CBJ Hiroto Saito

Tell us about your dance background. How did you come to be a member of Canada’s Ballet Jörgen?

I started doing classical ballet when I was seven. My father took me to the studio, which is rare because it’s usually the mother, but my father was a dancer. I decided I wanted to be a professional dancer so I left Japan at 15 and moved to London. I studied for three years at the English National Ballet School then got my first job with the Hong Kong Ballet. In 1999 I met Bengt Jörgen for the first time when he came to set Romeo and Juliet for the Hong Kong Ballet. Eight years passed and I was still in the Hong Kong Ballet, but at that point I wanted a new challenge and I contacted Bengt. I wanted to audition for his company. I liked his work, and I knew the style of dance he works with. With that, I came to Canada to be a principal dancer with Ballet Jörgen, and I’ve been here for 10 years.

Joining the company as a principal dancer, how do you think it changed your experience at Ballet Jörgen?

Joining here as a principal I still had to prove myself to the other dancers because I was new, but I have gone from the bottom to the top so I understand what other dancers go through. Here, the Junior Company environment is where students transform into professionals, and I experienced that in my last 2 years in London performing in the English National Ballet. I also moved up from the corps de ballet to soloist in the Hong Kong Ballet.  I went through many failures. I’ve been yelled at and scolded and I know what’s it’s like to be at the bottom of the company and grow up.

This season, after dancing with CBJ for 10 years you’ve taken on the role of Ballet Master as well. How did that come about?

I’ve been transitioning into this role for a while now. Three years ago I started to take on more of a coaching role, rehearsing  the company dancers and discussing with Bengt which dancers are suitable for certain roles. It’s a lot more of a managing role, and since last year I started doing scheduling and leading rehearsals every day while overseeing the progress of the production. It’s a lot of juggling but its fun. I’m still dancing but I’m in my late 30s and my body is not as fit as it used to be. Change is normal. It’s always good to try new things, and this is a role that I have wanted to do.

Is being Ballet Master something that you sought out yourself?

When I was back in Hong Kong I had this great Ballet Master. He was a great teacher and he was my inspiration. The Ballet Master’s style of teaching improved company a lot, growing rapidly in only a few years. I was able to experience this first hand and it gave me something to aspire to be. I also learned how hard the job is. There is a lot of pressure. The job is middle management where I get pressure from the dancers and from the boss. I’m the cushion and I have to figure out what is best for the company and the audience. I also have to keep the dancers and their environment healthy and productive.

Even before you became Ballet Master you had been teaching for a while with the company, do you think you’ve been able to develop your own teaching style?

Yes and no. There is a huge influence from Bengt and my old Ballet Master in my teaching, but not everything. Eventually I feel that I need to establish my own method of teaching. I am very curious by nature though, so if there is a company coming to town I’ll go take a class with them. I take classes from different companies and different teachers to gain more knowledge about different teaching methods.

On top of everything, you’re also a choreographer! You choreographed a piece for Junior Company this year, correct? Was this your first experience creating your own work?

I also choreographed a few years ago when Adrian was in Junior Company so it has been quite a few seasons. I haven’t had an inspiration or felt like choreographing for a few years, but this year I felt like choreographing again.

Is that your approach to choreography, that you need something to inspire you?

Usually I’m the kind of person who needs to be inspired by a piece of music or a theme that I can set my choreography around. But this year I didn’t set anything. Nothing, and I didn’t even choose a piece of music. All I knew was that I wanted to create a boys piece, with 6 boys, and I wanted to see what happened, what chemical reactions can happen. I selected a temporary piece of music and I based it on what they can bring and what I can choreograph.

A lot of the choreographers I have seen work cohesively with the dancers to create material and draw out good stuff. I wanted to take this approach as a choreographer, draw from what the dancers can provide and create a piece collaboratively this time. It’s very different because I am usually very meticulous and I always make notes before I choreograph; the music, the count, the instruments. But this time, nothing, I just wanted to see what this approach can bring.

In this method, do you think it would be different with different dancers?

Yes, and I guess Bengt works very similarly to this. He tells the dancers to try different moves and then he sees what he likes and he tells them to go with that. I like this method. I always felt in the old classics and pieces you learn the same old pattern, and there is always a Ballet Master making the dance and it is set and that’s great, but there is no freedom. With this method I think dancers get a say in how they move. They become free and get to express themselves, and I like that because I know it is a great feeling.

 

CBJ AnastasiaHiroto as Dimitri in Anastasia, 2011 - Photo: Lawrence Ho

 

Aside from choreography, Bengt takes classics and reworks them? Do you want to do that?

Maybe, I’ve never been asked this question and it’s something that I haven’t thought about yet. I want to create pieces that are relevant to the social environment and maybe could incorporate current interests into the classics.

Do you feel like being a part of Ballet Jörgen has allowed you to explore more opportunities outside of dancing?

Yes, I’ve had a few more opportunities. It’s super busy with the schedule and there are so many shows, but I’m not complaining. That’s what I signed up for. Dancers should perform, and being on stage is the greatest pleasure.

 

Did you know that Hiroto’s first lead roles in CBJ was as Dimitri in Anastasia? Make sure you cheer him on as he takes on the role again this season! Find out when CBJ will be coming to a theatre near you here!

Our anniversary marks 30 years of supporting the development of artists like Hiroto. Please consider joining us in our 30-year birthday celebration with a gift of $30!