Small Principal Makes Big Impact

Small principal makes big impact

By Erika Noguchi and Sayaka Aoki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersYou may be surprised at ballerina Misa Kuranaga's small build if you meet her up close — she is just 156 centimeters tall.

"I've never met a principal shorter than me," the 34-year-old dancer with the Boston Ballet, who has been touring various countries with the world's top dancers, said during a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Kuranaga has a well-proportioned body and 24.5-centimeter-long feet, which help her look much taller when she stands on point. She also strives to move on stage in a bigger way than other people, she said.

In a just 10-minute photo session, Kuranaga demonstrated her power of expression by using a full-length mirror to her best advantage. The dancer helped the photographer capture images with a subtle ambiance, in which she and her reflection look as if they are floating in darkness.



The Yomiuri Shimbun

Kuranaga performs "Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux" during the Benois de la Danse awards ceremony at the Bolshoi Theatre in May.


For the photo session, Kuranaga danced an excerpt from "Giselle" that she performed at the Yokohama Ballet Festival in June. Every single pose she made was so beautiful, demonstrating the spirit and concentration that help her embody the world of "Giselle," even with just her eyes.

Kuranaga is always full of energy. "I prefer being busy," she said. "I get bored in two days if I have free time."

Following the Yokohama event, Kuranaga participated in a July tour of Italy by star dancer Roberto Bolle, during which she also performed "Don Quixote" with Daniil Simkin. She then danced in the United States and Mexico the following month.

Kuranaga, an Osaka Prefecture native, started dancing when she was 7. The young Kuranaga initially planned to take English lessons, but just before arriving for a trial lesson, she was captivated by a poster about a ballet school.

"I was longing for ballet because a friend had been taking lessons," Kuranaga recalled. "As soon as I started ballet, I knew it was perfect for me."

Kuranaga won a domestic competition just three years later, at which she caught the eye of one of the judges, prominent Russian choreographer Yuri Grigorovich. He invited her to be a guest dancer at the Moscow Ballet Competition’s gala at the Bolshoi Theatre, where she received huge applause.

"Now I know what an honor it is [to perform at the prestigious venue]," Kuranaga said. "However, I didn’t know that at all back then, so I was able to perform without nerves."

In 2001, Kuranaga won a scholarship at the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland, a major competition for young dancers.

It was a start anyone would envy, but Kuranaga confessed that she had been losing her motivation before the Lausanne competition. "I thought I’d quit dancing after taking part in the competition," she said. "However, winning the award helped me back to my quest for ballet."

The scholarship gave her a chance to join the San Francisco Ballet as an apprentice, a choice Kuranaga said she made "without thinking seriously."

The teen soon found herself confused at how different the U.S. company’s style was from the Russian ballet she had been used to. A year later, Kuranaga failed to become an official member of the company — the first setback she suffered as a dancer. However, this strongly motivated her, as she hates to lose.

Kuranaga made up her mind to become capable of skillfully performing works choreographed by George Balanchine — as she felt she was not good at them — and join a ballet company. She then enrolled at the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York, of which Balanchine was a cofounder. At the training academy of the popular New York City Ballet, she worked so hard she was offered a corps de ballet position at the Boston Ballet in 2003. She was promoted to a principal six years later.

The Boston Ballet performs a wide repertoire, from classics such as "Swan Lake" and "La Bayadere" to contemporary works like those by American choreographer William Forsythe. Kuranaga said the company "suits me because I can dance in a variety of works there."

She added her favorites are more dramatic works than happy ones, such as "Swan Lake" and "Giselle," because she draws on her life experiences.

Last year, Kuranaga was praised for her portrayal of Tatiana, the heroine of "Onegin," a role that requires a great level of skill to convey the change from a girl to a woman. For her success, Kuranaga was nominated earlier this year for Russia’s Benois de la Danse award, one of the most prestigious honors in the ballet world. She did not win but was given a chance to perform again at the Bolshoi Theatre for the awards ceremony.

"I’m always happy when I’m dancing," Kuranaga said. "But my dancing will be just exercise if it’s nothing but technique. I want to become an artist who can have emotional interactions with the audience."

The principal added, "People of multiple talents can do anything, but ballet is the only thing I can do. So I’ll keep holding on to it."Speech