Kenji Miyamoto: from Choreography to the Rink!

Two more days until Yuri!!! on ICE 9! To help tide us over, here’s another interview with Kenji Miyamoto, from the December 2016 edition of Pash! I’ve also added quite a few links to the Masterpost, so be sure to check it out!

Kenji-sensei with Yuzuru Hanyu on Kenji’s Room

From Choreography to the Rink!!!

Here, we talk directly to Kenji Miyamoto-sensei, who choreographed all of the programs that appear in the show! Just what kinds of emotions and toil did he go through in order to complete those 20 songs?

Kenji Miyamoto. A former elite-level Japanese ice dancer, he won the Japanese national competition two years in a row (with partner Rie Arikawa). After retiring from competitive skating in 2006, he became a choreographer that works with people both in Japan and overseas.

The magic words were “Hang in there, Kenji!”

Could you please tell us about how you came to be involved in this project?

I heard that (Director Yamamoto and co.) wanted to make a realistic, full-blown work about figure skating. Not something that’s out-of-this-world fictional, but rather something that depicts the appeal of figure skating and the relationships that you’ll find in that world. Because of that, I told them that I would love to join them. I’ve also worked with Director Yamamoto before, on ENDLESS NIGHT (2015), so that’s another connection.

Could you take us through the process of choreographing all those programs?

First, they sent me about 200 songs (song samples) that we could choose from, and I listened to all of them. In figure skating, there are songs that work, and songs that just don’t, so I collaborated with Kubo-san and Director Yamamoto to pare them down, and we ended up with around 20 in total. Then I started thinking about the choreography. When I work with real skaters, I actually take about three days to come up with the basic program, and then it’d take another month or so to brush it up. But I simply didn’t have that kind of time for all the programs I needed to do for the show, so I spent about 2~3 hours thinking up the choreography, and then I had to skate and perform it.

And how long is each performance?

They’re pretty much the same length as in the real competition. The choreography for the programs is a bit shorter, though—I came up with about 2 minutes for each short program, and 3~4 minutes for each free skate. I tried not to accept any other offers of work, and I even spent time at the rink just working on the show.

And when did you start working on them?

I finished the first program around November last year. We made steady progress after that, but because there just wasn’t enough time, we had something like a choreography camp in April this year—just two weeks where we focused on finishing them. Some nights, we were at the rink from around 11pm or midnight until 5 or 6 in the morning. I was the only one skating, but everyone—including Kubo-san and Director Yamamoto—were all there from morning to night at the rinkside. They were all really serious about it and gave it everything they had.

“Hang in there, Kenji!!!” (source: Kubo-sensei’s Twitter)

Can you share a story from that time?

I was the only one on the ice, but whenever I got tired and it seemed like I couldn’t raise my shoulders any more, I’d hear a little “Hang in there, Kenji” (chuckles). And from that moment, everyone would start yelling at me, “Hang in there, Kenji!!” That really helped keep my motivation high. Because the rink is really cold, I was also a bit desperate to finish quickly so that I could get off the ice, but until I said “Shall we take a little break?” not a single one of them would budge from their stations. Now that I think about it, I should probably have said “Let’s have a break!” a bit sooner (chuckles).

What would you say is a key point of Yūri’s short program, “On Love: Eros”?

I designed it as a program that would bring out a more masculine kind of sex appeal. When choreographing it, the pork cutlet bowl certainly wasn’t on my mind. I don’t feel eros for pork cutlet bowls, though I do like them better than the chicken and egg rice bowls (oyakodon).1 I have used food as an image when choreographing programs, in the sense of “Move softly, as if you’re an ice-cream melting away.” But definitely not a pork cutlet bowl (chuckles).

Was there any music that you found especially memorable?

All of them took a lot of work, so I remember every single one. Victor’s “Aria ~Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Andare~” is a really beautiful song. And because I retired at the age of 27 to become a choreographer, like he did, when I thought about how Victor felt and his passion for skating, I found myself really empathising with him, in the sense of wanting to rejuvenate my own feelings again, and so I put a lot into his choreography. With Yūri-kun’s “Yuri on ICE,” I thought hard about how to bring out his passionate feelings of just wanting to break out of the painful place that he’d been in, in one way or another. Phichit-kun’s programs were quite a challenge. I’ve been to Thailand to choreograph as well, so I’ve seen some Thai dances, but I’ve never actually danced them myself. Hence, it took a lot of effort to put it together according to the vision that Kubo-san and Director Yamamoto had, watching and trying to copy the dances myself. What’s worse was that, at that time, my left shoulder hurt so much that I wasn’t able to lift it up… (chuckles). I asked a trainer to come over and had it taped up. Other than that, the lyrics to JJ’s song, so full of confidence, were something that I had playing over and over in my head that day, so that’s another song that’s left a deep impression on me.

For all the dislike JJ seems to be getting because of his ego, a lot of the people behind-the-scenes seem to like him quite a lot (^^;

Finally, do you have a message for the fans?

Skaters train hard every day with the competitions in their sights, putting a lot of feelings and thought into the programs that they will perform on that day. This work tells a story in which you can see the backgrounds and emotions of such skaters. I think that it’s a show that will make you feel closer to figure skating, and make you want to support the people who do it. So I would be very happy if you enjoy Yuri!!! On ICE, and the choreography as well.

  1. Oyakodon is apparently also slang for something that’s rather risqué…I’m just going to assume that’s not what Kenji-sensei meant… 

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

2 Responses to Kenji Miyamoto: from Choreography to the Rink!

  1. Thanks for sharing! Knowing the meticulous details YOI team had to go through just to put out a good show makes it even more meaningful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cat says:

    I love this, I love knowing behind the scenes things, so this is so great, thanks for making it available for all us ( ˘ ³˘)❤
    I love how much work and effort they’ve all put into this show, from the music, to the story, to the designs, to the choreographs 😻

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: