Reiko Kimura rejoins Metropolitan Ballet Theatre as its new Assistant Artistic Director
Like Otis Redding in reverse, this summer Reiko Kimura left the Frisco Bay, headed for a home in Georgia. She returns to Metropolitan Ballet Theatre as Maniya Barredo’s Assistant Artistic Director, and there is mutual excitement at the reunion.
When Maniya began the search for the an assistant, she was delighted to discover that Reiko was available, and recalled her talent for pedagogy. “Reiko is a gifted teacher,” Maniya beams, “and a simply beautiful person. And she knows how MBT works.”
“I’ve known Maniya for years and she doesn’t ever change!” Reiko says. “She never even gets any older!”
The two first met during their performing careers and stayed in touch since.
Reiko’s own career started as an apprentice with The San Diego Ballet. She then moved on to Nevada Dance Theatre, where John Magnus was also dancing at the time. The next five years were spent with the Pennsylvania Ballet.. After that, she joined the ground-breaking contemporary ballet company, Dennis Wayne's Dancers, founded by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
Reiko appreciates that Metropolitan understands that ballet training is hard work and deserves the respect and focus of the teachers as well as the dancers. She enjoys working in an environment that attracts dedicated students who are eager to learn. Remembering her own teachers, Kimura recalls, “I was very upset with myself if I was ever given the same correction twice.” The discipline and the pursuit of excellence were instilled in childhood.
Kimura grew up in a house 10 blocks east of the ocean and three blocks north of Golden Gate Park. Two generations earlier, her grandparents immigrated from Japan and stayed where they landed, establishing themselves as entrepreneurs and professionals in San Francisco. But the family’s achievements didn’t come easily, and then met with a considerable setback.
“In World War II, my parents were put into an internment camp and they lost everything - their home, their business, everything,” Reiko says. “When they came out, they had to start all over again.”
After that experience, the children were taught that to be secure in their lives, it would not be enough for them to be merely good at what they did. They would need to be exceptional.
So when a young Reiko started ballet class at the neighborhood school where her friends were enrolled, it was just a starting point. After her first recital, Reiko's mother realized she would need a school with more serious training. She was enrolled in the San Francisco Ballet School under the direction of Willam, Harold and Lew, the three visionary Christensen Brothers who did much to establish ballet in the United States.
Reiko also studied under the famed Anatole Vilzak and Ludmilla Schollar, both of Leningrad’s Mariinsky Ballet and The Ballet Russe, and Sally Streets of SF and NYC Ballets. She also studied for a year with Toni Lander of the Royal Danish Ballet.
Reiko Kimura and Milan
ON ROBERT BARNETTE:
I love Bobby!
He was actually one of my teachers. When I was teaching at Atlanta Ballet, he would come and he knew my original teachers at San Francisco Ballet, the Christensen Brothers. I mean we’re going back to 1958. He knew them all! And we sat there and talked about the Brothers and their little idiosyncrasies and he was the only one I could talk to about them.”
“His eyes will always sparkle!”
Reiko’s own teaching experience began at age 18 while an apprentice at San Diego Ballet, and it was completely unexpected. “The director had known me from San Francisco Ballet, and one day he had nobody to teach the company class,” Reiko says. “He came up to me and said, ‘You’re teaching company class tomorrow.’ I said, ‘I’m not teaching company class tomorrow! An apprentice teaching company class? Are you out of your mind?!’
“I gave no corrections that first day I because there was NO WAY I was going to give company members corrections. But then the director’s wife said, ‘If you’re the teacher, you’re the teacher.’ So, at the next class I gave this girl a correction, and I explained it as clearly as I thought I could. She did it perfectly and stopped on demi-pointe, and I thought, ‘Oh God! It worked!’
“I’ve had so many different types of training over the years - I’ve had Cecchetti training, I’ve had NYC Ballet training, I’ve had Vaganova training, I’ve had a year of Bournonville (the Royal Danish Ballet style), and I’ve had teachers who used to be with Diaghilev. What I find is that you take what you can take from what you’ve been offered - what works for your body. Because unless you’re in Russia and have been hand-picked as a very specific physical type, then that training is not going to work on you. It works for that type of body, but it doesn’t work for everybody. You won’t have the feet, you won’t have the turnout, you won’t have the proportions that Vaganova dancers have, and it doesn’t work.
“Some people turn better the Vaganova way, some people turn better the NYC Ballet way. Some people turn better with a bent back leg, some people turn better with a straight back leg, and so on. Students need to try all of it. I try to work with students using whatever method suits them.
“Through the years, I’ve found different ways of saying the same thing, because people don’t learn things in the same way. It won’t click. But when it does click, you see your student’s face light up, and you realize, ‘I did it! It worked!,’ and there’s nothing better than that.”
This multiple-method approach to individual training has always been part of the MBT experience, and was part of Reiko’s appeal for the \assistant director position. “I think Maniya and I are pretty compatible, both in teaching and in personality.”
Dance education is everywhere.
Here are a few things Reiko feels help make a well-rounded dancer:
Read the stories of the great ballets, biographies and autobiographies of dancers, choreographers and historical figures in ballet.
Swim. It’s excellent for dancers, but not necessarily walking or riding a bike. That shortens your hamstrings. We weren’t allowed to do ice skating or skiing when I was a performer. It was in our contracts. Just too dangerous.”
YouTube is a great learning tool.
Watch documentaries and feature films set in the world of ballet - The Turning Point, White Nights, The Red Shoes, Ballet 422.
Reiko as a teenager with legendary teacher Anatole Vilzak
Any good teaching takes into account variations in skill and age level. Each age and level of development requires a different approach: a different motivation, and different targets. In speaking of students aged nine to 12, Reiko says, “Kids that age are great because they’re moldable. Their hunger to please is wonderful. They work really hard.
“With older students, their technique is pretty set. You may work on things and improve things, but with that age I like going beyond that. It’s something that’s almost lost now, and it’s something Maniya has down to a tee, and that is Artistry.
“If you see an American company do Swan Lake, there’s not the same artistry as when the Bolshoi does Swan Lake. These are little things: the arc of a neck, the attention to detail. Instead of just turning your head and dropping your ear, you pick the top of your head up and bring it over and then turn your head.
“The people who know this are dying off,” Reiko continues. “They’re people who actually learned it at the Bolshoi, and I happen to have been around long enough to have learned some of it and pass it along.”
Maniya has also focused her own expertise on the continued development of classical ballet, with special attention paid to preserving nuance in the art form.
“Maniya is the consummate artist,” Reiko says. “She was so beautiful to watch, and she feels when she dances. That’s what she will pass along - the emotion that she brings out in her dance.”
With the duo of Barredo and Kimura at the helm, Metropolitan is headed for a strong and exciting future.
Beyond the studio, Reiko’s return brings another happy reunion. With her little dog Milan at her side, (whom Reiko describes as a canine Gladys Kravitz) she knows where she’ll be in her off-hours.
“I really want to spend time with my kids!” Reiko says. Daughter Remy and son Tucker are in Kennesaw, and younger son Zack is in Ackworth. Reiko’s step-daughter, Leah, has two young children. “One is five and one is three,” she says. “I can’t wait to play with those babies!”