National Ballet of Japan stages Darrell’s ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’

Ayako Ono as Antonia, Yudai Fukuoka as Hoffmann and Takuya Wajima as Antonia’s Father

This month, the National Ballet of Japan presents Peter Darrell’s interpretation of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, regarded as one of the finest of Darrell’s long narrative works. First staged by the Japanese company in 2015, the ballet was praised for the creative way in which it was interpreted.

Darrell, founder Director of Scottish Ballet in 1969, was said to be one of the most prolific choreographers of his generation, having created a repertoire of works dealing with subjects not normally dealt with in ballet. This particular ballet, representing his unique approach to story-telling, was first performed by Scottish Theatre Ballet in 1972. It was subsequently staged by the American Ballet Theatre, the ballet companies of the National Theatre of Belgrade and the National Theatre of Prague, the Australian Ballet, Tokyo’s Asami Maki Ballet Company and Hong Kong Ballet.

Kasumi Okuda as Olympia and Shun Izawa as Hoffmann

The German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach became world famous for his operettas during his lifetime – lightweight comedies which featured many popular melodies which have retained their popularity even today. He nevertheless longed to become well known for more serious operas, and his hope was that Les Contes d’Hoffmann – his opéra fantastique which he began writing in 1877 – would achieve this ambition. As it happened, the opera did, but Offenbach died in 1880 while the production was still in rehearsal. The premiere took place at the Opéra-Comique on 10th February, 1881.

Les Contes d’Hoffmann was written as a tribute to the German Romantic author, composer and poet, E T A Hoffmann, who was known for his stories in which supernatural and sinister characters moved in and out of men’s lives. It was based on a play by Jules Barbier (who wrote the original libretto) and Michel Carré, and takes the form of a sequence of three short stories, telling of a fruitless search for love, with the real life Hoffmann as its main character.

Yudai Fukuoka as Hoffmann and Artists of National Ballet of Japan

In the Prologue, Hoffmann is waiting in a tavern for his lover, prima donna La Stella. Accompanied by Lindorff, the devil in disguise, he is encouraged to talk of his previous loves – all of whom were conjured up by the devil. First there was Olympia – a mechanical doll, Olympia, whom Hoffmann believed to be human after donning a pair of glasses given to him by the devil disguised as Spalanzani. Then there was Antonia who was convinced by Dr Miracle (actually the devil) that she was a ballerina, and who danced to her death. Lastly there was the courtesan Giulietta in the salon of Dapertutto (again the devil), who seduces Hoffmann, but who vanishes with Dapertutto. Hoffmann finally falls into a deep sleep, La Stella returns, and disappointed in him, goes off with Lindorff. Hoffmann, realising what has happened, is left completely alone.

Yudai Fukuoka as Hoffmann

Opera directors, conductors and musicologists have all taken on the task of reimagining Hoffmann, and for 100 years after its creation, manuscripts of various parts of the opera continued to be found, and many different versions of the score have been assembled.

The staging of this production is overseen by Noriko Ohara OBE, ex-Principal Dancer of Scottish Ballet and Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Japan, and Kenn Burke, former Soloist of Scottish Ballet and Artistic Director of Dance at the Dance School of Scotland. Choreography and scenario are by Peter Darrell, and Offenbach’s music was arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchberry.

Maylen Tleubaev as Spalanzani and Artists of National Ballet of Japan

The Tokyo Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Paul Murphy, a member of Birmingham Royal Ballet since he joined the company in 1992. He was appointed Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Principal Conductor in 1997, is a regular conductor for the Royal Ballet, and has led many of the world’s finest ensembles.

Four performances of the National Ballet of Japan’s production of The Tales of Hoffmann take place at the Opera Palace in Tokyo between 23rd and 25th February. Further information and tickets are available from the National Ballet of Japan website.

All photographs by Takashi Shikama

Information sourced from:

National Ballet of Japan programme notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica

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San Francisco Ballet pays tribute to two icons of British ballet

Katherine Barkman and Isaac Hernández as the title characters in Ashton’s ‘Marguerite and Armand’ © RJ Muna for San Francisco Ballet

As part of Tamara Rojo’s inaugural season as Artistic Director at San Francisco Ballet, the Company stages British Icons – a tribute to two of the greatest names of British ballet, Sir Kenneth Macmillan and Sir Frederick Ashton. The works to be performed are Macmillan’s Song of the Earth and Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand.

Kenneth Macmillan – one of the most creative choreographers in the repertoire – choreographed Song of the Earth for John Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet in 1965, shortly after he’d completed his magnificent interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. He selected Gustav Mahler’s symphonic work Das Lied von der Erde, written in 1908-1999, and first offered the proposal to The Royal Opera House, but this was rejected by the board in 1959 on the grounds that Mahler’s music was unsuitable for ballet. Macmillan then offered the proposal to the Stuttgart Ballet, a suggestion that was taken up by his old friend, John Cranko, who had directed the German company since 1961. The ballet premiered in Stuttgart in November 1965, and it wasn’t until May 1966 that the work was first performed by The Royal Ballet.

Mahler took the text of the songs from Chinese poems of the eighth century T’ang dynasty, which were freely translated into German – described as bitter-sweet reflections on human joys, concluding with a farewell to the world. In Macmillan’s own brief description of the ballet, it tells of “A man and a woman; death takes the man; they both return to her and at the end of the ballet, we find that in death there is the promise of renewal.” The choreography speaks for itself – the ballet is danced in simple tunics, tights and T shirts.

Misa Kuranaga and Joseph Walsh in an excerpt from Ashton’s ‘Marguerite and Armand’
© Chris Hardy

One of Frederick Ashton’s most passionate ballets, Marguerite and Armand was created in 1963 for Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, with original – and gorgeous – designs by Sir Cecil Beaton. Ashton – founding choreographer of The Royal Ballet – saw Vivien Leigh in a performance of Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias in 1961, and was inspired to transpose the play into a ballet in 1963. Ashton was so impressed with the magic created onstage by Fonteyn and Nureyev – not long after his arrival in London – that he included aspects of their shared charisma and passion into the intensely emotional choreography, which he set to an orchestral arrangement of Liszt’s La lugubre gondola and his B minor piano sonata.

Misa Kuranaga and Joseph Walsh in an excerpt from Ashton’s ‘Marguerite and Armand’
© Chris Hardy

The ballet – one of the most beautiful in the repertoire – tells of the tragic affair between the courtesan Marguerite Gautier and her lover, Armand Duval, the story which was also the inspiration for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La traviata. The ballet takes the form of a series of flashbacks, divided into five scenes – a Prologue, The Meeting, In the Countryside, The Insult and The Death of La Dame aux Camélias. The lovers meet at a gathering, fall in love, and despite Marguerite’s suffering from consumption, move to a home in the countryside. Their happiness is threatened when Armand’s father asks Marguerite to remove herself from his son’s life, because of her past. This she does, with much sadness, and the final – and very emotional – scene shows her dying in her lover’s arms.

San Francisco Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra led by Music Director Martin West, stages seven performances of its British Icons program, from February 9 to February 15 at the War Memorial Opera House. Further information and details of ticket reservations can be found on the San Francisco Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes

Kenneth Macmillan

The Rudolf Nureyev Foundation

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