Issue 001 Hana Sakai <vol.2>
Dancing with a desire to fly
Hana Sakai is one of the most famed prima ballerinas in Japan. Where did she gain her versatility and airy sense that made her successful and into an artist overlapping genres? Was she born like that or gained that during her career? One thing is sure. She wants to make ballet an art with more freedom.
“I just love dancing, and everything started from that. I was born to dance and my love for it is the inspiration and power for me to move on. Ballet is a strict art and there are so many things to learn and practice, and you can’t be a professional if you cannot endure. You need to have a strong will, guts and motivation. When I was a teenager, I was feeling upset because of some small issue and my mom told me you are wasting your time, you should focus on working hard to be a good dancer, and I realized so. I have kept on practicing day after day with discipline to develop myself to become the one and only dancer, even though sometimes there were doubts. I was so lucky with the timing. When I was 18 I got my first main role at Asami Maki Ballet, and at 23, Ms. Maki invited me to the newly born National Ballet of Japan and the opportunity to star in the inaugural performance, Sleeping Beauty. “
“ I have no experience of studying overseas, and I am proud that I could be a prima ballerina in spite of my domestic career. Since my very early days, I wanted to be different from others and had strong preferences, so I had a vision to become myself and dance in my own way since my childhood without paying attention.”
Clad in a blue pleats shirt which were originally possessed by Yasutake Shimaji her partner, Sakai, with her lithe and slim structure has the glamour of a film star. But in fact she is a friendly, down to earth person, and she laughs a lot and talks a lot. She is also known to be a good ballet teacher, and many adult ballet students follow her to watch her performances and even travel for that. It is her bright personality that attracts the students as well as her star aura. Our interview session was held several times and we talked long hours as it was her intention to deliver her message and her vision as a dancer accurately and sincerely.
“To be honest, my body was not built for ballet, and it needed much effort to turnout. I have another, very important teacher called Toshiaki Hatasa. He has being coaching me for about 35 years, since my childhood. I was so lucky to meet him. He never gave up on teaching me. I was so blessed to have a coach who would look after me on long terms and make the impossible possible. I could change small habits, and even change my body by learning from him for many years. I talked with my body and I found out that if I had an ideal image I could work towards perfection. My ideal image can be fulfilled if I would not give up, it is not just your body but what you want to do, your wish could come true if you can believe without a doubt. “
“Everyone has a dream and moves towards it, but there are failures, you got injured or things won’t work as you wished. But I want to say that dreams will come true if you don’t give up. I have a motto that I treasure in my life which my elementary school teacher taught me. ‘Work hard within your circumstances.’ This is the word what I reflect at all times. I believe that if I work hard and do what I ought to do, there will be a way. I am so lucky that I could meet wonderful people. I am surrounded by such fabulous people and could make my dream true. “
I have been watching ballerina Hana Sakai for a long time, and although she was a polished dancer from her youth, I am convinced that now she has matured into a great artist and at the top of her game. As well as her flawless technique, she has a deep understanding of her role, and her sensitivity, versatility and her attitude as an artist on stage attracts the audience so that they cannot take their eyes off her. Moreover, her stunning character and not caught in the frame way of thinking stands out when she dances modern works. What kind of artist does Sakai wants to be in her coming years?
“I have been working hard in my entire career to be a better and a fulfilling dancer. As I get older, I might not be able to use some of the techniques at the same level as my younger days, but I will try to find works that I can show my best and be a more expressive dancer. Even for classical ballet, I definitely can perform better than in my youth. Of course if you are young you can jump higher and show higher extensions, but showing the history of the dancer by maturing is a beautiful and exciting moment for the audience, I think.”
“I always have the feeling that this could be my last work with the people I am working with, or, my last opportunity to dance this work, and I had this feeling from my younger days. As I get older, I think about it more. If you are young you might get another chance next time, but now this is getting difficult. Also, this might be my last opportunity to meet this audience, so I always do my best to show the best I have got. Each performance is once in a lifetime and there is no second chance so I face the opportunity with sincerity and passion. I rehearse with all my heart with precision; so, even if I make a mistake on stage I have no remorse. If I do everything I can and do my best and I stumble on stage, that can’t be helped, I won’t mind. Of course it’s better not to stumble, but I this was what I was feeling during my long career.”
Being a freelance dancer means that you have to find a place to take class lessons so that you can maintain your technique and keep yourself in shape. And compared to Europe and North America, in Japan there is no system that dancers receive secure treatment such as health care systems, social security, monthly salary, and still there are so many people who want to be dancers. Hana Sakai is a rare example of a female freelance dancer who can perform many stages in Japan and manage her own career.
“I became a registered dancer of the National Ballet of Japan at the age of 28, which means I can dance in that company under contract but no more as a regular principal. I had been known as the prima ballerina of National Ballet of Japan, but from then I became an artist, Hana Sakai. So I thought I have to manage my own career and become a performer with my own voice. As Hana Sakai, I have to have the strength as an independent dancer. When I received the Medal with Purple Ribbon from the government, I was happy and was encouraged that my path was right. I had the feeling that I had opened doors into a new world and I wish there will be more doors open for young dancers. Ballet is a western art, so most of the dancers in Japan study in the west and dance in companies in Europe or North America, but I want to show how much I, who studied only Japan, can do, how long I can keep on dancing and be at the top of the game. I am so proud that I could manage and fulfill my career as a freelancer. Last year I danced a new work 'Zero Point' choreographed by Darren Johnston at the Barbican Theatre in London, in a white unitard. After I struck 40 years of age, I got many offers of unitard and spandex costumes, of beige color! I can work hard because I receive those offers of exposing my body line.”
And at this day’s photo session, Sakai in white leotards and tutu possessed such stunning beauty. Her back, her bones and muscles were expressive, with a vision of white wings of a swan. I could watch her back all day.
“I will keep on dancing in pointe shoes as long as I can. Now there are many dancers over their 50’s and I am so touched by them, such role models. I am chasing their shadows and continue to work hard. I will take care of my body; keep on progressing while making my dancing even richer. That would be my lifestyle.”
Are there any rules and routines that Sakai has made for her?
“The other day I was talking with Yasutake, and came to the conclusion that I have no rules. But in fact there was one. I always eat eel on the morning of my performance, and make half of it into a rice ball for lunch. Also I have a piece of cake dipped into brandy as a snack, as a routine. I debuted as Cupid in “Don Quixote” when I was 14, and I had eel as my breakfast. And my grandma prepared me cake. It was like a lucky charm to me”
What does Sakai think of the power of art?
“Art is not essential for life, but it still exists. I think that art is necessary for human spirit and is food for soul. Art stimulates our creativity, and it gives us joy, gentle feelings, provokes, irritates, make us sad or happy. I believe, as a performing arts artist, that dance moves our soul and fulfills it.”
“There are amateur dances that moves our souls if they have the strong motivation to dance even if they don’t have good technique. Of course it is better if you are good at it, but people who have the passion; the spirit, makes us feel the happiness of being on stage. There are not many dancers who can express this feeling. I treasure this spirit of dance and I just love dance, and I dance with gratitude to everything surrounding me. The dancer’s devotion, discipline is beyond imagination and it is a hard profession, when we are not on stage we spend a lot of time with the slow and steady effort. We have to be aware of keeping our body fit and in shape. We dancers are shortening our life to bring everything we got, for the ephemeral moment on stage. I wish that there are more opportunities for people to experience this magic moment, and we dancers could receive the rewards they deserve. I wish more and more people could be exposed to art and make their life more affluent.”
Hana Sakai is the light that will guide young dancers in Japan, with her lithe, bright and free spirit. I am sure that more and more people will be attracted to this dancer, who has a wide vision and generous soul, and will keep on progressing and maturing as an independent artist for the years to come.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Yumiko Inoue
HAIR: Tetsu at SEKIKAWA OFFICE
MAKEUP: Itsuki at UM
VIDEOGRAPHER: Hajime Kanda, Aya Kawachi
INTERVIEWER: Naomi Mori
ART DIRECTER: Yuichi Ishii
Ballet Dancer / Dance Unit Altneu Born in Seattle, Washington, USA.Began ballet at age 5, and has studied under Toshiaki Hatasa since then. She entered the limelight when chosen to dance the role of Cupid in Don Quixote (all acts) in a performance by the Asami Maki Ballet Company. Moved to the New National Theater Ballet on its opening, and danced the main role of Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, the theater's inaugural ballet, opposite Japan's best-known prima ballerinas, Yoko Morishita and Miyako Yoshida. Since then, has been one of the central dancers in the Theater. Mainly involved in classical ballet, but has also been active in exploring contemporary dance and musicals, forging new frontiers. Regarded to be one of Japan's premier ballet dancers, with excellent technique and expression, enchants audiences with sophisticated performances. Currently a Honorable Dancer of the New National Theater Ballet Company as well as forming a contemporary dance unit Altneu with her partner Yasutake Shimaji. Her repertoire is diverse, including all the major classical full length ballets, as well as works of contemporary choreographers such as Nacho Duato, Marco Goecke and Christian Spuck.Sakai has received numerous prestigious prizes and awards, such as the Award from the Ministry of Education in the Art Encouragement Prizes in 2009, the 35th Nimura Dance Prize in 2015, Medal with Purple Ribbon in 2017 from the Japanese Government, and the Special Award from the 39th Akiko Tachibana Foundation Award in 2018.