Swans En Pointe

Students of Honolulu Classical Ballet present a modern twist on ‘Swan Lake.' PHOTO BY AYA DUONG

Students of Honolulu Classical Ballet present a modern twist on ‘Swan Lake.’ PHOTO BY AYA DUONG

In a professional dancer’s career, only a select few attain top-ranking status as their company’s principal dancer. When I last interviewed Hawaii-born dancer Romi Beppu for MidWeek in 2006, she was celebrating two years as principal with Boston Ballet. She then went on to an illustrious career as principal at Salt Lake City’s Ballet West, and has since retired, returned home and founded Honolulu Classical Ballet three years ago. Her studio produced two feature shows over the last couple of years, but the troupe has grown so much that her students will be performing Jan. 18, La Danse: Swan Lake Suite, in addition to a summer performance this year.

Beppu says her rendition of Swan Lake is a novel take on the classical ballet with which people are familiar.

“I wanted to do a Swan Lake that was fresh, dancing styles that are current with today’s evolving art form and most importantly, challenging but still within reach for kids,” says Beppu.

Challenge is a key element at Honolulu Classical Ballet. The studio’s name highlights the purest form of the art, practiced through generations. This is the form from which all other ballet styles, from neoclassical to contemporary, were derived, notes Beppu.

“Classical ballet to me,” she says, “means discipline, structure, consistency, technique, strength, refinement, grace, line (posture) and skill. Valuable life lessons are learned through classical ballet’s rigorous training.”

Sixty-five of her students, ages 3-16, from various levels will appear in the Swan Lake program, including three students from her pre-professional level who are set to participate in Youth America Grand Prix in Los Angeles next month. Film First Position (2012) documented the riveting effort that goes into preparing for the prestigious Grand Prix competition.

“The competition is a vehicle for young, aspiring dancers from all backgrounds and countries to see and be seen by artistic directors from all over the world,” says Beppu. “The most exciting thing for the students competing is that they will be able to witness firsthand how they rank on a national and international level.”

With Hawaii’s remote geography, the experience is invaluable for students in terms of career and networking opportunities. Meanwhile, Hawaii audiences get treated to some top-form ballet.

the TICKET stub

When: Jan. 18
Where: Mamiya Theatre (3214 Waialae Ave.)
Cost: $20, $25 at the door
More Info: 421-7201, hcballet.com



The Korean American Experience

Unexpressed emotions between two people, be it sadness, confusion, endearment — that unspoken realm that binds or distances relationships — is fashioned by author Brenda Kwon into palpable matter in her new book, The Sum of Breathing (bambooridge.com). Her short stories and poetry at times reflect the autobiographical experience of growing up Korean American, and at other times, playfully outline a work of fiction.

The speaker in one poem, Inheritance, chews on her tongue just as her mother had done, “the taste of loss and memory,” she says. She savors her tongue to literally taste “words (mother) has never said, secrets she has kept too well, words for which I listen carefully in the sound of my own breath.” In another poem, Flight, the balancing feat of picking an avocado turns into a mother’s graceful act of love for her daughter, which elicits the girl’s out-pouring of adoration of her mother.

The Wake gives life to a girl’s grief and terror on the death of her grandmother. Sitting with her mother after the wake, she feels “the silence thicken, pushing against our bodies and the windows of the car.” Meanwhile, in Mother Tongue, the protagonist “listens to photographs” reading into the actions and atmosphere in which the “camera seizes moments violently, wresting them from oblivion.”

MW-Art-011415-BrendaKwonFirst love is always a rousing subject, and Kwon deftly plies her words, strumming a nostalgic tune. In her hands, a mundane attraction turns treasurable as a shy girl attempts to tell her mother about a boy she’s been exchanging glances with: “I searched for the words that would open my chest so my heart could flood out instead of churning inside.” For a lighthearted note on a different end of the spectrum, she has some devil-in-the-belfry fun with Everyday Practice, in which a single man’s hum-drum existence is turned topsy-turvy by a rascal feline.

You can hear her writing in her own voice at two upcoming appearances: Jan. 19 at Fresh Cafe on Queen Street at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 15 at Revolution Books at 3 p.m.