Dance Preview: Misako Ballet Celebrates Cultural Diversity

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Classical ballet director Misako Aoki began her dance training in her native Japan where she later received a scholarship to study at the Royal Ballet School in London. From there she joined the Matsuyama Ballet Company and performed in Europe and China with Rudolf Nureyev, among other famous dancers.

misako-ocean-revisedModern dance director Eva Anderson was born and raised in a segregated South. Her paternal grandparents were slaves who became teachers after the Civil War. She first set her sights on performing at an early age after seeing a touring production of Porgy and Bess.

They may come from worlds apart, but here in Howard County, Eva Anderson and Misako Aoki are “joined at the hip,” as artistic sisters, sharing a common goal to produce dance – traditional modern, break dance or something else – out of the ordinary like classical ballet with a Japanese twist.

Local folks can see what these two dance icons are up to when the Misako Ballet Company presents Sea Change featuring the premiere of a story ballet, Undersea Palace, excerpts from Le Corsaire (with guest artists from Japan) and Cinderella, at the Jim Rouse Theater Sunday afternoon, Feb. 7.

“Eva’s gift to dance is the fact that she played a major role in the Columbia dance scene,” Misako said. “Her warm, yet strict and sharp advice, has helped elevate my dance company to a professional level.”

As a pre-eminent force behind local modern dance, Eva Anderson set an unparalled record. She has nurtured local dance by directing her own company for decades, teaching at area colleges and working with dancers from professional companies like the Misako Ballet.

When she first got an invitation to re-stage one of her favorite African-American modern dances for Misako’s classically trained ballerinas, Anderson recalls jumping for joy. That was nine years ago; today Eva is still reaching for the stars.

Jumping is not what you would expect an octogenarian to pull off, but this dance dynamo is absolutely amazing as she demonstrates some fancy footwork during a recent rehearsal at Misako’s Ballet Studio. Laughter is also a large part of Anderson’s repertoire.

“It gets me out of the house and back to the artistic part of my life,” Anderson said. “It’s wonderful to be asked and even better that I can still move at my age!”

Eva is back for her sixth collaboration with Misako. This time around she will act as a consultant for the re-staging of her Elite Syncopations, first performed by Misako Ballet in 2009.

“If you don’t participate in the arts, part of the soul dies,” Anderson said.

Under her artistic direction a lot of souls have been saved during the past 45 years since this “Howie” winner and honored Howard County Hall of Famer first arrived in Columbia.

Perhaps the best example of her success is her dances set to African American music by the late jazz pianist Don Pullen and Scott Joplin, both featured in Anderson’s choreography for the Barry Levinson’s 1999 film, Liberty Heights.

It’s all about the rhythm,” Anderson, guiding yet another dancer through the pattern of poses,” Anderson said, guiding yet another dancer through the pattern of poses, turns, and character development. “This ballet is an example of how an old classical art form has universal importance and can be translated into expressing the values of all cultures.”

Eva tells the dancers, “Misako has an eye for detail and impeccable phrasing. Her movement is elegant and you must capture that in your dancing. Keep in touch with the feeling of unlimited power in this dance. The message is to appreciate life and to soar as long as you can.”

And soar they do. Company dancers Jessica McElvaney and Amanda Wade fly across the studio; Jessica Markiewicz and Carey Balinger zip in and out of a formation. Together they spin and leap and join the younger dancers gathered on the side.

Poised in the middle of this especially tall group of ballerinas, Melissa Lineburg excels in both classical and Asian-influenced works. “This year, I’m celebrating 4 seasons with Misako Ballet Company and it’s been such and honor to be a part of a growing community of dance lovers, enthusiasts, and fellow company members,” the pretty ballerina said. “It’s really great to work with such a caring artistic director who is excited to see dancers progress and advance towards ballet perfection, a nearly-impossible feat. Working with Misako on Undersea Palace, you can see her wheels turning and churning for the most perfect sequence of choreography.”

A highlight in the Sunday program is Misako’s staging of Le Corsaire (The Pirate), a fiery Russian classical ballet created over 150 years ago and still a showcase for technically proficient dancers.

“I would like to tell the readers that our dance program incorporates two cultures: Western meets Japanese,” said Misako with more than a hint of pride for her dancers. “Just as dance movements are connected together in seamless motion, fusing cultures gives us the opportunity to influence, understand and appreciate each other.”

Jessica Markiewicz added, “We know each other’s movement so well. We work together extremely well. I’m excited to see it fold together at the end of all our hard work. The icing on the cake is I get to work along side wonderful dancers to express something beautiful.”

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Misako Ballet Company presents Sea Change at the Jim Rouse Theater in the Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Sunday, Feb. 7, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door or can be purchased online for a discounted price.

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