Giselle stands alongside Coppélia and Swan Lake as one of the most celebrated classical ballets. David Bintley and Galina Samsova’s exquisite Birmingham Royal Ballet production – playing Birmingham, London and Plymouth this autumn – stays true to the classical spirit and steps of the original. Here principal dancer Momoko Hirata talks to us about becoming the character of Giselle.
You’ve been with Birmingham Royal Ballet 16 years, it must feel like coming home each season.
It’s been a long time. I’ve seen a lot of changes, dancers leaving, so every season I come back it sort of feels like home and yet a fresh start.
Were you dancing before you even watched a ballet?
Yes. I’ve got few older sisters and they started taking ballet classes. I would go and see them doing studio. It was very natural for me to follow them and start taking classes.
Do you remember the first professional ballet you saw?
It was a VHS of Miyako Yoshida and Irek Mukhamedov doing The Nutcracker. I’ve been doing The Nutcracker since I was 18 years old, I get to do what I watched when I was little – I always find that very special.
You were born and grew up in Japan – what’s the ballet scene like there?
Ballet is getting more and more popular. I think it’s because quite a lot of Japanese dancers, people like Miyako, are doing so well. That’s had a massive effect on the ballet industry in Japan. People want to become one of them.
John Macfarlane is one of your favourite costume and set designers, what is it about his work that you like so much?
It’s so elegant and kind of quirky at the same time. He knows how to blend everything together: classical ballet, yet fashionable as well. I’ve met him a couple of times for fittings – he’s a lovely guy.
You’re doing The Nutcracker at Christmas, but before that you’ll be dancing in Giselle…
Giselle has everything: a story and it’s also technically challenging. This is my first time performing as Giselle, so I’ve got a lot to learn, that’s for sure. You just have to become the character.
It’s a desperately sad story, isn’t it?
Very sad. Tragic.
How do you get convey that heartbreaking aspect?
I just have to feel it. At the moment, I’m just learning the steps, the basics, where I need to be. Once I’ve got it all, I’m just going to let myself feel what’s around me. That’s what’s so interesting about ballet like this: it won’t be the same performance ever. One day I’ll feel one way and the next I’ll feel differently. I’m really looking forward to discovering something new.