Young Japanese Ballerina in Rijeka: ‘I am Happy to Start My Professional Career Here’

Daniela Rogulj

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Goran Kovacic/PIXSELL
Goran Kovacic/PIXSELL

Everyone who follows the ballet performances of the HNK Ivan pl. Zajc Rijeka could notice a young ballerina from Japan. Her name is Soyoka Iwata, and she has performed in “Lace” and “The Rite of Spring” by Maša Kolar, “Nutcracker” by Mauro de Candia, “Odyssey” by Walter Matteini, and “Pathetic” by Douglas Lee. She will perform again on March 16 in “Mediterranean Trilogy: Pulcinella & Afternoon of a Faun & Spanish Rhapsody,” reports Novi List.

How did you decide to become a ballerina? When and how did your first contact with ballet happen?

“I started ballet when I was six years old. My mother recommended I dance ballet because I have been dancing constantly and everywhere since I was little. Since I loved to dance and ballet was the center of my world, it was natural that I started thinking about becoming a ballerina.”

Your ballet beginnings were tied to the Miwa Classical Ballet Studio, and you later trained under Kiyoko Kimura. What can you say about ballet education in Japan? Is it different from ballet schools in Europe?

“I attended regular school until the evening, and after that, I ran to the ballet studio to take ballet classes. After that, I would practice until late at night. Since the age of eleven, I have participated in many competitions and trained hard every day. In Japan, many people dance ballet, and there are numerous ballet studios. Both students and teachers work very hard. However, no educational institution educates ballet dancers with government support. There are also few opportunities to learn or watch different choreographers like in Europe. For these reasons, many young dancers who want to pursue ballet are trying to study abroad.”

Are you also educated to perform Japanese traditional dances?

“I had classes in high school several times, but I never took it seriously.”

When you were 16, you went to the Netherlands to study at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. Why did you choose the Netherlands, and how is this experience important to you?

“I wanted to study at a school where classical ballet and contemporary dance are equally represented because I love them both. That is why the Royal Conservatory was the ideal school for me. One of the most important experiences was that my school was connected to the Nederlands Dans Theater, so I had the opportunity to study the NDT repertoire and work with outstanding choreographers and dancers. It broadened my horizons and opportunities as a dancer.”

How did you get to Ivan Zajc Croatian National Theatre in Rijeka?

“I had the opportunity to work several times in Japan with Maša Kolar, the director of the Rijeka Ballet. Since the third year of the school program was an internship year, I contacted Maša to work as an intern in Rijeka because I liked her pieces and style. In addition, I was interested in the ballet company’s repertoire in Rijeka. Luckily, I started working as a ballet beginner in September 2020, and as of this season, I also became an official member. I am happy that I was able to start my professional career as a dancer at the Rijeka Ballet.”

So far, you have performed in Maša Kolar’s “Lace” and “Rite of Spring,” Mauro de Candia’s “The Nutcracker,” and Walter Matteini’s “Odyssey,” Douglas Lee’s “Pathetic.” What do all these possibilities mean to you?

“In each of these experiences, I was able to find my new opportunities and future tasks. The repertoire is one of the reasons why I like this group. We have the opportunity to collaborate with a lot of good contemporary and neoclassical guest choreographers. And that makes me develop as an artist and as a person.”

How is Pimpinella’s role in “Pulcinella” challenging for you? Was it difficult for you to perform a character from the Italian commedia dell’arte?

“It was the first time I performed in the lead role, and I was under pressure because of that. I had no experience performing a character from dell’arte, and it was difficult for me to use the body and facial expression very expressively, theatrically, dramatically, which is a characteristic of dell’arte. Therefore, I filmed at each rehearsal to be better, and I watched some versions of “Pulcinella” to deepen my understanding and gain a better idea of this piece and its role. It was fun to perform Pimpinella because the character and manner of expression are completely different from me otherwise.”

As a Japanese woman, do you feel cultural differences now that you live in Croatia?

“One of the cultural differences that I like is that people come to the theater to watch ballet as a part of life, not only in Croatia but also in Europe. In Japan, ticket prices for ballet performances are quite high, followed only by a small circle of people. I find that many in Europe love art and have a deeper understanding of ballet than it is in Japan.”

What are your impressions of Rijeka?

“What I love about Rijeka is the beautiful nature, the sea, the sky, the mountains… I am from Tokyo, and I lived at an accelerated pace in a crowded city, so now I enjoy a completely different way of life. I also love the company of members of the Rijeka Ballet, and I am happy to be able to dance in a beautiful theater with amazing dancers.”

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