Kumiko Ishii was already in second grade of elementary school when she started dancing ballet, which is considerably late for most ballerinas, especially those who aim to go pro. Now 18 years old, Kumiko has become the first Japanese national to be a part of the prestigious Mariinsky Ballet, which is based in St. Petersburg, Russia, and is one of the oldest ballet companies in the world.
While in fifth grade, Kumiko learned more about ballet through a Russian instructor. The experience led to her dream of becoming part of the Mariinsky Ballet, commonly referred to by its former name, Kirov Ballet. The 18-year old admitted watching the performance of the ballet company on DVDs. Russian ballet is known all over the world and Kumiko aimed to learn the style. “I could show my ballet beautifully if I danced the way they do,” she believed.
An audition at Vaganova Ballet Academy, Kirov Ballet’s affiliate school, opened the door to Kumiko’s dream when she passed was accepted. The academy was named after famous Russian ballet instructor Agrippina Vaganova, who was also known for developing the Vaganova method. The teenage ballerina admitted feeling inferior to her Russian counterparts, but promised to do her best. “Ballet is the only thing I can and should pursue,” Kumiko said.
The Mariinsky Ballet was founded in 1740 as the Imperial Russian Ballet. Although a long-established ballet company, it was only in the 20th century when foreign ballerinas were allowed to join. Hiromi Terashima, who used to be a part of the ballet company of Tokyo’s New National Theatre, had been a trainee of Kirov Ballet.
Kumiko Ishii shared that she admires prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina, who is also a principal dancer of the Kirov Ballet. Should Kumiko rise to rank of being a principal dancer, she can join fellow Asian ballerina Lisa Macuja, a prima ballerina known for being the first foreign soloist of Kirov Ballet. “She’s like a goddess,” referring to Lopatkina, “I’m not sure if I can become a dancer like her, but I’d like to dance in as high a position as possible.”