Ballet Stars

James Whiteside on Being Disney Japan's Newest Prince

James Whiteside and Misa Kuranaga. Photo via Instagram.

Last week you might have seen Instagram light up with photos of American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside and Boston Ballet's Misa Kuranaga dancing a Beauty and the Beast pas de deux for Disney Japan in Tokyo. When we realized that Whiteside had also choreographed the piece, we wanted to know how this Disney/ballet crossover came to be. We caught up with Whiteside to get all the details.

What's this pas de deux for? Where will it be released?

The pas de deux will be a bonus feature on a Japanese exclusive DVD and Blu Ray release of a new series called Disney Ballet Mousercise. It's essentially a ballet lesson series that uses well-loved Disney characters and songs. It will only be available in Japan, but I'm hoping it ends up online at some point!



How did Disney Japan find you?

Misa texted me asking if she could share my contact information with Disney Japan. She was the one who suggested that I choreograph the pas de deux. The Disney Japan representatives emailed me, and we met in Orange County while we were on tour with ABT's Whipped Cream.

What music did you use and where did you find your choreographic inspiration?

Disney chose the music. It's a newly arranged piano version of "Tale as Old as Time," from the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast. I wanted the pas de deux to feel like the wedding pas in a three act classical ballet. My inspirations were the original Beauty and the Beast Disney film, Frederick Ashton's Cinderella and much of Alexei Ratmansky's work, since I'm constantly surrounded by it at ABT.



Was Misa the obvious choice for your Belle?

Misa was the perfect Belle! She was cast before me, but if I had cast it I would've chosen her as well! She has the same headstrong attitude as Belle.

What was it like filming in Japan?

I was there for 10 days, in Tokyo for 7. We rehearsed at Shinjuku Mura Studios. Misa learned the whole pas de deux that I made in one day! We filmed in the Persimmon Hall Theatre in one day and we had a beautiful ballroom set with a starry night sky in the background. There were four cameras shooting the pas de deux from different angles and depths.



Did you and Misa have any other fun adventures while in Japan?

I tried to get in as much sightseeing in as possible. My first day, before Misa arrived, I went to Tokyo Tower and climbed all the way up to the top. It's an awful lot of stairs! There was also "One Piece Park" which is based on the popular anime series (which I adore). I saw the live "One Piece" stage show. It was hysterical! Misa and I had some wonderful meals in Tokyo too! Japanese food is incredible.


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Photo by Rob Becker, courtesy DePrince.

In January, a commercial for Chase's QuickPay Mobile App starring Michaela DePrince aired on national television. In March, it was announced that Madonna would be directing the movie version of DePrince's autobiography. And in April, she graced the cover of Harper's Bazarre Netherlands. With all the buzz, it's easy to forget that the Dutch National Ballet soloist has been sidelined since August 2017 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Pointe checked in with DePrince to see how her recovery is going.

Last fall, you ruptured your Achilles tendon. How did that happen?

It was the first of August. I was in Sicily doing an event with Google. We had dinner at a temple and it was just absolutely incredible. I'm kind of clumsy outside of ballet, so I thought it would be safer if I took my shoes off. Then Lenny Kravitz starts to sing a song and he dedicates it to me. I got up and went to go sit next to him on the stage. When I got up from sitting, I stepped in the wrong place at the wrong time. I knew right away that I ruptured my Achilles. They brought me to an ambulance and took me to the hospital. I flew back to the Netherlands the next day and had an appointment with the doctors here in Amsterdam. They said, "Yeah, you ruptured three quarters of your Achilles." And then on August 14, I had surgery.

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This is Pointe's April/May 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

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Gillian Murphy, American Ballet Theatre

Murphy gets ready for her role as "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Photo courtesy Gillian Murphy.

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