domingo, 26 de abril de 2015

Interview to Kazuko Omori

Kazuko Omori. Foto: Manuel de los Galanes
Kazuko Omori has been an icon in Angel Corella's company. She was with the troupe from the very beginning and she remained up to their last performance in January this year. Settled down in Barcelona, we have had the pleasure of interviewing her and if as an artist we already admired her so much because of the quality of her dance, her command of the technique but also and mainly because of the way she reached the audience; behind the outstanding artist, we discovered a very nice person, kind, simple and humble but tenacious, strong and brave who completely captivated us.

Carolina Masjuan

Kazuko in A+A. Corella Ballet. Foto Josep Guindo
How did you become interested in danceThere was a dance school near home and my mother asked me if I wanted to see how it was, so we went and I liked this very much and said I wanted to dance. I was four. As a child, I did not like the discipline but I loved the skirts, the leotards and tutus and so on... that yes! I liked it very much!! I wanted to get my pointe shoes immediately and I was disappointed when seeing this was not that way and that I would have to wait for long he, he....

Are there many differences in the conception of dance between Japan and Europe? I think that in general, the system and the way of working are similar, but in Japan we have another culture, there is the Kabuki, the Noh theatre, ... and money goes to enhance our culture more than to the dance which is not something typical from our country. Companies do not get subsidies, only the National Ballet gets aids and dancers have a salary, but this is an exception.

Take the Tokyo Ballet for instance and in general all the other companies too, they get funds from their own schools that use to have a lot of students. The incomes of the schools are allocated to the company and even generally dancers pay to be able to dance. Families finance that way the companies that can also have private sponsors. In many cases, when families are not so wealthy, dancers collaborate in other ways, selling tickets, teaching ballet or even they have another job as salesperson, waiters, etc... So, you see, we complain here but in Japan it is much worse. There, being a dancer is really vocational, because the sacrifice is huge. Although in many cases, dancers come from wealthy families and for parents it is a prestige that their children are dancers.

Kazuko Omori. Foto Manuel
de los Galanes
What has been your career path? Since I was four years old up to sixteen I was a student in Japan and when I decided that I wanted to be a dancer I joined the Flanders Ballet School. I stood there for two years and then I joined the company for one year. In Japan we work a lot, Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays and there are less holidays. 

So I thought that in Europe I could relax a bit more but it was not. In Flanders we worked very much: classical dance, repertoire, contemporary, pas de deux, jazz, character dances, Spanish dances… furthermore I didn't know the language, we talked in English of course, but I perceived that I didn't fit there and it was also quite a hard time too.

When I finished the school, I didn't get hired by the company immediately and I did many auditions without any positive result, but in June, when I thought that I would not get any contract, there was a vacancy in Flanders Ballet and they offered me to join. 

But that environment was very closed, we all were from the school and I didn't feel comfortable enough there so I decided to leave. Again I started auditioning but again I found nothing and at the end I left to Hong Kong.

I was offered a position at the Hong Kong Ballet without even seeing me. Only with a video I got the contract, so I was very happy and furthermore I was closer to Japan. I think it has been a matter of good luck, my video came at the right moment and in Hong Kong it is very easy to get a visa so I headed to and I stood there for three years. But soon I realized that I was used to the European style and that there it was really, really hard!! Like in "Mao's Last Dancer" film! you know? It was so similar to a military academy!  (laughs), and in addition nearly all people were Chinese, except the Manager, Stephen Jeffreys ex principal dancer at the Royal Ballet and his wife, with whom things were going on very well but the second manager had a total Chinese mentality and the exigency both physical and mental, was nearly inhumane.

I na rehearsal with Herman Cornejo.
Corella Ballet. Foto Fernando Bufala

And as I was not Chinese and had trained in Japan and Europe, I felt that I was not fully accepted, neither my way of dancing. I got many injuries because it was about: 100% classes, 150% rehearsals and 200% stage, non stop, not a single moment of relax, it was incredibly hard... I coped with it for three years, most Europeans do not resist a single year, it is too hard that discipline and rhythm of theirs. But I have to recognize that I learned many things, to be strong, to be patient, ... 

At the end I collapsed, I went back home and being twenty two l was thinking about my future and what to do and even if I knew I was strong, I decided to take a year off and meditate about my life, I still could study at the university and try other things. 

As Nikiya in a rehearsal with Natalia
Makarova and with Ángel Corella as
Solor. Foto: Rosalie O'Connor
But after six months or so I came back to take classes and I was lucky enough to meet my teacher, the Slovenian Leo Mujic, ex dancer at Montecarlo Ballet and at the Forsythe Company and also choreographer for the Berlin Ballet among others, who got to advice me very well and who I respect very much as he has been a very important person in my career. I remember the last thing he said when I already was First Soloist at Corella Ballet: ”Do not accommodate in your current position!”. I knew he was very happy for me for all what I had achieved but he always pushes me and encourages me, even if sometimes he seems to be somewhat harsh, I know this is part of his esteem to me... so, these are topics that are part of professional dancers life, one has to assume that there is only with very hard work, always learning new things each day, being open minded, that one keeps on making progress.... 

But back to that time when I was deciding what to do, he told me that I should prepare myself to go back to auditions. I did that and I went to Germany as from there I could easily reach many cities with dance companies, so it was a good place to stay to try to have good luck. But there was always the same, I spent three months doing auditions, public, private, and nothing at all. Then I moved to New Zeeland and then to the USA but the style there was very different, very fast steps and a rather different way of moving too. I also made some auditions but at that moment I didn't fit there, so I came back to Germany and Leo, my teacher in Japan, said: “you have to decide what is the company you do really want to join””with this mentality of yours that you have to accept whatever you get offered, you can't look for a job!!” (she laughs as she remember this) but it was not that easy, you could have an objective but it didn't work... and I wanted a job allowing me to live from dancing.

Don Quijote with Ángel Corella
And again more auditions and again no good luck at all... but during this second season in Germany I had a friend in Portugal who said me to go there to take classes and to see a small company which director was a former dancer at the Gulbenkian Ballet, César August Monis, who was doing some new works and so. I went there and danced, even with no contract, in a project with his company the Kamusua Ballet Company. In Portugal I met many people but when the project ended I made more auditions but again with no positive results and I went back to Japan.

And how has it been that you came to Spain? Then, as I wanted to work, I started in a publicity agency although I kept on taking ballet classes. I was just starting to work there when a friend told me that a dancer in Spain was looking for dancers for a project with the Barcelona Liceu Opera House. He was George Birkadze (who later on joined Corella Ballet where he met her wife the American dancer Ashley Ellis, now Principal at Boston Ballet) but I couldn't join immediately because I had signed a contract with the agency and I said, maybe in two months or so... and after a certain time I asked and they said there still was a place for me, so I headed to Barcelona.

Kazuko Omori. Foto: Manuel de los Galanes
But when I arrived it was not, there was no job free.. Nevertheless, I stood to visit the city and think about what should I do, furthermore, George felt a bit concerned because I had travelled from so far away and he said he would help me to find a job, maybe at the Liceu or with the David Campos Ballet (a small company in Barcelona). Those were possibilities so I stood... and then at the Eulalia Blasi ballet school, while doing ballet classes... I happen to meet Ángel Corella!! I already met him while going to the ballet school, I introduced myself and we did the class together, he told me about the tour he was preparing for Spain with some ABT dancers and that a dancer, I think it was Erika Cornejo, who couldn't join and he offered me her position.... So I started with the troupe with Ángel and from there to his Company.

Stanton Welch's Clear with Corella Ballet.
Foto: Fernando Bufalá
In fact, I think there has always been as a kind of predestination with Ángel. When I was a student I happen to met him at the airport in Tokyo. I was extremely shy but I made the decision to ask him for an autograph but as I had no paper I asked him to shake hands with me instead. He did and I felt that this was a very special moment, as a kind of sign that in the future we would meet again and we would dance together. I also think that even if during my stay in Germany I got nothing, at the end it has been thanks to the people I met there that I got that opportunity in Barcelona. A city that has meant a lot in my life.

What are your memories of the beginning at Corella's Company? Even unfortunately short, the experience has been so exciting, at least for the audience, that you know, we were absolutely enthusiastic and thankful for that great adventure to which we participated thanks to the kindness and generosity of the company staff and dancers.. did you also feel that magic? I felt that this was a dream, we all felt that project so ours and we saw the illusion of the audience... it is incredible that such a so huge achievement was left to disappear... mainly in Barcelona but also in the entire Spain. One can not understand how, with a so great talented dancers and a so devoted audience there is for ballet in this country, this is not taken into account, it is really sad. I will always be grateful to Ángel Corella to have allowed me to stay in Spain and to have given me the chance to have those marvellous and amazing experiences that have made me grow and hugely progress at both personal and artistic levels.

A+A with Russell Ducker, Corella Ballet. Foto: Josep Guindo
You have been one of the rare dancers that has remained with the company up to the end in January this year, from the very beginning. Did you consider any time about the possibility of leaving? No, never. That was really my place, I felt very well there, I felt full, I felt great and that made me grow very much as an artist, and in addition there was the variety of styles we danced: repertoire, Balanchine, Neoclassical, contemporary, new works created for the company,... that have meant so much to me, to my training and to complete me. Now I feel I'm prepared and able to face any new challenge at any company, in any continent.

Can we talk about something totally out from the strictly artistic stuff? It is because there is something that I have always found both surprising and nice and it is the huge amount of couples there have been in the Corella Ballet... was the ambience that good that love appeared everywhere? (Laughs) I think that at all Companies it is usual that some couples are formed, but ours one has to think that it was located at La Granja, that very small town where what can one do? It was so boring... At the beginning it was ok but after a certain time it was all so monotonous, Madrid was not that far away but the weather was awful very cold and snowing, sometimes we even could travel, so it is normal there wewre so many couples but yes! It is true that most of them still are together, many even married (Without taking into account those who joined being already couples, we could count at least eight new, so quite a good ranking!!)

ANikiya in a rehearsal with Natalia 
Makarova and with Ángel Corella as
Solor. Foto: Rosalie O'Connor

Your case is also a bit special, isn't it? Do you mind telling us about? I met Roberto because he rented me a flat when I just arrived in Barcelona. As I had an open ticket for three months, instead of staying at a hotel or a hostel I decided to settle down and this was how we met. Roberto had lived two years in Japan and although he didn't talk the language when he was there, he studied it in Barcelona and now he can speak Japanese fluently. This was how we met and how all started... You see that I have a very strong conection with this city, Barcelona!!

Who cares? Balanchine, with Ángel Corella.
Foto: Fernando Bufala
Thanks Kazuko! And back to the company, is there something you would outline from that time? A special moment or memory? To have had the opportunity to work with Natalia Makarova has been the best experience I have lived in the dance world. We have been working with Christopher Wheeldon, Twyla Tarp ballets, Stanton Welch, with Ángel, with many good teachers, it has all been fantastic, amazing, but nothing compared with working with Natalia Makarova. To have been teached by her in private, having her at rehearsals, to share with her those moments.... it has been something really unique and extraordinary, something one has hardly access to and that I consider a great privilege.

I think that you take classes, you are dancing in many Galas or as guest in ballet companies, you also go very often to Japan... what can you tell us about your current plans and life? Yes, since February 2015, I'm dancing as a free lance. I'm hired for Galas or as a guest in ballet companies, I also teach ballet classes and at the same time I take them at the Corella Dance Academy here in Barcelona. And I go very often to Japan, I dance there in Galas, and I have many opportunities to dance, I can't complain. Teaching is something I love very much and what I think is preparing me for the future.

This summer in Japan I'm going to dance Swan Lake and to teach summer courses together with a teacher from the Paris dance conservatoire. He gives the first class, then I teach repertoire and at the end they do gyrokinesis session of master trainer. These are my plans for this summer, I also will dance with a partenaire I have there in Japan, in fact I have two with whom I get along very well and when any project arrives, we take the chance.

A+A with Russell Ducker. Corella Ballet. Foto: Josep Guindo
I'm in a good moment now but, although I'm dancing as a free lance and do not stop doing things, I would like to dance in a stable way in a company again. It doesn't matter if it is in Europe or in the USA, as after this experience of eight years with Ángel, I can dance any style and any repertoire and adapt well to any company.

We leave wishing Kazuko all the good luck in the world, she truly deserves it. For sure we will miss her talent and her beauty on stage, it is always a great source of inspiration to see this ballerina. The company contracting her will be a very fortunate one.  

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