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Wednesday, March 13, 2002

An adopted son of the circus

Staff writer

It was a small advertisement in the paper that led Koichi Yano to one of Canada's leading circus companies, Montreal-based Cirque Eloize. It was 1996, he was in Canada helping his sister settle in and was still under the spell of a recent performance by renowned circus company Cirque du Soleil, also from Montreal.

News photo
Koichi Yano is held aloft in a number from "Cirque Orchestra." A fellow dancer (below) performs the "flying fabric" act.
News photo

"I was deeply moved by it," he recalls. "It was when I first realized that there were jobs dancing in the circus."

So when he read about the audition for Cirque Eloize, he jumped at the chance, if only for the excitement of it. But he managed to pass, and today he is one of the company's principal dancers.

Yano, now 32, says his career as a circus dancer came naturally. Experienced in gymnastics, modern and jazz dance, he says he always thought he would have a job that was somehow physical. "I couldn't bear working at an office," he says. "I like to move my body. My genes made me that way."

From his early teens, growing up in Tokyo, Yano dreamed of living abroad. After graduating high school, he moved to Pennsylvania, where he studied psychology and the performing arts. Financial difficulties forced him to return to Japan in the middle of his studies and take part-time jobs waiting tables, and teaching dance and English. His goal was to save money in order to continue his studies, but, instead, he caught the travel bug: He would travel, work to save money and then travel again.

For a year and a half, he stopped dancing completely. "Dancing was always at the back of my mind, though," he says. "And I thought that I should get back into it again."

It was a friend's dance performance that returned him to his love. On seeing the show, he thought: "What am I doing? I must dance!"

In 1996, he returned to the U.S. to resume his dance studies. Specifically, he was looking for something that combined elements of both gymnastics and modern dance -- the circus was it.

This week, the Cirque Eloize will be making its debut in Japan with "Cirque Orchestra," which includes a dazzling combination of circus arts, contemporary dance and classical music.

Unlike most circus performances, "Cirque Orchestra" follows a story line -- about a down-to-earth violinist with an ardent desire to fly, and a group of fairies who invite him to their world of fantasy. The staging is very simple, costumes are all white and the performers are accompanied by the music of Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Saint-Saens (provided by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra for the Japan tour). The show opened in Canada in 1999 and has toured Europe and the U.S.

Among the acts by the 15 highly athletic performers will be a balancing feat in which dancers perform atop pillars, using only one arm for support. Yano will be featured in a "flying fabric" number, in which he will dance while suspended from the ceiling by two white cloths.

Yano says it took him five months to build up his arm muscles enough to perform the act. "My body was covered with scratches and aching all over," he recalls. What helped him to persevere, he says, was imagining himself on stage and the looks on the audience's faces.

Though now a success, Yano still recalls the period he spent at dead-end jobs: "If I mentioned at work that I wanted to become a dancer, my bosses would make negative comments to stifle my dream. They'd say, 'What are you talking about? You can't make a living out of that!' or 'When will you get a proper job?' These are the people who have given up their dreams; it's regrettable."

But Yano has never been one to give up. "I didn't want to compromise," he says. "Even if your attempts fail, it really doesn't matter. You can always learn from your mistakes. The important thing is not to give up."

Cirque Eloize will perform "Cirque Orchestra" March 15-17 at Bunkamura Orchard Hall. Tickets are 7,500 yen and 9,000 yen, and available from Ticket Pia, Kyodo Tokyo, Bunkamura Ticket Center and elsewhere. For more information, see the Web site at www.ntv.co.jp/shigeki/

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