On April 18, Kumiko Tsuji’s farewell performance of Swan Lake brought the audience to its feet and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence Orr to his knees.
A flawless Odette, she was delicate but strong, fiercely protecting her captor while yearning for love and salvation. Tsuji’s supple body, articulate legs, and convincing mime enhanced a performance emanating from her artistic soul. Her Odile exuded confidence and seduced with clean footwork and effortless double fouettés.
“It’s been a pleasure to dance with her,” says Christopher Budzynski, her first and last Prince Siegfried. She has “fantastic musicality and a wonderful sense of dancing in the moment.”
The 26-year-old Tokyo native’s passion for classical ballet led her to England’s Royal Ballet School. She performed with Hong Kong Ballet and joined PBT in 2003. Her dazzling virtuosity and stellar acting facilitated her ascent from apprentice to principal. An effervescent Sugar Plum Fairy and bravura Kitri, she also enriched Aurora’s “Rose Adagio” with youthful ebullience. She devoured space in Tharp’s In the Upper Room and Dwight Rhoden’s Smoke ’n Roses but especially enjoyed working with British choreographer Derek Deane. She sparkled in his Anything Goes, and melded technical stamina with childlike awe in Alice in Wonderland.
“I’m proud to have attained principal rank and to have left home to pursue my career,” says Tsuji, who graced DM’s cover as a “25 to Watch” in 2008. “All I wanted to do was ballet.” She and husband Daisuke Takeuchi, who retired from PBT last year, plan to start both a studio and a family in Hokkaido, Japan.
Arnold Theodore Spohr (1923–2010)
Through charismatic leadership and uncompromising standards, Arnold Spohr transformed the Royal Winnipeg Ballet from a struggling prairie troupe into an acclaimed international touring company. His artistic directorship, 1958–88, is considered a golden age in the 70-year-old company’s history. Dubbed “the best-loved man in Canadian dance,” Spohr became a much honored national figure.
“He was an icon on so many levels,” says former RWB dancer and current artistic director André Lewis. The national government issued an official statement marking Spohr’s death in April. Flags at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre were lowered to half-mast.
Spohr’s passion for dance was ignited by a 1942 performance of the touring Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He was almost 20 when he began classes with RWB founders Gweneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally. Despite the late start, he quickly became a leading dancer, admired for his partnering abilities and dramatic gifts.
Spohr started choreographing in 1950 but abandoned this creative avenue soon after becoming director to focus on rebuilding the foundering company. A breakthrough Jacob’s Pillow engagement in 1964 led to major tours across the U.S. and later to cities in Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia.
Spohr continued the RWB’s populist programming of accessible triple bills but was not afraid to challenge audiences with bold new works by Canadians Brian Macdonald and Norbert Vesak, American John Neumeier, and Argentinean Oscar Araiz. He brought one of his own teachers, the renowned Vera Volkova, as a guest to Winnipeg. As the RWB’s classical standards improved, he began to mount the classics, highlighting the qualities of Varna gold medalist Evelyn Hart.
Although sometimes accused of tyrannical methods—he refused to accept second best—Spohr inspired his dancers and earned their enduring respect and affection. He continued coaching and mentoring dancers into his 80s. —Michael Crabb
Philippe Braunschweig (1928–2010)
The founder of the Prix de Lausanne, Philippe Braunschweig, died in April. The balletomane started the world-famous Swiss ballet competition in 1973 to provide scholarships and training opportunities to talented young dancers. Past winners of the Prix include Alessandra Ferri, Diana Vishneva, Ethan Stiefel, and Carlos Acosta, among other international stars. With his wife, Elvire Krémis, a former dancer, Braunschweig oversaw the competition until the couple’s retirement in 1997. He graced the Prix de Lausanne last January with his dignified, benevolent presence.
Photo of Kumiko Tsuji by Rich Sofranko, Courtesy PBT.