Europe is arguably the most well-known continent to hail talent in the art of ballet and opera. This because Italy, France, and Russia is where these classic art forms have cemented their deepest roots.
Still, these three European countries aren’t the only contemporary communities to feature their own opera or ballet companies and theaters. In fact, there are hundreds of ballet ensembles and venues all over the world.
Today we are going to look at the continent of Asia. It is said that it was colonialism that first brought the art of ballet to Asia and since then our friends in the Far East have accumulated nearly thirty companies and opera houses to date. Their repertoires range from European classics to original compositions by their very own artistic directors.
Here we go in our attempt to familiarize the international world of opera and ballet with six companies and theaters that were formed and erected on the continent of Asia.
1. Armenian National Opera and Ballet Theater
Yerevan, Armenia’s capital and largest metropolitan area, is home to this Asian country’s only ballet company. The Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet after Alexander Spendiaryan, as it is also called, opened on January 20, 1933. The performance for the evening was Alexander Spendiaryan’s Almast, which is Armenian for “diamond.”
With the new theatre this inspired the creation of original Armenian ballets. The first national ballet was composed by Soviet-Armenian Aram Khachaturian. The title of this ballet is Happiness.
Khachaturian didn’t wait long to compose his next original piece Gayane, which has been staged on every corner of the globe. Gayane was based on Khachaturian’s Happiness. The story surrounds a young woman with the same name. The themes of love, treachery, and relationships are prevalent.
This company has held productions of ballets written by Armenian, Russian, and Western European writers.
2. Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater
This country, which sits inside the Transcaucasian region of Southwest Asia, opened its doors on February 28, 1911. It was first known as the Mailov Theatre, named for the mogul who first requested it be built.
Mailov first gained interest in building an opera house when he was in the audience for Antonina Nezhdanova’s 1910 performance in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Her soprano voice captivated Mailov and he asked her to return to Baku for another performance.
The singer rejected that notion claiming that in a city where there was so much wealth she was surprised there wasn’t an opera house respectable enough to play host to singers. The soprano felt the available venues didn’t showcase singing talents at their best.
Wanting her to return to Baku, Mailov promised her that he would have an opera house built, just for her, in one year. Yet, this was a feat unheard of at the time. Buildings in the early 1900’s did not get erected as quickly as they do today.
Another rich Azeri native by the name of Zeynalabdin Taghiyev felt that the building simply could not be finished in a year’s time. Mailov bet Taghiyev that if it was not finished by the year deadline Mailov would give Taghiyev the building but, if it was finished, Taghiyev would have to pick up the entire tab for the building’s construction.
The building was safely completed in less than a year and Taghiyev lost the bet. Nezhdanova returned to Baku and was the first performer at the new theater.
Still, it wasn’t used regularly until 1916 when the theater gained a resident company.
3. Genecela Dance Center
This dance school has been teaching the talented of Indonesia since January of 1996. The founding teacher is Yasinta R. Suryani, and the initial vision for the school is to exemplify the ideals of the school when one is a child. From there they will move on to teach at the school.
Suryani studied ballet for more than twenty years with Mrs. Farida Oetoyo, who is one of Jakarta’s premiere ballet teachers. This training plus the extensive traveling to dance in Hong Kong, Japan, and Austria inspired the opening of Genecela Dance Center.
Mostly, Suryani wanted to create a space were the talented youth of Indonesia could be nurtured. They needed to be taught the correct ways of dancing ballet so that the youngsters could grow to become professional ballet dancers that would bring honor to Indonesia.
The school has been successful and has added the genres of jazz, hip hop, and tap to their original curriculum of classical ballet.
4. Israel Ballet
Founded in 1967 by Berta Yampolsky and Hilel Merkman in 1967, this Asian ballet company focuses on classical ballet and neoclassical ballet.
The first production of the Israel Ballet Company was performed on January 25 in the city of Holon. Still, the Classical Ballet Center, where the company calls home, is in Tel Aviv. It is a top Israeli school and an example of ballet education.
In 1975 George Balanchine gave the Israel Ballet Company all rights to perform his piece Serenade. Six years later in 1981 Balanchine gave the company all rights to perform any of his works for free.
The company didn’t hesitate and the Balanchine works in their repertoire include Symphony in C, Square Dance, La Valse, Concerto Barocco, and The Four Temperaments. Other works in the repertoire of the Israel Ballet Company are Onegin, Giselle, Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, and Cinderella.
Artistic Director has not only composed her own original works for the ballet to perform, she has also choreographed new dances for The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
One the newest pieces in the company’s list is a contemporary play titled Hikarizatto by Itzik Galili.
The Israel Ballet Company gives performances all over the world and is the only ballet company in Israel that is on this level. Their home base is the Israel Ballet Center and is furnished with two hundred and fifty seats.
5. Singapore Dance Theatre
This theatre and ballet company was formed less than thirty years ago in 1988. The founding members are Anthony Then and Goh Soo Khim. Their debut performance was at the Singapore Festival of the Arts that same year.
In the very beginning this troupe only had seven ballet dancers who rehearsed in a humble studio that was on the second floor of an old colonial bungalow. At the time another dance ensemble called the Singapore Ballet Academy, would also utilized the space and our seven dancers had to work around the Academy dancer’s schedules.
The floors were so bad sometimes they would give way right under the dancer’s feet. When it rained buckets were kept on the floor to collect the drippings from the ceiling.
Three years later the Singapore Dance Theater performers began to use the Fort Canning Centre in Fort Canning Park. A building was finally erected for the troupe themselves and it now sits on Victoria Street. The new theatre is equipped with four
Their list of works goes from classical ballets and move into the more contemporary works in the dance genre. The company staged Giselle in the Victoria Theatre in 2010 and began their 2011 season with a version of Romeo and Juliet by Choo San Goh.
In 2015 alone the Singapore Dance Theatre put on performances of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake on top of ten pieces they pulled out of their repertoire and new compositions form Kinsun Chan, Gigi Gianti, Max Chen, and Francois Klaus.
6. Korea National Ballet Company
Located in South Korea, this Asian ballet company opened in 1962 in the capital city of Seoul. Its original name was the National Ballet Company and one of its associates was the National Theater of Korea, that is until 1999. This is when the company split off and took over their own facility, Seoul Arts Center in 2000.
There are sixty-five spots for ballet dancers with this company and each are selected yearly through open auditions. This company boasts South Korea’s best dancers and varied collection of works.
Kim Joo-won, a prima ballerina with the company, has won the Benois de la danse prize in 2006. The next year she rocked the Asian ballet world when she posed topless for a Korean fashion magazine.
Notable performances by the Korea National Ballet are Musagéte by Boris Eifman, Requiem or Mass for the Dead, Bravo Figaro, Spartacus, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Raymonda, Cindarella, Do’ve La Luna, Carmen, and Michel Fokine’s Chunhyang L’Epreuve d’Amour.
In 1997 the company began Ballet with Commentary, which was the creative endeavor of Artistic Director Tae-ji Choi. Today, the program has extended out to Visiting Ballet with Commentary. They focus on bringing the art of ballet to those who would never get to experience it otherwise. They travel to perform in small villages and army bases.
Their first full-length Ballet with Commentary was given in 2010. The work was Coppélia, a comic ballet that premiered in 1870 at the Théatre Impérial l’Opera in Paris. Today’s Artistic Director is Kang Sue-jin.