While Japan is earning some recognition for its growing number of ballerinas, as more and more earn awards and prestige overseas, there is growing concern that maybe too many of Japan’s young, talented dancers are leaving in order to make a living. Often poor working conditions are cited as the cause to this exodus of talent. Observers say that all the talented dancers leave for other countries, there is no way for ballet to grow in Japan.
17 year old Madoka Sugai took first place in this year’s Prix de Lausanne competition in Switzerland. The competition is highly considered to be an entryway to international success for young ballerinas. As the winner, she has been granted a scholarship that will see her joining an ensemble in Hamburg, Germany for the summer.
Kumi Oyama, a professor at Kawasaki’s Showa Academia Musicae, says that with Japan’s large population, there is broad level of dancers who are interested in the art. In a survey that she conducted over three years from 2009, she found that approximately 400,000 people were participating in ballet lessons at 4,630 schools, with 70% of those being small operations. Oyama explains that this is different from other countries, which have large, established institutions that are affiliated with recognized ballet groups.
Dancers in the National Ballet of Japan, the country’s only national ballet troupe, are only paid for each performance, not on salary. They earn an annual income ranging between 3 million and 3.6 million yen (approx. $37,500 to $45,000), and that’s without retirement pension. Facts like these are what have young Japanese ballerinas leaving the country, Oyama says.