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Our next three performances in Japan (Thursday, Saturday and Sunday) are of The Sleeping Beauty. Here you can see a rehearsal video filmed in our Birmingham studios, and featuring Company dancers Ambra Vallo and Mathias Dingman:

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NBS Japan posted some images on their twitter feed yesterday showing some of our dancers signing photographs ahead of the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief benefit performance at Tokyo’s U-port Hall on Tuesday.

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More information is also available on the NBS Japan blog

Well, we’ve been here for four days now and already we’re thinking about moving on to our second venue! The flight over went very smoothly and we arrived at Tokyo Narita on Tuesday morning to be pleasantly surprised by how warm the weather was. Kamakura is just over an hour from the airport by coach and once we’d checked in to the hotel, people set off to explore the area.

Unfortunately the skies had been clouding during the day and by the end of the afternoon it had started to rain. The rain lasted until Friday morning and has been quite spectacularly heavy at times; particularly on Thursday when those who decided to make the trip from Kamakura (where the hotel is) to Yokohama (where the theatre is) by train got completely soaked on the walk from the station.

The theatre in Yokohama has a large auditorium and a good sized stage but space backstage is very, very limited which has made for an interesting couple of days. The stage and lighting departments have had the equivalent of a giant logic puzzle to contend with as they work out where to store everything, but at least the dressing room allocation was very easy as there are only two; one for all the girls and one for all the boys! The wardrobe department have had just as much fun – ironing and laundry is all happening in the corridors. Well, those sections of corridor that aren’t three deep in rails! Someone has likened the experience to doing Sleeping Beauty on mid-scale – I think that’s probably a fairly accurate description! One up-side for me is that in the absence of a dedicated Company Office, I’ve taken up residence in a corner of wardrobe – I’ve had a fantastic and hilarious couple of days sharing a room with Lili, Vanda, Michael and the wardrobe girls; although I’m sure they’re looking forward to getting shot of me once we get to Tokyo!

As I type, we’re in Act III of the Beauty General – the first performance is tomorrow afternoon and then we’re straight off to Tokyo. Sunday is a day of studio rehearals and then on Monday and Tuesday we’re at the U-Port Hall with the double-bill. Tuesday night’s performance is a fundraising gala in aid of the Earthquake and Tsunami Appeal; we’re all very pleased to be able to do something practical to help. Life in this part of Japan is pretty much back to normal after the disaster – the only really noticeable difference is the power saving; once the sun sets it’s really noticeable how many lights and neon signs remain switched off.

It’s time for me to sign-off now as it’ll soon be time to start rounding people up for the coach journey back to the hotel!

More soon!

Paul (Grist – Company Manager)

**Update**
Although I wrote this yesterday afternoon, I’ve only just got round to posting! Between then and now, we’ve done our first performance of the tour (which went very well – a really great show which was enthusiastically received by a very appreciative audience), the technical staff have packed everything and loaded it back onto the trucks, and we’ve all moved on to Tokyo! Time for bed now – but more soon! P

The Kamakura Arts blog posted some images from inside the theatre the other day, strikingly showing the stage before and after it has been set and lit for The Sleeping Beauty:

Click here to take a look at the Kamakura Arts blog itself.

Thankfully our Media and PR Manager, Simon Harper, seems to have avoided any bad luck that Friday 13th might have tried to throw at him, and has sent us the following update from Japan!

After two days, the rain has finally stopped and the sun is shining down on the Kamakura Performing Arts Centre, where we open the Japan 2011 tour with Peter Wright’s The Sleeping Beauty.

Preparations are well under way and within 24 hours the theatre has been transformed. Sets, lighting, costumes and the Tokyo City Philharmonic orchestra stands all in place ready for the first rehearsal this afternoon and General this evening. The 1500-seat Kamakura theatre is approximately 30 minutes by bus from the Yokohama hotel, but many people making their own way to the venue on the JR Tokaido train line.

David Bintley arrives into Yokohama today before making his way to the Kamakura theatre to watch this evening’s General rehearsal. Diane Parkes arrives from the UK to begin a week-long report of the tour for the feature desk of the Birmingham Mail.

You’ll see from photograph below that the Company remains very popular in Japan, with newspaper clippings displayed outside the theatre covering Chi and Nao’s recent press trip to Japan, when they both experienced the earthquake first-hand.

The first of the tour’s ten performances starts at 3pm tomorrow with Nao Sakuma as Princess Aurora and Chi Cao as Prince Florimund. Rehearsals continue in Tokyo on Sunday where we’ll be joined by Miyako Yoshida and Tamara Rojo, both guesting with the company during the tour.

Simon

Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers, technical staff, the company manager and Jerwood staff, along with students from Elmhurst School for Dance, arrived in Japan on Tuesday and made their way to Yokohama for the start of the Japan tour. With per diems and hotel keys collected, dancers and Company staff found their pre-allocated rooms in the 30-floor hotel, no doubt to get some well-earned rest after a long journey from Birmingham.

The company were greeted by a large number of hotel staff as two full coaches arrived at its destination just a few miles from Yokohama bay. We received another warm reception from the NBS (tour promoters) press staff as they were keen to document the company’s prompt arrival! I was told a few days ago that the Japanese audiences were eager to see proof (in the form of photographs) of the company arriving. With a small number of companies cancelling tours following the earthquake, photographs taken by the NBS staff would help to show Japan that the tour is very much on! You will see from yesterday’s images that the male principal dancers are popular too!

Along with per diems and keys, each member of the company also collected Japan’s version of the London Underground’s ‘Oyster’ card – a travelcard credited with the exact number of metro journeys he/she will need to make between venue and hotel during the stay in Japan. Once you have conquered that first journey, the metro proves very straightforward here, extremely punctual and very quiet as Japanese people go on their way minding their own business. Cities seem to come to life at night as many people work long days and seek entertainment after work with friends or colleagues.

The company has a free day tomorrow plus the option of doing class at the Kamakura Performing Arts Centre. Yokohama is a wonderful shopping district with many traditional restaurants, so I am sure these areas will be checked out with gusto too!

Simon

NBS, the promoters of our trip to Japan, have been posting pictures of our arrival on their twitter account (you can see it here).

Here’s a selection of some of the most recent images:

Simon Harper is our Media and PR Manager. He and a small party of senior staff flew out to Japan ahead of the rest of the Company to ensure all was in place for our forthcoming performances there. Here he explains what he’s been up to so far:

I arrived in Tokyo on the evening of Saturday 7 May with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Keith Longmore (Communications Director) Paul Grace (Technical Director), Doug Nicholson (Head of Scenic Presentation) and Johnny Westall-Eyre (Head of Lighting).

Before heading to Yokohoma and the Kamakura theatre today (Monday), we all had the opportunity to see our Director David Bintley’s Aladdin at the New National Theatre in Tokyo. I’d already seen two of the Aladdin pas de deux danced at the Symphony Hall over the last 2 years at the Evening of Music and Dance performances, and so when the opportunity came up to see the New National Ballet Co. perform the entire piece I jumped at the chance. And what a performance and what a ballet! Fingers crossed Birmingham Royal Ballet has the chance to perform this work at a later date. Watch this space!

Visiting the NNTheatre I also met with Benika Mori [David’s PA in Japan, where he is Artistic Director of the New National Ballet]. Over the past year Benika has very kindly helped to arrange interviews with David (not always easy with the +9 hr time difference) so it was great to finally say hello and thank her face-to-face.

Today we travel to Yokohama to meet the remaining travelling company who arrive tomorrow late afternoon. Diane Parkes from Birmingham Mail will also be joining the Company for the first week in Japan, to report on the tour and fundraising gala for our local Midlands audience.

Reflecting on the March 11th earthquake and from what I saw of Tokyo and its residents today, the city remains vibrant and buzzing and just like January 2008 (our previous tour) the capital feels very safe and ‘business as usual’. You can’t help but think about those families further north affected by the terrible events 2 months ago, but from what I witnessed at NNTheatre yesterday the huge passion for ballet continues here and there is a sense that the show, and every day life, very much goes on.

Simon.

Our Director David Bintley flew out to Japan earlier this month, both to prepare for our forthcoming tour dates, and to continue his work with the New National Ballet of Japan.

The weekend before last he wrote to the Company to share with us his experiences out there. His letter is reprinted below:

At long last beautiful weather has returned to Tokyo after a wet and windy week. I have watched with envy the glorious sunshine you have all been enjoying in England and wondered once more why it always seems to happen during mid scale?

After un-seasonally cold temperatures and lowering skies, Sunday saw the clouds part and the sun finally put his hat on.

I celebrated Easter Mass at Saint Ignatius and a frisson went through the worshipers as a small aftershock interrupted the sermon. Since my arrival here it was one of only three, very small tremors, and another sign, after the almost constant ‘shiftings’ of several weeks ago, that things are almost completely back to normal in Tokyo.

Nothing is in short supply, no power cuts, restaurants all thriving, vegetables being sold in the streets and a most notable change in the mood of the people as the nation begins to count it’s losses and begin the return to normal life. The only sign of austerity at the moment is a conscious attempt to conserve power. But rather than ‘switching off’ unnecessary lights, Tokyo seems to have simply removed a third of it’s light bulbs! They can afford to!

The one telling sign that anything ever occurred however is the emptiness of the flights to Tokyo. My plane was a considerably smaller one than usual and still not full. More evidence that outside perceptions of the disaster and it’s after effects is far worse than the reality, and why our support of the Japanese and their economy and morale is so important.

I do hope that you all enjoyed [the recent split] tour. I hear reports that it was a great success, and simply want to assure you how completely normal life here in Tokyo is and, if the weather remains as glorious as it is now, what a fabulous and enriching experience awaits you all here in Japan.

David.

Birmingham Royal Ballet has confirmed that it will go ahead with next month’s International tour to Japan, with an additional Benefit Performance at Tokyo’s U-port Hall venue for the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief.

Director David Bintley, who was in Japan during the disaster, said:

‘On the afternoon of 11 March 2011, I was rehearsing the dancers of the National Ballet of Japan in my ballet Take Five, part of the Company’s latest programme, due to premiere the following Saturday. The devastating earthquake and tsunami that occurred that day and the resulting tragic plight of the Japanese people echoed around the world. Music, singing and dancing, which can so often bring joy and happiness to the spirit, seemed inappropriate, and the New National along with most theatres in Tokyo closed its doors as the people of Japan began to count the cost of the tragedy visited upon them.

‘Two months later, with Japan facing its future with a bravery and stoicism that has become the admiration of the world, I am proud to be bringing Birmingham Royal Ballet to Japan as part of the cultural and spiritual healing of this great nation. We hope that our performances of Sir Peter Wright’s classic production of The Sleeping Beauty and Sir Frederick Ashton’s warm and wonderful masterpieces The Dream and Daphnis and Chloë will bring joy and light to our Japanese audiences and provide them with some respite from their current difficulties.’

Birmingham Royal Ballet will also welcome special two guests during the tour. Former Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet Principal Miyako Yoshida will dance alongside Company Principal César Morales in two performances of The Dream in Tokyo, 27 and 29 May. Tamara Rojo will guest in two performances of The Sleeping Beauty in Tokyo, 21 and 22 May, partnered by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Iain Mackay.

You can see a short clip of Miyako Yoshida in this video about Peter Wright’s work on our classical productions:

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s website

Birmingham Royal Ballet on twitter