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.


The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

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Site Network
Left: Misa Kuranaga in The Veritginous Thrill of Exactitude. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet. Right: Sasha Mukhamedov in Apollo. Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet just announced some major news: longtime Boston Ballet star Misa Kuranaga will be joining the company as a principal dancer for the 2019-20 season, while Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov has been hired as a soloist. They join a slew of newly promoted SFB principals and soloists, announced earlier this year.

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Ballet Stars
Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

On June 22, National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will retire from the stage after 22 years with the company. Originally from Dalian, China, Yu studied at the Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to Canada's National Ballet School at age 17. She joined the National Ballet of Canada less than two years later, and was promoted to principal in 2001.

"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

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