After 18yrs dancing with the Australian Ballet Company, we bid farewell or more suitably 'Sayonara' to Miwako Kubota! This Japanese beauty is such a precious blossom within the company, to the Australian audience and most importantly amongst her dancing peers. I have always admired her quiet strength and dedication to this art form.
In the lead up to her last few days before hanging up her pointe shoes, I catch up with Miwako reminiscing about her most precious performances, how she propelled her early career, her tough times after shoulder surgery, her unfussy style, what she is most looking forward to in life after dance and who she is going to cut her long luscious hair for!
To start at the very beginning, Miwako started dancing at age 7. She is from the south of Japan, an island called Okinawa. I have been there and I can tell you, it simply has the most beautiful untouched beaches! It reminds me of a slice of a mini Japanese Hawaii, warm days and surfers everywhere! She began her training here in this Japanese paradise where one day through a Tokyo competition she was noticed by Gailene Stock (ABS director at the time) and was invited to join the Australian Ballet school without an audition.
Making this brave move to train in Australia lead to being accepted into the Australian Ballet Company in 1999 by director then Ross Stretton. However it was not so simple, because of her visa issue the director could only offer her a traineeship, where she had to find a sponsor to pay her first years wage. Remarkably she approached the SHELL Petrol enterprise who had once donated her prize money for winning the Asian Pacific Competition in Tokyo and they agreed to continue to boost her ballet career by sponsoring her first year in the company. In 2000 director David McAllister offered her a full contract and got the wheels going to arrange to support her residency in Australia.
Miwako's devotion in the ballet and pilates studio is notorious amongst us, such an admirable quality that we all strive for, but somehow no one can compare to her sheer diligence as sometimes that tempting coffee break wins over a body blade session!
Talking about body blades (a pilates equipment for shoulder exercises) I will never be able to see one again without thinking of Miwako. Most of her career has been spent on that apparatus, continuously strengthening her problematic loose shoulders. In her time as a professional dancer, unfortunately her shoulders were prone to popping out of its socket quite regularly. So often in fact the physios suggested her to see a surgeon. The scans showed not only structurally her shoulders were sitting in a shallow hole but they were not supported, she had an unattached ligament that was not supporting her right shoulder. In a bid to avoid going under the knife she promised the famous surgeon (the best in Australia at the time, looked after famous footballers and cricketers like Shane Warne) that she would let him operate if her shoulder dislocated one more time. It popped out again 3 wks later... and in 2004, Miwako had the surgery to tighten the shoulder capsule.
The surgery went relatively well, except her shoulders were tightened too tight giving her only 25 degrees of lift in the arm. Her rehab went from the projected 6 months to 10 months in total. She explains to me that it was the toughest 10 months of her career. Having no option but to work back from square one, she believes that the work herself and the rehab team put into those 10 months allowed her to fine tune everything else which she believes has extended her career!
After those gruelling 10 months her shoulders were not perfect, but good enough to start with some classical repertoire. Her first performance after surgery was the Flower Festival pas de deux. From then on, her shoulders had to be the most conscious part of her body, she had to be clever and mindful in what ballets she was involved in, sometimes having to pull herself out of the modern ballets in order to not undo the hardwork and surgery efforts. Miwako tells me this realisation was hard to swallow, to acknowledge that she had to miss some exciting repertoire opportunities in order to look at the bigger picture, a healthy and long ballet career!
With all these set backs Miwako's positive outlook, legendary old fashion hard work and strength soared her to amazing performances and to the rank of Senior Artist in 2011 after a performance of Aurora in Stanton Welch's Sleeping Beauty.
As I talk to Miwako about retirement she smiles and beams with excitement.... Even though she is from Japan, Australia is her home. Her partner Bruce (our master stage technician) plans to retire (when he is ready) together in sunny Noosa. She is excited about the prospect of hanging up her ballerina lifestyle and pointe shoes after 18yrs and finally having a dog... (she is tossing between a German shepherd and a Chow Chow) and being able to wear high heels again!
Her last show will be on the Sydney Opera House stage as Swanhilda in Coppelia on the 20th of December. She will be dancing with Chris Rogers-Wilson as Franz. Both her parents will be flying from Okinawa to be in the audience to witness her last show. It will be one emotional and happy celebration of her stellar career, something not to be missed! I have so much respect for you Miwaks, your tenacity and old fashioned hard work legacy will live on. As we shed tears of adieu, I know Miwako has worked her little socks off over the years and this little blossom deserves a break!
Make sure you get yourself a ticket to see this beauty take her final bow in Coppelia. She is utterly stunning in this role....bring your tissues!
Keep scrolling to read my Q&A with Miwako....
20 QUESTIONS WITH MIWAKO....
1.During your time at the AB what was one of your most treasured moments on stage?
Too many great memories, I can't chose!
2. What were your favorite roles to perform and why?
There are so many! But I would have to mention Tatiana from Onegin and Cio-Cio-San from Madame Butterfly. Both ballets are very dramatic and required lots of acting. I just loved it
3. Do you have any pre-show rituals you must do before a performance?
Calf activations and wearing my pink "good luck" leg warmers.
4. What do you do to your pointe shoes to prepare them before a show?
I do a lot of things to my pointe shoes. Bending, Darning, cutting the satin material and stitching it back to fit my foot better around the heel and shellacking!
(Scroll to the end to see details of her pointe shoes.)
5. Describe your studio style?
Pink tights with black skirt.
6. Describe your street style?
Dresses for summer and jeans for winter.
7. Roughly how many shoulder dislocations have you had?
4 dislocations before surgery then about 5 or 6 subluxations after surgery.
8. How do you get through those tough injury times?
Staying positive and finding other things to do that you like or love. Like baking or crochet.
9. What is your driving motivation that keeps you dancing and always working hard every day in the studios over all these years?
I believe working hard leads up to a great performance. All the hard and difficult steps won't be mastered in one day. You have to try again and again and again.
10. What international tour was your most favorite?
11. What is the best part about being a ballet dancer?
Wearing beautiful costumes and pretty head dresses.
12. What wise advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue dance as a career?
Listen and think well what your ballet teacher/ballet mistress or ballet master are saying. Also, watch other dancers and see how they do it. You can learn so much by watching.
13. What will you most miss from this career?
Not seeing all my work colleagues.
14. And what part of this career won't you miss?
Squashing my feet into pointe shoes.
15. How and when did you decide that your wanted to hang up your pointe shoes?
I was thinking about it over the past few years. Each year my body was starting to hurt more and more and I was originally going to leave end of last year, but when I found out I was going to do Odette/Odile in Baynes' Swan Lake I had to do that role again. Because last time I performed it, I didn't have a good preparation and I didn't enjoy it at all. So I couldn’t miss this second opportunity to make sure I had a better lead up and finally enjoy my time onstage as the leading swan. Which I did!
16. What are you most looking forward to in the future, life after ballet?
To relax and own a dog. It is too hard to have a dog when you travel 5 months of the year.
17. You are known for your beautiful Japanese long glossy hair, will you ever cut it short Miwako?
I'm planing to donate my hair to the children's charity to help kids who have lost their hair due to a medical condition.
18. In hindsight, if you could tell your 14yr old self a piece of advice what would it be?
Enjoy every moment.
19. Who has been the most influential person in your life that has helped you in your career?
Fiona Tonkin our principal ballet mistress. She taught me how to become a ballerina and without her help I wouldn't be performing like I am now.
20. How do you think you will feel in the lead up and on your last performance?
I think I will be nervous but happy. Mix emotions!
All photos taken by me.