Cast your mind back to when you were a little girl; a time when you had big dreams and outrageously optimistic career goals. Erina Takahashi’s childhood dream is now her reality. The mum-of-one is a full-time ballerina for the English National Ballet and she recently toured Dublin with Akram Khan’s Giselle.
Where it all began
Originally from Kushiro, Japan, Erina began dancing at the age of three. “I started at my local ballet studio. My mum tells me I asked what the building was, and I decided then that I wanted to start ballet,” she recalls. “I would always dance whenever I heard music.” It seems rhythm and musicality runs in her family. “My mother was a rhythmic gymnastics coach (which I started a little later). She thought it was a great idea to start ballet first because it’s great for coordination, strength, discipline, musicality, flexibility, dynamics - the list is endless!”
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From an early age, Erina dedicated huge amounts of time to training. “I did class twice a week when I started; for an hour to an hour and 30 minutes. The older I got, the more classes I did.” She was encouraged by Japan’s demand for quality ballet. “The ballet audiences are amazing in Japan. I’ve been lucky enough to perform all over the world and whenever I’ve danced in Japan the reception we receive is incredible. The passion and appreciation that the audiences have for dance and dancers is some of the best I have experienced in the world.”
But there comes a time in every ballerina’s life when she must spread her Black Swan wings. “I moved to the UK in 1996 to join the English National Ballet School; to learn and expand my knowledge of the dance. Exposure to ballet in Europe is so diverse. There are so many different schools and companies. My family and I felt the UK would be the best place for me to study.”
Busy and physically demanding
Erina is currently the lead principal in Akram Khan’s Giselle and her schedule is jam-packed as a result. “On a non-performance day, we work from 10.15am until 6.30pm. The day starts with class for an hour and a half, and then we begin rehearsals. We might rehearse up to two or three different ballets in a day,” she explains. “If it’s a performance day, we start class later at around 11 am. If I don’t have a show I’ll rehearse during the day, but if I am on stage that night I’ll rehearse with my partner straight after class and start preparing for the show.”
Given how physically demanding the job is, Erina tries her best to maintain top fitness levels to avoid injury. “I do Pilates in my own time to help maintain my muscles; I’ll also stretch and have massages. We have a great team at the English National Ballet; including Pilates instructors, sports science trainers, a full-time physiotherapist, and masseurs. They look after us.
"We are also lucky enough to have a nutritionist,” she says. "When it comes to food, Erina maintains a balanced diet, preferring Japanese food above everything else. "I always listen to my body and I generally feel better if I eat well. I like having my breakfast with my son; for me, that will be muesli with yoghurt and lots of fruit.”
Family is incredibly important to Erina and she dedicates special time to them every day. "It takes me a while to unwind after a performance; but since I had my son, I find coming home, giving him a cuddle and feeding him is the best way for me to relax. I spend as much time as possible with him and my husband; going for walks, playing in the park. We love spending time by the water too."
While dance runs in her family, she won't put pressure on her son to get involved. "I will encourage him to do anything he wants to; if he wants to dance, I will always be there to support him," she says.
Erina will never quit ballet. She enjoys it too much. "I love performing on stage. To be able to carry the story to the audience, and to allow yourself to get lost in the performance, is something very special. I'm not sure where I'll be in 10 years time, but I will always be closely involved with ballet. I love coaching the young talent in the company."
As for dancing the role of Giselle; it's one of Erina's favourite things to do. "Giselle is a girl who is desperately in love, but sadly she has her heart broken," she explains. "It has always been one of my favourite ballets to dance because the character goes through so many emotions. To be able to dance a modern version of it made me love the ballet even more. To be a part of any new creation is very special. This is a wonderful production as it feels completely different every time I perform it."
Photos: Giselle by Akram Khan at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre