Photography Henrik Stenberg | ballet
Photography Mads Teglers | portrait
My interview with Kristoffer Sakurai was scheduled to 11 o’clock, and at the exact time the former ballet dancer enters the café. Not one minute past… Evidently, precision, discipline and punctuality are just as important ingredients in the life of a ballet dancer as strong legs and tightly laced ballet shoes.
It is only just recently that 30-year-old Sakurai has put those shoes in the cupboard forever. Ever since he was seven years old – and for the following 23 years – the talented ballet dancer with a Danish mother and Japanese father has been dancing behind the thick walls of the big cultural building at Kongens Nytorv, Copenhagen, and into the hearts of many ballet fans. Especially after 2005 where his dream was fulfilled and he became a solo dancer at the Royal Danish Ballet.
Today, Kristoffer Sakurai has decided to retire – ten years prior to the usual retirement age of ballet dancers, which is 40 years. But to Sakurai it is by no means ten years too early.
“From being full of joy and looking forward to dancing, my only thought in the morning before I got out of bed was: ‘Where will it hurt today? What part of my body will ache?’ All ballet dancers without exemption suffer as you strain your body to the very limit – and sometimes beyond that limit. But to me it was especially painful in my achilles tendons and heels. I’d had a lot of operations and my use of painkillers was alarmingly high. In other words I was not happy with the way my life had turned out,” reflects Sakurai, who in 2011 took what he himself calls the most important decision of his life.
A decision that meant a conclusive goodbye to a feted life as a solo dancer in one of the world’s most renowned ballet companies. It was, however, also a goodbye to painful hours of rehearsal every single day and an exhausting season lasting ten months, which left no room for missteps – or just a small break from the grueling schedule.
“I had to be in full control and in sync with each and every muscle, tendon and fibre in my body. What had been built up through six weeks could be wasted in one week if you didn’t train optimally. And then you could start all over.”
Chaos at the Ballet
“But the thrill of standing on stage, being the centre of attention and receive the tribute of the people, I don’t really miss that at all. It was not for the sake of fame that I became a solo dancer, but for the art and dance itself. I’m quite comfortable with a more anonymous role today”, explains the retired ballet star who is saddened by the fact that cocaine and problems with management and ballet dancers at The Royal Danish Ballet is presently getting more attention in the media than ‘rond de jambe’ and Belanchine.
“Ballet has always been surrounded by trouble, but it hurts when there are so many serious issues and so much media attention. It really touches you, but that was not the reason I chose to end my career. I haven’t really paid too much attention to all the writings and stories afterwards, even though I’m still in close contact with my former colleagues. You just tend to lose interest when you are not a part of the whole scene any longer.”
“Everybody was so nice when I told them I wanted to quit, including Nikolaj (Nikolaj Hübbe, artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet). He was surprised by my decision, but also very understanding. I guess my timing was good,” smiles Kristoffer Sakurai. (…)