Dream and Destiny

I have always believed that each person has his own destiny

Country Morihiro Iwata


When talking about life’s shortcomings and uncertainties, we are accustomed to quoting, with irony, Yuri Vizbor’s famous words: “And in the field of ballet, we are also the best.” But, seeing the splendour of the great Russian ballet school reflected in the dreams of a Japanese boy, one who sought Russia as if drawn to the Promised Land, it becomes suddenly apparent that there is much about Russian ballet that is worthy of pride. Morihiro Iwata, the Japanese boy with a Russian destiny, certainly found that pride.

I have always believed that each person has his own destiny, assigned at birth by some higher power, and which remains alongside him until death. But recently, I began to wonder if my fate could have been different, what exactly determined its direction, and what caused me to choose the path I have chosen.

I think it was my dream that helped me to choose which course of life to take. This dream sent me to faraway Russia. It demanded I work insanely hard in order to show my skills and achieve my victories.

There are some milestones given to us by fate, which serve as unalterable reference points. Our place of birth, for example, our time of birth, and our family. My fate bound me to Japan. I was born into a ballet family, the child of two instructors whose love of the art has rubbed off on me. As a child, I never thought that one day I would go to Russia. I only began thinking of the future after my ninth birthday, when I started studying classical ballet at my father’s school.

At that time in Japan, there was no such notion of professional ballet. This kind of art had come from the West only relatively recently, and courses were conducted only at private schools. I didn’t have a chance to attend any ballet performances or see any shows at professional ballet theatres. I did, however, manage to find some ballet performances recorded on videotape, and it was then that I first saw how the Russian artists dance. I should add that I was introduced to Russian ballet also through the lessons with my father, Sakutaru Iwata, who, in his youth, studied with renowned Russian pedagogue, Aleksei Varlamov. My father is a big admirer of Russian ballet, and, through it, he seemed to absorb some of the Russian soul.

When I was 17, I took part in the National Japanese Ballet Competition. I lost. But the defeat only honed my desire to master the art of classical dance. I felt the urge to go and study in Russia.

The Soviet Union, at this time, seemed a very distant, mysterious, and dangerous country. My friends thought I was half crazy. But I considered the Russian school of ballet the best in the world, and that was all that mattered to me. Getting into Russia was a very difficult task, back then. The difficulties began with attaining an entry visa — I was supposed to arrive in September 1989, but I had to wait for four months for the visa, and it wasn’t until January 1990 that I managed to go.

I dreamt of studying under the celebrated instructor, Peter Pestov, but he would not take me. Alexander Bondarenko, on the contrary, gladly accepted me into his class. It was he, in fact, who laid down the solid foundation of my destiny in ballet.

picture Anastasia Lecontseva

After graduating from ballet school, I began to look for a theatre that would let me take some ballet classes in order to keep my form. I stumbled upon Vyacheslav Gordeev’s Russian Ballet theatre, and I was invited to take a permanent job there. My time spent working at this theatre was characterized by a number of fateful events, many of which were to influence my life in future years. Most significantly, I met the Russian woman who would become my wife.

After three years, I left the Russian Ballet to try to get a job at the Bolshoi. It was then that my first daughter, Maria, was born. Skipping ahead another two and a half years, another daughter, Alisa, would also join our family. The birth of my daughters would give me a sense of responsibility and adulthood.

Getting a job at the Bolshoi was quite complicated, primarily because of my foreign citizenship. For a whole year I attended classes there, waiting to get the job, though I never lost hope. And then, in one spectacular moment, there occurred some great changes in the country’s system, and the Bolshoi Theatre’s management changed, becoming more democratic. For the first time, the theatre adopted a system of contracts, and Vladimir Vasiliev was installed as director. All of this impacted my life: I was finally accepted into the Bolshoi Theatre.

My life’s most important achievements are connected to Russia. Russia has given me so much: a professional education, creative experience, a transformed perception of the world and broadened horizons.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lives of everyone changed, as did their attitudes towards many things, including the arts. After arriving in Russia, I could see my own country from afar. Every year, returning to Japan, I see its stability, its people’s well-being, their attitude towards life. But I also notice how the media influence the people’s opinions. The majority of them don’t seem to have their own views of this or that event, as if they are in some kind of zombielike state. This greatly troubles me.

During my first years of work at the Bolshoi Theatre, my salary was very meagre. Many of the dancers there quit and went abroad for work. Those who stayed didn’t work for the money, but for the idea. My family and I really had to restrict ourselves in our expenditures. But this modesty helped me preserve the harmony between the spiritual and material worlds. It seems to me that, while working at the Bolshoi, I began truly to understand and love ballet.

Three of my most cherished dreams had come to fruition: to study in Russia, to win the Moscow International Ballet Competition, and to work at the Bolshoi Theatre. One of my desires, however, remained unfulfilled. I was never awarded the Honoured Artist of Russia title. On the other hand, I did receive the Order of Friendship, which was presented to me at the Kremlin by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

If, as a kid, somebody had told me that I would be working in Russia at the Bolshoi, I would never have believed it, and, if five years ago, I had been told that I would be working in Ulan-Ude after the Bolshoi Theatre, I would have burst into laughter. Nevertheless, though, that’s exactly what happened. Many events, I dreamed about and worked for, earning my achievement through hard work, but something was happening without my participation, as if by chance. Take, for instance, my having been invited to the position of art director of the ballet troupe at The Opera and Ballet Theatre in Ulan-Ude. That was quite unexpected, but very timely. I had just finished my dancing career at the Bolshoi and was in search of creative pursuits.

I am now in my fifth season of work in Ulan-Ude. I have plunged into this new world and I feel how close it is to me. I like the harmony between the people and their beautiful Baikal nature, their way of honouring the traditions of their ancestors, their strong family ties. I notice the similarities between the Japanese and the Buryats, who have DNA in common. By the will of fate, I am working in a theatre that was built by the hands of my own countrymen after the Second World War. All of this helps me feel closer to my homeland. And I am very happy about that.

In addition to my work at the theatre, I teach kids classical dance at choreography school, hoping to pass on to them all of my accumulated knowledge and experience. This way, it is like I am repaying my debt to my own teachers, who instilled in me both professionalism and love for this form of art.

What is destiny? Perhaps it is a mirror for our hopes, a reflection of our strongest desires. Certainly, there are things that cannot be altered by an individual’s volition, but anyone with purpose and commitment can have an impact on the subsequent course of events. The main thing is to believe in yourself.