Tall Tales

Kaguya-Hime: The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Photo: Bradly Brown

Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet co-founder Emilie Rupp discusses the inspiration behind the company’s new ballet Kaguya-Hime and working with the local arts community.

DallasDallas Neo-Classical Ballet founders Emilie Rupp and Victoria Dolph have collaborated with Dallas-based artist Gregory Ruppe and fashion designers Misako Kushibe and Kennetha Woods to bring us Kaguya-Hime, the company’s first full-length ballet.

Kaguya-Hime is based on a 10th century Japanese folktale entitled The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which follows the life of Kaguya-Hime, the Moon Princess. She is sent to earth as an infant and is found by the Bamboo Cutter who raises her as his own. Taken aback by her extraordinary beauty, princes flock to her and try to win her over. Even the Emperor himself attempts to gain her affections, but to no avail as Kaguya-Hime’s heart belongs to the moon.

Emilie Rupp began her classical ballet training with Gilbert Rome and Victoria Vittum in Houston, TX. She was a member of the Houston Repertoire Ballet for 7 years performing various roles in The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Swan Lake. In 2007, Rupp received her BA in French from the University of North Texas with a minor in Art History. Since graduating she has been teaching, performing and choreographing in the DFW area.

TheaterJones asks Rupp about the inspiration behind Kaguya-Hime, her successful method for working with collaborators and what it was like choreographing a Japanese-inspired ballet.

Kaguya-Hime premieres this Saturday at the Bishop Arts Theatre Center in Oak Cliff at 7:30p.m.

TheaterJones: How was the preview of Kaguya-Hime at the Trammel and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art last weekend?

Emilie Rupp: It went really well. It was kind of a trial run for us. We had our make-up artists come and try some make-up that looked great. And there was a pretty good turnout I think.

Do you often collaborate with local arts venues?

Yes, we have been trying to do this from the beginning. We’ve performed at the Texas Ballet Theater, CentralTrak and also schools as part of our outreach program. We’ve really been trying to stay with galleries or anything related to the arts.

Was this part of your motivation for starting Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet?

Yes! Luckily, I have a lot of talented friends and not just with dance. I also know a lot of artists and musicians and I have been around them my whole life. I see what they do and it’s just so interesting to me. I thought it would be so great if we could work together because with dance you need musicians and you need costumes and make-up. I wanted to get everyone involved and get everyone really excited to come together. This is where I wanted to go with the company.

DNCB Founders Victoria Dolph and Emilie Rupp. Photo: Lisa Michelle Photography

There are many dance companies in the Dallas area. Is DNCB bringing something new to the dance scene by collaborating with the arts community?

I think so! I wasn’t feeling completely fulfilled with what I was doing performance wise and I really wanted to create more and I hadn’t seen this type of collaboration with many companies. Certain companies have touched on it here and there, but it was never a project where everyone was equally involved and that’s what we’re trying to do. There’s just more sharing in the project than what I have seen with other companies.

Where did you find the folktale for Kaguya-Hime?

I actually participated in a video performance piece with the artist we are working with, Gregory Ruppe. I came to him with the idea to collaborate and I threw out the possibility of using his performance art and turning it into a ballet. He’s the one that found the story. It’s one that he knew about because all of his art is sort of a look at Eastern and Western cultures and how they fit together. He brought the story to us and it seemed absolutely perfect for a ballet.

We talked about some ideas and different things that needed to be pulled from the story for the ballet and then we went our separate ways. Victoria and I worked on the choreography and getting the music together and Gregory went off with his art collective to work on sets and costumes. So, we’re about to bring all that together and see what we have.

Did you check in with your collaborators throughout the project and vice versa?

We’ve been pretty separate up until the last couple of weeks as we’ve been getting closer to the performance. There were definitely times we met outside the rehearsal space to talk through things. I would come to him and say look this scene isn’t working we need to change it a little bit and Gregory really worked with us on that. We did have our costume designers come to rehearsals to get more of an idea of the story and see how the costumes where fitting.

DNCB’s mission is to bring artists and dancers together. Principal Dancer Lea Essmyer. Photo by Bradly Brown. Artwork by Yukari Eda

What was it about the story that inspired you?

I would say that there are three crucial elements of the story that inspired me. The first being the fact that it is one of the oldest Japanese folktales, yet it was so ahead of its time with the science-fiction concepts of Kaguya-Hime and the moon people. The second element that I thought would translate well was the battles between the princes and the fantastical creatures presented in the story. Battle scenes are a fairly common aspect of storybook ballets, so it gave us the opportunity to incorporate this element while creating our own unique vision of the characters.

The final and most important element is the love story. While this is more certainly a vital component of almost every ballet, Kaguya-Hime is about the love between the moon princess and the moon itself and that somehow seemed grander than the typical romance between a man and a woman.

How did the story influence your choreography?

We had to base our story really on the amount of dancers we had especially our male dancers. In the story there are five, but we only had two. As soon as we had our characters set and sort of an idea of where we were going with the story it was really the music that guided us. Victoria and I started out working separately setting different scenes, but then we started noticing that we worked better and our choreography was a lot stronger when we did it together.

The majority of the movement in the ballet is classical, but there are a few moments where Kaguya-Hime comes out of that classical character and does something a little more contemporary. We also have dancers coming in at the end of the piece to perform the traditional style Butoh, which is very odd and very different.  I also did some research on the Cherry Blossom dancers to see how their arms and hands worked in the dance and we incorporated some of that movement in the festival scene. We did the same thing with our Imperial dancers in the palace scene.

Anything you would do differently for next time?

I would say that the biggest issue I had was actually with the music. It’s a full-length ballet so, picking music from different composers and making sure it all flowed together was very difficult for me. I would find a piece of music that was so beautiful and then I would find another one that was perfect and they just wouldn’t fit together. So, sometimes I didn’t get to pick my favorite song because it just didn’t fit with the one before or after it.

If we decide to do another full-length ballet I would like to have a composer if that’s possible.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.



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