Yumiko Takeshima. Photo © Ian Whalen

Yumiko Takeshima.
Photo © Ian Whalen

Maggie Foyer in conversation with the now retired from the stage ballerina and dancewear designer

My question as to whether she was going to miss her pointe shoes was greeted with a peel of laughter: “Actually, no! I will be wearing heels for the first time.” Takeshima has never danced the traditional “Giselle” but at Dutch National she had performed the peasant pas de deux partnered by David Dawson, “We had such fun dancing together.” Dawson has been a major influence in both her dance and her design career.

Takeshima continued, “There was a point in my career when I was about 29 when I had lost some of the passion for dance and I wondered if I should stop. Then David came back from the Forsythe Company as a choreographer. He made “The Grey Area” and it was like, ‘Wow!’ He felt I had a lot more to offer and said, ‘Now I want you to do what you like’. This was great. I had so much to learn about myself. I started asking ‘What do I like in dance? What kind of movement do I like?’”

I asked if other choreographers she’d worked with were like this and she answered with a long drawn out ‘Nooo!’ “Except, of course, Mr Forsythe. When he came to do “Artifact” with us, he said “bring everything you know. I’d never been told that before. I could actually do what I know instead of fitting in with a form or shape. Forsythe gave me a hint but David gave me complete freedom. But he was very strict with being truthful as to what I like for myself.”

David has a reputation for getting people to achieve what they think is impossible. Is this true?

“Yeah, he still does that to me, even today. He is an amazing monster; he really gets you somewhere.”

How did you start designing dancewear?

Yumiko Takeshima with Raphael Coumes-Marquet in David Dawson's 'Giselle'. Photo © Costin Radu

Yumiko Takeshima with Raphael Coumes-Marquet in David Dawson’s ‘Giselle’.
Photo © Costin Radu

Takeshima explained, “My great grandfather started a kimono business and my father took over so I have been surrounded by kimonos all my life. I knew nothing about sewing but there was something about it I always liked. When I moved to Amsterdam, there was nothing in my apartment. A friend lent me a sewing machine in exchange for a toaster and I made my own curtains, cushions, covers that sort of thing. Then one day I found leotard material for sale. It took me three days to make something like a leotard and I thought it was horrible! The funny thing was that when I wore my first leotard, dancers in the company came to me and said, ‘can you make me one?’ Then ‘can you make me something I look good in?’ So I started to design without realising I was designing. It was really fun. A lot of the inspiration came from my colleagues and what they look good in. People were so happy, so it just made me want to sew more.”

Takeshima now has her own highly regarded dance wear company that allows customers to mix and match colours to create individual garments. She created the costumes for all of David Dawson’s ballets and has also designed for William Forsythe. The practice leotards in the film “Black Swan” were her creation.

She will now have more time to spend on designing, “I want to stay sort of exclusive – making just one of a kind.” Fortunately she will keep her connection with dance, teaching and giving workshops on David Dawson’s style. He created a total of 10 works for her. “Sadly he wrote “Opus 11” for me – but I got pregnant and couldn’t perform it! But my career highlight was “Giselle” and I am so lucky to finish on this ballet – although it’s a lot harder physically this time.”

Maggie Foyer watches Yumiko Takeshima’s farewell performance in David Dawson’s “Giselle”