This season, The National Ballet of Japan presented a new production of Peter Darrell’s Tales of Hoffman. It was a little difficult to understand why this forty three years year old work would now enter the repertoire of this company, but artistic director Noriko Ohara had performed all main roles of this ballet whilst a dancer with Scottish Ballet and she (along with Kenn Burke, staging) passed on her experience to the company .

Based on the opera by Offenbach, Darrell adapted the story of a poet and his 4 loves - a life-like doll, a ballerina, a courtesan and an opera singer into a 3 Act ballet complete with prologue and epilogue. All four female characters are eventually destroyed by an evil sinister following him like a shadow. This is not an exact transcription of the opera, and John Lanchbery's balletic music makes use of some of Offenbach's other scores.

The ballet has a totally different feel with each acts: it's a dramatic ballet in the prologue and epilogue, the first act is based on Hoffmann’s Sandman and  Darrell's Coppelia, the second act resembles a Petipa-style classic, grand ballet, and the third act is  akin to an orgy taking place in an exotic Harlem. While Hoffmann falls in love with each lady and loses her every time – being obstructed by the evil genius, his character fails to learn life lessons and thus does not mature, even once old and tired in the epilogue. There is not enough depth in the storytelling to make him a convincing character. Yudai Fukuoka in the title role lacked the charisma and stage presence necessary, although he is a fine actor and partner and possesses polished classical technique.

Yet this ballet is a good vehicle, in that it greatly displays the qualities of the female principals of the company, as there are four female leads. Miwa Motojima was the diva, La Stella, glamorous in every regard. Kayo Nagata’s executed perfect doll-like movement as Olympia, and there was a touch of sadness in her wide open eyes. Ayako Ono brought life to the frail young girl Antonia who, hypnotised by the strange Doctor Miracle dances her way to death. Her purity of line and musicality, her passion for dancing alive on stage shine through with the glimmer of a true prima ballerina and her death crushes our hearts. Yui Yonezawa was menacing as the courtesan Giulietta, magnetic and bedazzling, with a wicked smile that resemble that of the black swan Odile. Each ballerina filled the stage with their charms so there was no way that poor Hoffmann could win.

The true leading performer of this ballet was Maylen Tleubaev who, as the evil genius transformed himself from a sinister count, mad scientist Dr. Miracle to the devil himself and ruled the stage with his overwhelming dramatic presence. It was him that made this ballet into an entertaining show and added much depth to the drama.

Overall, there are plenty of solo roles in this ballet, danced with precision and with much character, showing the high ability of this company. The Petipa style of classical dancing in the 2nd Act vision is a feast for the eyes with the unified beautiful corps de ballet creating a dreamlike atmosphere, and new brilliant designs by Naoji Kawaguchi and, above all, the magical lighting by Yuji Sawada which was breathtaking. But the 3rd act orgy scene was wacky and camp,seemingly out of context, the ballet ending on a vampire movie like note.

Darrell’s The Tales of Hoffmann is no masterpiece, but it was an enjoyable evening and the quality of the dancing, fascinating new sets and the costumes did entertain. It will be a good production to help develop dramatic skills for dancers that are not accustomed to create story ballets, and overall, it is a work worth being kept in the repertoire of this classical ballet company.