Though COVID-19 precautions still exist locally, the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing and vaccinations are making people feel more comfortable venturing out to restaurants, entertainment venues and small gatherings. Each day brings news that more in-person, live arts performances are being presented by organizations such as Summer Stock Stage, Indianapolis Opera, IndyFringe, the new Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael, The Cat and others. Add to the list the intrepid Indianapolis Ballet, which has become one of the brightest jewels in the crown of the local performing arts arena.
This Friday through Sunday, April 16-18, in-person performances of IB’s production of “Grace to Grandeur” will be presented at The Toby at Newfields. Sponsored by Innovative, the program explores themes of celebration, joy and strength, all a welcome relief for people who are suffering from COVID fatigue and yearn for live performance. The program includes “Valse Fantaisie” with choreography by George Balanchine, “Diana & Actaeon” with choreography by Agrippina Vaganova, a new piece by retired IB dancer Kristin Toner, and “Raymonda” Act III with choreography by Marius Petipa.
Eager to return to the theatre to see and review “Grace to Grandeur,” I reached out to IB principal dancer Yoshiko Kamikusa, with whom I have been wanting to profile for some time. Plus, she happens to be dancing in several of the pieces. Born in Tokyo, Kamikusa began her ballet training at the age of seven in Hawaii. Eventually she moved to Canada, where she furthered her professional training at the Goh Ballet Academy. Kamikusa joined Indianapolis Ballet in its debut season in 2018, after dancing as an artist with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet for five years. She has performed a diverse repertoire in her professional career thus far, dancing many principal roles such as Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake;” Sugarplum Fairy, Snow Queen, and Arabian in “The Nutcracker;” Man I Love and Fascinating Rhythm in “Who Cares?” and many others.
Recently, I spoke with Kamikusa in a Zoom call from her home, where we chatted about life in quarantine, her IB experience and, of course, the upcoming concert. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation:
TA: How is it that you came to Indianapolis Ballet?
YK: Honestly, I was just reaching out to a lot of companies at the time because I felt I needed a little more growth, a change of scenery, and change of environment. I felt stagnated, so I reached out to IB, which was one of my auditions. Vicky (Lyras, IB artistic director) said, “We don’t know if we can support you because we are a startup company, but we could try you out.” Later, I had that first “Nutcracker” gig when it was just still a school and that just worked really, really well and we just had this instant connection.
TA: Have you felt welcomed?
YK: Absolutely. I don’t know what it is, but everyone has been incredibly welcoming. Every time I have needed help, someone has always been there and that is unlike any other place I have been.
TA: What roles are you dancing in the concert?
YK: I am doing the “Diana & Actaeon” pas de deux with Chris (Lingner) and then we’ll do the “Raymonda” suite as well and then there is a Balanchine piece “Valse Fantasie” and I will be doing the lead couple for that as well.
TA: What do you think of the program?
YK: I think Vicky puts the best out there and I think she wants to show this just-starting-out company has a lot of power, a lot of potential and we are going places. So, this current program really highlights the grace and grandeur of classical ballet.
TA: How do you feel about performing in front of a live audience?
YK: I know so many people are excited to see us live this weekend. It is at 30 percent capacity, which would normally be the size of our dress rehearsals or student matinees, which we used to take for granted… “Oh, there are just a couple people out there,” but now it is just like, “We’re going to have an audience!” That is just incredibly exciting.
TA: Let’s talk about your experience with the pandemic. How did you handle quarantine?
YK: Honestly, I don’t even recall (laughs). I stayed here because I figured I would not be able to come back with all the turmoil that was going on, even if I had a ballet visa. It was this big waiting game and a lot of uncertainty going around, but I think Indianapolis Ballet has been great. We have some extremely wonderful sponsors who have kept this company afloat and that is an incredibly hard thing to do, especially since we started. In our third year, we could have easily closed if we didn’t have the right resources, if we didn’t push through so many things. We didn’t know if we were going to go back into rehearsal. We had some incredible donors who got us Kroger gift cards for groceries. We were well fed. They tried to cover our insurance as much as they could because we weren’t working and just overall, trying to keep us sane and planning a season ahead, not knowing if there was going to be one.
TA: I have to ask this because it is so much in the news. Have you experienced any Anti-Asian resentment?
YK: Fortunately, no. All my experiences abroad have been so positive and I have just been so incredibly grateful. You see these things on the news and it’s happening so much in New York lately. Asian Americans are getting spit on and having rocks thrown at them just because of the color of their skin or just because of the Chinese association with the virus. They lump all Asians together. It doesn’t matter if you’re Japanese or Chinese. We are all just yellow people, so that does hurt me a little. It does sort of put me on the edge. It, sort of, makes me feel like, “Can I trust these people? Who would I get to help me should I get into an incident like this?” But I do have complete faith in all the people who surround me right now that they would be at my rescue at any moment. So, that is just really heartwarming and the support I do have is calming, but it’s hard to see the news and know there are people who are like that.
TA: What do you want the public to know about the IB and this concert?
YK: The dancers are phenomenal. We are your local talent. We come from different places, but we are here and we are professionals. I think being able to see these dancers create this beautiful magic on stage, especially after a time like we have been experiencing, is going to be liberating for a lot of people. The only sad thing is that we are still masked and I do think that does take away a bit of the magic that generally represents us as ballet dancers. It feels like there is something strange, I personally think, but it is protocol. It has pushed us to be even more expressive with our entire bodies.
For tickets to Indianapolis Ballet’s “Grace to Grandeur,” visit indyballet.org. Health and safety measures will be in place for the concert, developed by IB and Newfields, that include reduced seating capacity, mask wearing, social distancing, minimum contact entry and exit, hand-sanitizing stations, and theatre cleaning per CDC protocols. A digital version of the show will be released April 21 and available through April 30.