Music creates images in my head, which I express in dance - An interview with Nichika Shibata, the lead dancer in Bolero at the closing ceremony of the 10th Theatre Olympics

2023. June. 22.

A promising young ballerina from Japan, she comes from a family of true art lovers and has a passion for dance. On Saturday 24 June she will dance the lead role in Michael Kropf's Bolero. Anna Mária Bólya asked her about the role and her fulfilment in ballet.

Anna Mária Bólya: We are meeting after a full day of rehearsals, what is your programme?

Nichika Shibata: Yes, we have a training session from 11 am and then we rehearse until 6 pm. It's like this every day for the whole week. On the day of the performance we have a break in the morning. Fortunately, I don't get too tired from rehearsals, but it's nice to have a rest in the evening.

B. A.: How did your love affair with ballet begin?

N. Sh.: My mother took me to ballet class and I was hooked right away. In our family, although my parents are not artists, music and dance were a daily part of our lives. For example, I learned to sing, but I was also introduced to many other arts. Then I finally chose ballet.

B. A.: What does passion mean to you in Bolero?

N. Sh.: Bolero is a bit difficult for me. Here I have to portray a female character who impresses all the men and attracts all of them. I am not that character in real life. So I try to imagine, to create this image in my head.

B. A: Successfully?

N. Sh.: I try to do my best.

B. A.: How does the music of Bolero inspire you?

N. Sh.: Bolero is my father's favourite music. I listen to it a lot. It's very interesting music, with practically constant repetition with the changing of the instruments. It gradually intensifies until the passion culminates at the end. The choreography also reflects this. When I dance from the beginning to the end, that's what I feel, how the passion gradually rushes forward.

B. A.: You are currently studying at Europa Ballet Sankt Pölten on a scholarship. Before that you took ballet courses in Japan, Europe and the USA. If you could only name three things that you have received from your dancing, what would they be?

N. Sh.: The first is probably learning how to learn each ballet routine efficiently and well, that is, the best ballet technique. The second is acting, or expressiveness in movement and dance. The third, what I learned from teachers and choreographers in Japan and here, is how to work. To work on what needs to be improved and developed until I achieve results. My teachers and choreographers give me strength to work, they show me the way.

B. A.: What are your plans for the future?

N. Sh.: The important thing now is that I dance, it's not the venue that is important, it's the dance. After that, if I will be invited somewhere, I will go. At the moment, apart from Bolero, I have leading roles in Sissy, Romeo and Juliet, which will be presented next week, and a few smaller roles.

B. A.: And how do you manage all this with energy? I heard from your teacher that you've been beating the boys at Bolero.

N. Sh.: I do have energy. When I'm rehearsing, I don't think "oh I'm so tired", because it's telling my body to be tired. I don't think about that, and I don't get tired easily. So when I have a rehearsal, I try not to be tired.

B. A.: Bolero's choreographer Michael Kropf inspires you to express yourself, to express the role. He sees Japan, where you come from, as having a very different tradition of movement expression than Europe. In the meantime, he has observed that you have changed remarkably in expression over the last year and have acclimatised to the storytelling style of the European tradition in dance. I wonder what it must feel like, how it feels for you, when you receive a request for expressivity from a choreographer? To what extent was this a conscious change in terms of stage presence and expression?

N. Sh.: As I mentioned before, in Bolero I present a woman on stage who is different from my character. It is difficult to talk about this issue. However, the good choreographer gives me the inspiration to experience the role and I take that inspiration and carry it forward. The music also inspires me to express myself on stage, which ultimately provides the basis for storytelling. The music creates images in my head which I then express in dance.

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