Since the arrival of artistic director Koichi Kubo, NBA Ballet have largely changed tact. As Kubo had been a principal of Colorado Ballet for 20 years, their repertoire now features many American works, most of them new to the Japanese audience. The majority of the Japanese audience prefer classics, so this is considered a bold and challenging move for a relatively young company located in Tokorozawa, suburban city north of Tokyo.

NBA Ballet’s Triple Bill consisted of three 20th Century masterpieces, and they became the first Japanese company to perform The Leaves are Fading and Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 in full. All three works, including Great Galloping Gottschalk were coached carefully by the choreographers and repetiteurs, showing the eagerness and the hard work of the dancers and staff at this company.

Great Galloping Gottschalk was staged by its choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett and repetiteur Sandra Brown. The performance delivered its delightful, humorous groove in rhyme with the New Orleans composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s witty music. It starts with the joyous Souvenir de Puerto Rico featuring an ensemble of eight dancers with a female soloist (Midori Takeuchi), all playing with the swinging music. The Dying Poet is a pas de deux with quite unusual partnering – the male dancer hoists the woman like a helicopter and lifts her while sitting on his knees, and also dives to the floor and balances. The tricky partnering reminded me of ice dancing, but what’s lovely with this duet is that the choreography looks like a happy conversation. Motoi Mifune was a great partner and Chiaki Minegishi was expressive and musical.

Great Galloping Gottschalk has two movements when the dancers enter competitive dancing. At Tournament Gallop, three women charmingly appeal their allure, and in Le Bananier,  two virtuoso boys show numerous tricks of turns and leaps in order to win over their counterpart. Both parts conveyed so much joy, and Masayuki Takahashi and Tomohiro Minagawa were especially brilliant in their technique and expression. The final La Manchiega movement was delightful, with all the dancers revising their roles but everything combined perfectly. This is a kind of ballet that will make everyone in the audience smile, and the performers were equally enjoying it.

Anthony Tudor’s masterpiece The Leaves are Fading was coached by former American Ballet Theatre principal Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner who are known for their excellent interpretation of this ballet. The result was splendid. Although this is a plotless ballet, each and every movement of each dancer tells delicate emotion, the trembling of their hearts, and many aspects of love at different stages of life. The lyricism of the second couple (Ayumi Okada and Yasumasa Omori) in their beautiful pas de deux left a lasting impression with a bittersweet feeling of time passing.

The triple bill closed with Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1, a dazzling abstract ballet choreographed by Clark Tippet and coached by David Richardson. Four couples and the corps de ballet perform varied steps based on classical vocabulary and dressed in tutus. There were many over-head lifts displaying female dancers spreading their legs and posing glamorously, like fireworks. The Hungarian czardas inspired movements in the third part were effective as an accent. Sometimes the corps de ballet were lacking uniformity, but the four female leads were dashing and in tune with the violin played beautifully by Chihiro Asai. The climax in the coda, with waves of bravura leaps and ballerinas displaying turns, was a vibrant feast for the eyes.  

All three works were enjoyable and performed with a high quality of classical technique and expression, showing how well-trained the company was. It will take time for the rather conservative Japanese audience to get used to NBA Ballet’s ambitious repertoire, and we hope that their challenge will be accepted wider. Koichi Kubo’s challenge to change the environment of ballet and to raise standards for dancers in Japan has just begun.