New Ballet ‘Genji’ Makes World Premiere at Asia Society Texas
HOUSTON, March 31, 2023 — Over two nights on March 24–25, the new ballet Genji made its world premiere at Asia Society Texas, with sold-out performances featuring music composed and played live by Kaoru Watanabe and dancers from the Houston Ballet and Houston Ballet Academy.
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The first ballet adaptation of the classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, the new work from Nao Kusuzaki explores the life of Genji, son of the Emperor Kiritsubo, through four crucial relationships with women in the novel — from his arranged marriage with the minister’s daughter Aoi to his affair with the spirited widow Rokujō, courtship of his lifelong companion Murasaki, and self-imposed exile after conceiving a child with the imperial princess Fujitsubo.
Bringing a new narrative into the traditionally Western ballet canon, Genji featured an all-Japanese and Asian American cast who brought to life the novel’s intricacies of relationships and revealed universal human emotions that were the drivers in creating this contemporary reimagining. Throughout the work, Kusuzaki incorporated traditional Japanese cultural forms that were developed during the Heian period of The Tale of Genji, including waka poetry, gagaku music, and bugaku dance. Costume designer Allison Miller combined Kariginu and kimono sourced from Japan with color schemes associated with the characters in the book. The set, lighting, and projections by Ryan McGettigan and Tiffany Schrepferman utilized large rotating Japanese screens, calligraphy, and symbolic imagery to reflect the inner lives of the characters and their shifting relationships with one another.
The week also featured two talks from acclaimed Harvard scholar Dr. Melissa McCormick, who provided an overview of The Tale of Genji by placing it in context of Japanese culture, global literature, and its influence on other art forms.
Genji was commissioned by Asia Society Texas.
Choreographer and Artistic Director
Composer and Musician
Lighting Designer and Stage Manager
Ryo Kato (Genji)
Jindallae Bernard (Rokujō)
Emma Forrester (Aoi)
Aoi Fujiwara (Fujitsubo)
Yumiko Fukuda (Murasaki)
Kaoru Watanabe (Emperor Kiritsubo)
Houston Ballet Academy Dancers
Kanako Kiriyama – calligraphy
Yoko Kusuzaki – Kariginu and kimono
Dr. Melissa McCormick
Expanding the Classical Ballet Canon Part I: Nao Kusuzaki's Genji at Asia Society Texas Center in Partnership with Houston Ballet, Arts and Culture Texas, February 2, 2023.
Nao Kusuzaki's World Premiere Ballet, Genji, marks Asia Society Texas' second dance commission in its 43-year history, Houston Arts Journal, February 17, 2023.
Houston Ballet and Asia Society present world premiere of Nao Kusuzaki's 'Genji,' Houston Chronicle, February 28, 2023.
Nao Kusuzaki Helms World Premiere of Genji, The Dance DiSH, March 14, 2023.
The Many Loves of Prince Genji Take Center Stage at Asia Society Texas, Houston Press, March 20, 2023.