Yukichi Hattori has been given the great task of changing the way people look at the arts, specifically, the art of ballet. Since graduating from the Hamburg School of Ballet, he has shown audiences across Germany, Japan, and Canada new interpretations on how ballet still has a lot to offer to our lives, not only in terms of cultural enrichment, but also as a resource for looking at how the values of commitment, hard work, and dedication can pay off when continually practiced. Now with his choreography of Temple (one dance from the three-part contemporary ballet, Up Close) being shown in Edmonton, he gives audiences a chance to witness and connect to what the rehearsal environment is like, featuring the men of Alberta Ballet.
What is it about the men of Alberta Ballet that brings this performance [of Temple] to life?
The females happen to be always busy. Like two years ago they had Swan Lake to prepare and this year they have Giselle to prepare. So because of that they’re not involved, but it’s not because I’m trying to be exclusive per say [laughs].
It takes two [both the audience and the male dancers] – creative dancers and creative audiences – being in such [a] close space – you can feel the breath and things like that, that makes it so much more intense. In a bigger stage of course there are things we can do that are different and that touches people in other ways, but in an intimate setting like this, you really feel that you’re having a conversation throughout the performance… I really feel that we [the dancers and the audience] have a nice conversation with each other.
What are you hoping that audiences will take away from this performance [of Temple] in addition to having a conversation with the dancers?
This piece I’ve made is based on our daily training. Unfortunately, in North America there are a lot of people who still think that being a ballet dancer isn’t a real job. Sometimes I still get lots of questions like, “So what do you do during the day?” [Laughs] Yeah, so I have this frustration of people saying that I should get a Master’s degree in Dance or Art and things like that, and just because we didn’t go to a school that is recognized, we get labelled from people who don’t understand what we do. So [Temple] is to show how much concentration and how much discipline goes into ballet. I’m making a piece around that and I’ve combined it with Gregorian chants —which is the oldest style of European music sung by men [a long time ago] and these days there are females involved as well. [The show is] almost a religious environment; we show audiences our bodies are temples and that we have to build it each and every day through discipline and repetition.
In one interview, you mention the ballet scene in Japan is strict because it’s “bound by tradition”. You also refer to your training with the Hamburg Ballet in Germany as being rigorous. So how do both experiences influence the way you’ve chosen to choreograph Temple in Up Close?
Hmm, well I think it was very conservative—both Japan and Germany. You know, in Europe ballet is considered traditional art and as a ballet dancer, you have a very high social status, meaning it comes with great responsibility. You are expected to have a certain amount of knowledge about art and views about policies of art and education. So for myself, I feel a great sense of duty and because the people in North America doesn’t see dancers/artists in such ways quite yet –it’s not as intense as Europe—I feel that dancers here also aren’t as disciplined, but of course they’re working really hard and I’m not trying to disrespect anybody but I’m looking at the mindset which is a little bit different. Sense of duty [towards the arts] is a bit lower here: you dance because you want to do it, because you feel like it’s your calling. For me, it’s more about … [having] to make it as best as possible no matter what the circumstances are.
Ok. So there’s a bit of duty in there, but still your own freedom of expression comes through in what you’ve chosen to present as well?
Yes. We can only attain a certain freedom through proper construction in your body, and architecture in your mind.
Do you think people have responded positively to Up Close in the past [parts of the three ballets that make up the show were also performed in 2012 and 2013] because contemporary ballet relies on experiences from the world we recognize compared to classical ballet?
Definitely! I think what it is, is the setting is ideal for it. The world now is much smaller, so the theatre being smaller also matches with that too. But then again, classic ballet in the studio, it will be a little bit disappointing because you’re missing the point of view, the grand picture, the budget, that kind of stuff. But what I’m trying to say is that if we performed contemporary in a bigger theatre, we’d have to change the approach because you’re missing all those tiny details. So Up Close is I think successful because of the setting being right. That’s why in Edmonton, we’re not presenting it in the big theatre–to keep that intimacy.
So do you see yourself continuing to make contemporary shows like this in the future?
Oh definitely! In Germany, I went to Hamburg Ballet School and they had a choreographic curriculum so I’ve been choreographing since I was say 15. I just started doing it professionally around 2004 but it’s been a long process and it’s been part of my life, so I’ll definitely keep going.
Take a look at the promotion of Up Close on Marker’s website: http://markermagazine.com/yukichi-hattori-alberta-ballet-choreographer-and-dancer/