Jiro dreams of Ballet

I have just completed an extraordinary few weeks with the New York City Ballet, conducting performances of three very different Balanchine narrative ballets – La Sonnambula (Bellini/Rieti), The Prodigal Son (Prokofiev) and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (Rodgers). This company represents a dedication to artistic perfection that inspires, educates and profoundly moves me. Ballet Master in Chef, Peter Martins is a man for whom I have the deepest respect. He has an uncommon musical sensibility and without question, as refined a sense of pulse as I have encountered in anyone. Furthermore he has a knack for saying or asking exactly the right thing in a way that has personally taught me much about the craft of conducting.

Working with and observing the extraordinary dancers in the company brought to mind a movie about food (oh no, you may be thinking, here comes another food-music analogy). The movie is called Jiro dreams of Sushi and documents his relentless pursuit of perfection through repetition. During the course of the movie the concept of “shokunin” is introduced. This is a word that is defined as an artisan but in fact goes further. It also implies a kind of obligation to work for the general welfare of society. Jiro has given his life over to the arcane world of sushi and through his extraordinary gifts and his focus on always improving through sheer hard work and a dedication to years of practice he has achieved a kind of perfection. 

This focus on craft, dedication to excellence through repetition and a clear sense of living in the present at all times (which is a concept that Balanchine expounded upon and all performing artists must understand if they are to have any chance at greatness in performance) is exemplified by the dancers of the NYCB. I hardly ever saw them pulling back in rehearsal – the commitment level is astounding. 

Without question the dancers of the NYCB are shokunin – great artists whose craft absolutely serves the welfare of society as much as it does the most profound body of dance ever created.

Now I feel like some high-end sushi. Sore dewa, mata ne!