Accepted Paper:

Ballet in Japan: ballet's cosmopolitanism reconsidered  


Sayako Ono (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)

Paper short abstract:

Ballet is watched and learned all over the world, and can be applied to the concept of aesthetic cosmopolitanism. In the consumption of ballet in Japan, however, it refers to not only western hegemonic canons but also local aesthetics. This paper explores the twin processes of adaption.

Paper long abstract:

Classical ballet is generally regarded as part of the western high arts, and yet it has a global appeal. It is watched and learned in all corners of the world. Ballet seems a perfect candidate for cosmopolitanism in aesthetics.

This paper, by presenting the case of ballet as consumed in Japan, however, critically examines the claims of ballet's cosmopolitanism. The paper, on the one hand, demonstrates how the western hegemonic canons are re-enacted in the Japanese ballet world, but on the other, it highlights the specificities of how ballet is danced and indigenized in Japan. In the first instance, in Japan, as in several non-western countries, ballet is regarded as a symbol of westernisation. And as such, the consumption of ballet becomes a vehicle for enhancing social status. The paper highlights this by narrating the stories of urban middle class women's obsession with ballet. In the second instance, ballet as danced in Japan has its unique characteristics, which challenge the western notions of aesthetics. In Japan, for example, anyone, regardless of their body proportions, has a chance of becoming a professional ballet dancer, contrary to the western aesthetics of the ideal 'thin and long limbed' ballet proportions. In developing its own local aesthetics, Japanese ballet seems to thwart these western hegemonic canons.

This paper, therefore, presents the specificities of ballet in Japan, simultaneously highlighting the Japanese social aspirations as well as local aesthetics.

Panel P114
Anthropology of music, popular music scenes, performance practices and challenges of the present