Born in Osaka, Japan, Misa Kuranaga is a Principal dancer with The Boston Ballet. Referred to by critics as one of the best female dancers to see now, her career path was however not always a smooth road. After working as an apprentice with the San Francisco Ballet, she went back to school for further training at The School of American Ballet. Currently starring in a new piece by Choreographer Jorma Elo, Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius premiered November 3rd with costumes designed by Yumiko Takeshima in Boston. We caught up with Misa to hear more about her career and discuss among other things, how Social media is changing the dance world.
Misa Kuranaga wearing Yumiko SOFIANE in N-Silver Photo: Liza Voll
How is the new piece by Jorma Elo, Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius going?
It’s always so fun to work with Jorma. He feeds me with many inspiring things. Right now, he is coaching me on how use my face, eyes and how to make a second of pictures even though I have to move very fast in his movement.
Was it easy for you to get your first professional job?
Not at all! I left Japan when I was 18 to be an apprentice with the San Francisco Ballet … but then I didn’t get hired in the company. So I auditioned everywhere, even the smallest companies. I even went to an open audition for Boston Ballet and Mikko Nissinen (Artistic Director of Boston Ballet) looked into my eyes and said ‘thank you’ when I was one of the first to be cut.
I knew I needed to retrain myself. At that point I couldn’t dance ‘big’ and the way neo classical works are danced in America was far from what I was taught in Japan. So I went to the School of American Ballet in NYC to learn the Balanchine style, and I think it was the best thing I could have done at that point. After that I got my first professional job.
I used to be embarrassed to tell people about my failures and how difficult it was for me to get my first job but now I can laugh about it. You can still be a professional dancer even if you run into some obstacles.
Misa Kuranaga and Paulo Arrais rehearsing at Boston Ballet. Misa is wearing Yumiko ERICA in T-Grapefruit and Paulo is wearing Yumiko DAVID in C-Hot Red and Cedric in N-Titanium.
What do you do during your summer break from Boston Ballet?
This past summer I did a lot of guest performances. I danced in Moscow and Tokyo, and then toured around Italy for two weeks with Roberto Bolle and Friends. Afterwards I had one day back in Boston to repack before heading to Nantucket Island Festival, followed by performances in Vail, Colorado then a week in Mexico City for Despertares Gala.
How do you take care of yourself with such a busy schedule and so much traveling?
I just take it day by day. If I look at my schedule as a whole I get overwhelmed but if I take it day by day it’s totally manageable. I do have to be on top of it though - it sounds bad but I have to ignore emails and shut myself off at times to really focus. Plus I make sure to drink lots of water and eat well. It’s hard but it’s not that hard, it’s probably harder if I sit at home and do nothing.
How do you see Ballet evolving in the future?
I feel that Dance and Ballet are now closer to people because of social media. I used to hate getting asked the question "what is your real job?” But now it seems like people are seeing more of what we really do, and are beginning to appreciate it more. People mention to me videos and images they’ve seen online and comment how ballet training is similar to sports training. It’s not as popular as sports but I think people realize it’s just as much of a commitment. It seems to be reaching a wider audience, so it’s changing, but we can still do more – we have to come up with more.
Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio rehearsing with Boston Ballet. Misa is wearing Yumiko SOFIANE in N-Silver. Photo: Liza Voll
What is your personal approach to social media?
Ballet is hard to share because normally you could only see someone dance live in a particular city at a particular time, but social media is changing that. I know it’s not the same thing as a live performance, but even one picture can be inspiring. I feel that now I’m a bit older and a more mature dancer I can use social media to share the inspiration I’m gathering from those around me and the places I’m traveling. My goal with social media is not to convince anyone of anything, but if there is someone who likes what I’m doing, and it has a positive effect, then I feel it’s a good thing.
What energizes you?
Feeling inspired both on and off stage. Working with people, feeling energy from other dancers, seeing new places. That is what I really love and that gives me energy. If I don’t dance I tend to be kind of dark but when I dance It’s like I’m cleansing my mind and my body.