japan at the New National Theatre Tokyo. And, of course, Ryota is also working as a choreographer and directing RK Dance.
CD: What are your future plans with the school?
NK: My aim has always been to develop a proper, European-style classical ballet in Japan. Using the styles and methods of Nora Kiss and Jean-Claude Ruiz as a base is key to achieving this goal. As a dance studio or school, producing professional dancers or dance teachers is also an important objective. The studio is keen to try something new, such as introducing and combining ballet with other contemporary dance techniques, so that it can bring unique, professional, high-quality and, most importantly, enjoyable performances to the world.