Dansomanie : entretiens : Miho Fujii

 

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    Japanese version

 

A Japanese ballerina in Paris

 

For Dansomanie, Miho meets Miho!

 

 

For Dansomanie, Miho met with her namesake, Miho Fujii, the first - and for the time being only - Japanese member in the history of the Paris Opera Ballet.

 

 

Miho Fujii : a Japanese ballerina in Paris

   

 



Early steps 

 

Born at Yokohama in the Bay of Tokyo, Miho Fujii began to study classical dance at the age of three, but it was not until her parents moved to New York, when she was seven, that she began to study seriously, at the American Ballet School. She danced as a child with the New York City Ballet, in Coppelia and the Nutcracker, and was bitten with the theatre bug. Two years later, when her family moved back to Japan, she began to study at the renowned Maki Asami School at Tokyo, and also with Reiko Otsuka, another great Japanese professor..

Her first trip to France was at age fourteen, when she took a fortnight's course with Daini Kudo, a leading Japanese choregrapher. She was noticed by Yvonne Goubé who was then invited to Japan; shortly thereafter, Miho Fujii received a three-month scholarship to Goubé's studio at Paris.

Unlike most Japanese girls, who are fascinated by Vaganova school's rigours, Miho Fujii found greater affinity with the refined, elegant technique taught at Nanterre, which school she thought to be the best in the world. After reviewing a number of school films, she finally decided to send a video of herself dancing along with a letter, to Claude Bessy, who took her up in the Second Form (the higher the form, the lower the number in France).

 

Petit rat


Thus it was that she found herself alone in France at the age of fifteen, overjoyed to have been taken up by the school to which she had aspired, but little imagining the trials and tribulations that lay ahead.

Besides her dance studies, Miho was expected to follow regular academic classes like everyone else. She had to take French alongside the small children in the Sixth Form. Language was a major obstacle for ballet lessons as well, as she often miffed an explanation. Although she did become friendly with two Japanese students who had won a scholarship to Nanterre at the Concours de Lausanne, the French language remained a real hurdle.

Although far from home and family, and despite all hardship, Miho Fujii never became lukewarm about the dance or the Paris Opera for that matter. In France, a number of Miho's acquaintances took a rather jaundiced view of her future at the Opera. But their less-than-buoyant approach had precisely the opposite effect: she worked twice as hard.

Was Miho ever downcast ? Well, there have been such moments. But she was able to mobilise her willpower and plough ahead, and has in any event "retaliated", so to speak, by mastering the French language. Miho Fujii is especially grateful to Francesca Zumbo, who has kept on teaching her since the days at Nanterre. «Madam Zumbo is most remarkable, a professional through and through. For someone like me, who tends to be a shade self-indulgent when it comes to really working on a rock-solid technique, her rigour was indispensable and has helped to bring out the best in me».


Life in the Corps de Ballet

 

At 17, Miho competed in the Concours de Lausanne, and then auditioned for a post as surnuméraire with the Paris Opera, where she was given a three-month contract (a surnuméraire goes on when a production requires extra dancers, or when no replacement is available - editor's note). Following which, she auditioned at the Paris Opera's Concours Externe for foreigners and «provincials» (sic), but was rejected. Upon which she wrote once more to Claude Bessy, who placed her into the First Form at Nanterre. Miho then auditioned yet again for the Opera's Concours Externe, where she was admitted third out of one hundred candidates. That one-year contract was thereafter renewed thrice, until, following her seventh audition, in the year 2002, she was finally engaged as a full corps de ballet member. She well recalls the set variation that was her Open Sesame ! - the pas de trois from Act One of Paquita.

At the Palais Garnier, class is held every morning from Monday to Saturday, and rehearsals go on throughout the afternoon, sometimes until seven-thirty in the evening, especially this past December for The Sleeping Beauty, and when the Internal Promotion Concours is about to take place. Oddly enough, she feels most at ease on stage, because tension runs very high in the weeks before the Internal Concours. «Rivalry is thick in the air then», but adds that the Paris Opera is nevertheless as much «home» to her as it is to her colleagues, who are also in a way her family. «Although there is indeed rivalry, nonetheless when things are very hard and we're dreadfully tired, we help and support each other».


Aspiration and ambition


Miho Fujii would like to dance Aurora or perhaps Manon. The dancers she admires are Sylvie Guillem, Monique Loudières and Aurélie Dupont, and Miyako Yoshida over at Covent Garden. She would like to dance Jerome Robbins' choreography to Chopin's music, such as The concert or In the night, although her personal penchant remains the great classical pieces. As for those who intend to dance professionally, her message to them is: never let the aspiration, the passion, slip away. What she herself aspires to is that her career move onwards and upwards at Paris, and we hope that it come true. In the meantime, Miho is on stage in the Linke / Noiret / Scozzi programme, from February 3rd 2005 on.


Miho & Miho

English translation by Katharine Kanter

 

Notes :


Miyako YOSHIDA

Born at Tokyo, where she began to study, she entered the Royal Ballet School in 1983 after winning the Concours de Lausanne, and then joined first Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet/Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1984, where she became Soloist in 1987 and Principal in 1988, and then the Royal Ballet in 1995. In 1980, she won the first prize in the Japanese National Ballet Competition. In 1991, she was voted Dancer of the Year, and was on the Lausanne Jury in 1993..
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Maki ASAMI School

Founded in 1956 by the ballerina Akiko Tachibana, this is one of Japan's best schools. between 1971 and 1994, Maki Asami was Head, a position now held by Kyouzo Mitani.
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Maki ASAMI

Eldest daughter of Akiko Tachibana, she first set foot on a stage at age four. At twenty, she left to study in the USA, and when back in Japan, helped to found her mother's school, that later took Maki's own name. In 1968, she began to choreograph, and is known today as one of the ballerinas who have marked the history of the art form in Japan.
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Reiko OTSUKA

Born at Yamanashi, she began to study modern dance at the age of five. In 1973, she joined the Momoko Tani troupe, where she made her début as a classical dancer in the role of Odette. She then studied for two years at the American Ballet Theater School before moving to Paris. She now runs her own school, and teaches dance at the Japanese Music lycée.

 

Interviewed on January 15th 2005  

© Miho Fujii – Dansomanie.