Newly-minted Royal Ballet principal dancer Fumi Kaneko talks to Ballet Position in the aftermath of her stunning debut as Juliet
Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is a narrative masterpiece, distilling in its structure and choreography all the passion and ultimate tragedy of Shakespeare’s doomed young lovers.
Add to that Prokofiev’s magnificent, eloquent score, and it’s easy to see why Romeo and Juliet is one of the best loved works in The Royal Ballet’s repertoire. Having seen it countless times, I didn’t expect to be surprised, much less blown away, when I took my seat at the Royal Opera House for a matinée towards the end of October.
The lovers were to be danced by William Bracewell, a stylish and very affecting Romeo, and in only her second performance as Juliet the Japanese dancer Fumi Kaneko, with whose work as a technically accomplished dancer in both classical and contemporary repertoire I was familiar.
Yet, by the end of the performance I was an emotional wreck, such was the intensity Kaneko brought to the role. Hers was an interpretation that blended careful characterisation with an instinctive freshness and small telling gestures that were hers alone. In the final scene, where Juliet is faced with Romeo’s dead body, Kaneko was the epitome of utter, profound desolation, a Juliet overwhelmed by the magnitude of a loss she couldn’t quite comprehend.
It reduced me to tears.
So, when I met Fumi Kaneko at the Royal Ballet’s Covent Garden home, I naturally wanted to hear more about her Juliet.
“When I was cast I was surprised, because I’ve turned 30 now and I didn’t think Kevin [O’Hare, the company’s director] would cast me.”
At this point it’s only fair to note that with her delicate features and inspired acting, she looked very much the 14-year-old Juliet.
“Then I saw my name on casting and I was like, wow, this is my dream role and it’s going to be a dream come true.”
FUMI KANEKO – CREATING JULIET
Fumi Kaneko’s preparation for the role was intensive.
“I think watching so many amazing ballerinas before helped me a lot to create my own Juliet. I started to read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which [repetiteur] Lesley Collier gave me in rehearsal, but it’s quite difficult to read… I also had an audiobook, so you can hear what they’re saying, as well.
“I also watched the original [Zeffirelli] movie from 1968; it’s not ballet, but I loved watching it.”
And then she was paired with William Bracewell, an experienced Romeo and an attentive and inspirational partner.
“The thing is, he IS Romeo!” She laughs, and goes on, “he IS Romeo, and that helped me act naturally.”
So, who was Fumi Kaneko’s Juliet?
“I think because she’s really young she always follows what her parents say; and suddenly she fell in love with this person and she couldn’t see anything else and that gave her all the strength to do what she wanted to do.
“I think she didn’t know what she had in herself – she grew so much in this ballet and I wanted to show that. I want to think that’s her life, but also my life, I’m not just doing this ballet, but I wanted to live that life, to live that moment on stage.”
Perhaps what made Fumi Kaneko’s Juliet so unique, so affecting, was the fact that in the same way as her character discovered in herself things she hadn’t known before falling in love with Romeo, so Fumi Kaneko discovered in herself things she didn’t know were there before she danced Juliet.
“After Romeo and Juliet I felt I didn’t know this side of ballet. I had a more technical side of ballet, but I lived Juliet’s life and had this feeling I never had before, so I want to experience something like that again.”
FUMI KANEKO – A LONG WAY FROM HOME
Born in Osaka, Japan, Fumi Kaneko started ballet class at the age of three.
“My mother took me, because when she was young she wanted to do ballet, but her mother only allowed her to do Japanese dance. So, when she was young she wanted to become a mother and she wanted to take her kids to ballet.”
Young Fumi soon fell in love with ballet, so much so that she was prepared to attend ballet class from 5 to 11 every evening at the end of her long school day, year after year. After graduation,
‘I just wanted to dance all day. My teacher had a small company [Jinushi Kaoro] and I joined and I was able to dance from morning to night and that was my dream come true.’
When she joined the Royal Ballet in 2011 her CV already included gold at the Varna International Competition and silver at its Moscow and USA equivalents. The transition was not easy, though.
“It was hard to adjust to a new life without speaking English. In the beginning my Mum came with me and she helped me find a new home… go to supermarket to find something to eat…” She laughs. However,
“I loved this company straight away. Everyone was so helpful, and getting to know each other’s cultures as well, that’s how I learned English slowly.”
Her English is totally fluent now, if charmingly accented. Her manner is gentle and unfailingly polite, and hides what you suspect is the iron will that saw her through those young years of hard, relentless training.
It also helped her through two devastating bouts of injury, that kept her off stage for the best part of one year each time. Despite that, her career progression in The Royal Ballet has been steady, and she reached the highest rank of principal this season.
Fumi Kaneko’s has brought her strong technique and attractive stage presence to many of The Royal Ballet’s best loved roles, including Princess Aurora in the company’s signature ballet, The Sleeping Beauty.
FUMI KANEKO – THE FUTURE
Early next year Fumi Kaneko will debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake; and as a principal she’ll have access to some of the plum roles on which she’s longing to make her own mark: Giselle, Tatiana in Onegin and, above all, Manon.
“Manon is my dream role, maybe because it was the first ballet I was involved with after joining the company, and I was watching particularly the final pas de deux between Manon and Des Grieux, and I was crying, and I loved it, and I want to experience that.”
As one of a large number of Japanese dancers plying their trade abroad, she is well known and admired in her own country, where she tries to perform every summer.
She laughs modestly when I ask whether she’s a star in Japan, but says:
“When I became a principal I had so many messages from Japanese fans, and that was incredible, because I didn’t know I had so much support there.”
We’re only just beginning to discover the hidden depths of this wonderful dancer. I for one, can’t wait to see a lot more of Fumi Kaneko!
by Teresa Guerreiro
Fumi Kaneko dances the Sugar Plum Fairy with Nicol Edmonds as her Prince in The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House
on Wednesday 22 December, matinee at 12:30pm,
and Wednesday 29 December at 7:30pm
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This post was very inspirational to me. I have been dancing from a young age and ballet means so much to me. It is fascinating for me to read about someone overcoming countless obstacles to develop a love and passion for dance, and eventually become highly skilled and in an amazing company. This has given me a new insight on the fact that anything you can dream you can accomplish if you work for it. So thank you for posting this, it was very interesting for me.
The two scheduled leads for that matinee performance, Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke, are a couple off stage too. Two of the Royal Ballet's rising stars, they have been together for more than four years, but only now are they getting the chance to live the fairytale in performance.Is Romeo and Juliet a good ballet? ›
Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet is a masterpiece – one of the great ballet scores of the last century, and arguably one of the best in ballet history. And to this immense achievement two choreographic stagings from the 1960s have stood the test of time: John Cranko's 1962 ballet, and Kenneth MacMillan's 1965 rendition.Where can I watch Romeo and Juliet Beyond Words? ›
Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words, BBC iPlayer.Who are the couples in the Royal Ballet? ›
The company already has three real-life couples in the shape of Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball, Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales, and Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke.Is Ashley Bouder retiring? ›
Bouder insisted she's not hanging up her pointe shoes just yet. She said she has no plans to quit or sue NYCB. “My goal is to finish out my career, but make positive change to the dance world at large,” she said.What is the most tragic ballet? ›
Ballet's Great Tragedy. The History ~ Since its premiere in 1841, Giselle has become one of the most popular ballets of all time and is considered ballet's great tragedy. Giselle represents the greatest achievement of ballet's Romantic era.What grade do you do Romeo and Juliet? ›
9th Grade English Curriculum - Romeo and Juliet | Common Core Lessons.Which Romeo and Juliet movie is closest to the play? ›
Romeo and Juliet (1968) - 95%
It has been described as the adaptation that is most dedicated to the original text. The film embraced the Shakespearean dialogue and the Renaissance aesthetic. Being a direct adaptation from the play, the film unsurprisingly follows the same story.
Romeo × Juliet (ロミオ×ジュリエット, Romio to Jurietto) is an anime television series, loosely based on William Shakespeare's classical play, Romeo and Juliet, along with numerous references and characters from other Shakespearean plays.What gender is ballerina? ›
In Italian, a ballerina is a female who typically holds a principal title within a ballet company; the title for equally ranked males is ballerino. In Italian, the common term for a male dancer is danzatore and a female dancer is a danzatrice.
Ballet inspires as many thrilling partnerships offstage as on. Company romances are so common, in fact, you might say they're a perk of the job. “You're with each other all day—it happens a lot,” says San Francisco Ballet soloist Lauren Strongin, who is married to SFB principal Joseph Walsh.How much do The Royal Ballet get paid? ›
Members of the corps de ballet at the Royal Ballet earn £22,000 a year in their second year at the company. This rises by £1,000 every year they stay. Soloists earn £32,500, with the first soloist getting £39,000. Dancers who hop from company to company as guest artists negotiate their own fee for each production.Is Ashley Bouder married? ›
|Spouse||Peter Martins ( m. 1991)|
|Children||Talicia Tove Martins|
Ashley Bouder (/ˈbaʊdər/; born December 10, 1983) is an American ballet dancer who is currently a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet.What is the most difficult female ballet role? ›
The technically and artistically demanding double role of Odette (White Swan) and Odile (Black Swan) is perhaps the most difficult in all of ballet.What is the hardest ballet of all time? ›
Swan Lake. If you find a fouette challenging, the Swan Lake dance has 32 of them! Swan Lake has some of the most notorious steps in ballet repertory. It involves whiplash motions of the raised leg that gives each turn its magnificence.What is the hardest ballet moves? ›
Pirouettes. Pirouettes are notoriously one of the most difficult ballet moves and it can take years for a dancer to learn how to properly execute a pirouette. One of the most common and widely known dance moves, however, it requires an insane amount of balance and technique.What is the most watched ballet? ›
Perhaps one of the most famous ballets of all time is the Nutcracker, which doubles as a classic Christmas tale. Initially written by E.T.A Hoffman, Alexandre Dumas Père adapted it, then set it to music by Tchaikovsky and choreographed by Marius Petipa, as well as George Balanchine.What is the best ballet performance ever? ›
- Christoph Willibald Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits. ...
- Adoplphe Adam: Giselle. ...
- Léo Delibes: Coppélia. ...
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake. ...
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker. ...
- Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird. ...
- Maurice Ravel: Daphnis and Chloé ...
- Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring.
- The Nutcracker. Nisian Hughes/Stone/Getty Images. ...
- Swan Lake. Ken Scicluna/Getty Images. ...
- A Midsummer's Night Dream. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images. ...
- Coppélia. Hulton Archive/Getty Images. ...
- Peter Pan. Michael Nicholson/Corbis via Getty Images. ...
- The Sleeping Beauty. ...
- of 07.
Shakespeare might also have reduced Juliet's age from 16 to 13 to demonstrate the dangers of marriage at too young an age; that Shakespeare himself married Anne Hathaway when he was 18 might hold some significance.Was Juliet 13 years old when she met Romeo? ›
In Shakespeare's original story, Romeo is given the age of 16 years and Juliet is given the age of 13 years. The Montague and Capulet families originated in the Divine Comedy by the Italian author Dante Aligheri, rather than in Shakespeare.Who is 13 in Romeo and Juliet? ›
Because actors ostensibly need training and skill to navigate Shakespeare's words, most productions of Romeo and Juliet cast performers who are older than the characters as he wrote them: Juliet is 13 (“she hath not seen the change of fourteen years,” according to her father); Romeo's age is unspecified, but he's ...Which Disney film is based on Romeo and Juliet? ›
Shakespeare's works have been adapted several times by Disney: Hamlet was adapted by Disney in The Lion King, whilst Romeo and Juliet has been adapted as The Lion King II: Simba's Pride and Gnomeo & Juliet.What is the most popular Romeo and Juliet scene? ›
The so-called balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet is probably Shakespeare's most famous single scene, and no wonder as it's the one where Romeo and Juliet, at night, passionately declare their love for each other and resolve to marry in spite of the feud between their families.What is the most accurate movie version of Romeo and Juliet? ›
- 1 Romeo + Juliet (1996)
- 2 Gnomeo & Juliet (2011) ...
- 3 Shakespeare in Love (1998) ...
- 4 Rosaline (2022) ...
- 5 Die in a Gunfight (2021) ...
- 6 Romeo & Juliet (2013) ...
- 7 Romeo and Juliet (1986) Paramount Pictures. ...
- 8 Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words (2019) The Royal Ballet. ...
There's another reason Romeo & Juliet earned a PG-13 rating. While not explicit, the film's violence is vicious and vengeful as Romeo runs down and guns down the Capulet who stabs his gender-bending buddy.Can a 13 year old watch Romeo and Juliet 1996? ›
Prostitution, brief nudity, teen sex, gang-related deaths, car assaults, bloody fistfights, and a gangster pointing a pistol directly at a child's face, makes this film inappropriate for kids under the age of 17.What is the spin off of Romeo and Juliet on Disney plus? ›
Disney+'s charming new romcom Rosaline is here to remix the story of Romeo & Juliet. Disney+'s Rosaline promises the classic tale of Romeo And Juliet, but with a teen comedy twist that is sure to mix up Shakespeare's cautionary tale. Everyone knows the story of Juliet and her Romeo. But what about Rosaline?
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona, Italy.What year does Romeo and Juliet take? ›
Romeo and Juliet can be plausibly dated to 1595. Shakespeare must have written the play between 1591 and 1596.Where is Romeo and Juliet set date? ›
|Romeo and Juliet|
|Setting||Italy (Verona and Mantua)|
Kaneko was raised in Osaka. She started ballet at age three, and at 8, she started attending Jinushi Kaoru Ballet School until 11 pm. Her training was mainly in the Russian style.Is Matthew Ball Married? ›
Ball married Dr. Anne Green, a fellow advocate and co-founder of Vegan Outreach, on February 20, 1993 in Urbana, Illinois.How tall is Reece Clarke? ›
|Height||6 ft 2.5 in (189 cm)|
Clarke grew up in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire. He and his three elder brothers trained at the Janis Ridley School of Dance in Scotland before joining The Royal Ballet School. Reece entered White Lodge in 2006 – the first time in the School's history that four boys from the same family have all trained at the School.Where does Matthew Ball live? ›
Personal life. As of 2018, Ball lives in Clapham, London.Who are the new principal dancers in the Royal Ballet? ›
' As previously announced, William Bracewell and Reece Clarke are promoted to Principal, the Company's highest rank. They will feature in a wide variety of repertory during the 2022/23 Season.Is Reece James tall? ›
Biography. Welsh dancer William Bracewell is a Principal of The Royal Ballet. He joined The Royal Ballet as a Soloist in 2017 and was promoted to First Soloist in 2018, Principal, 2022.