Dancing around the world with Haruhi Otani
Haruhi Otani, a hard-working dancer and lover of Spanish culture and gastronomy, has brought the National Dance Company her joy since 2015. She began her professional ballet training in 2010 at the Sasaki Mika Ballet Academy in her country, Japan. Thanks to this, she participated in numerous international competitions that lead her to win great prizes; the most important, the opportunity to start working at the CND with José Carlos Martínez. Her ability to work daily and her way of enjoying herself on stage led her to be promoted in 2018 to the category of solo dancer, where she continues to this day giving us her energy and art.
The first steps in the trajectory of a dancer are significant for their personal and artistic development, how did your path in dance begin?
I started dancing when I was 3 years old. My mother was an amateur ballet dancer and she encouraged me to dance like her. Since then, I have never stopped dancing, it’s something that I really enjoy. Since I was little, I felt that it was what I wanted to do. When I was 10 years old, I began to participate in many competitions that were offered at my school; although I did not like to compete with other dancers very much, I reallyvenjoyed dancing on stage. It was when I was 17 years old, when I discovered that I wanted to dedicate myself to dance professionally. Thanks to the competitions, I got some contracts in small companies, although they didn’t really interest me. However, in 2014 I won the Tokyo Grand Prix and had the opportunity to meet José Carlos Martínez and work at the CND for three months. Later, the Company came on an international tour to Japan and José Carlos Martínez suggested that I participate in a class with his dancers. After this experience, I was encouraged to present myself to the next audition and thus I obtained the position to work with them, and since then I have been here. I was very lucky.
Choosing dance among other arts means taking a step forward on your path. What does dancing mean to you?
For me dance is like drinking water. It’s something I need and can’t live without. It means everything, I’ve always felt that way. I feel very lucky to be able to dedicate myself to dance and make a living without having to take another job.
I especially like dancing on stage, it has a special meaning. From above we can see the entire audience, their expressions, whether they enjoy the show and the energy they transmit with their applause. It is a very nice sensation.
In your case, you took the decission of dedícate yourself to dance when you were very young, even having to leave your country, Japan. What was it like to take that decision? What prompted you to take it?
In Japan it’s very difficult to make a living from dance. I knew that in other places such as Europe, the United States or Australia, dance was highly valued and would allow me to live professionally from it. I didn’t want to have another job, I wanted to dance, and that’s why I took advantage of the opportunity that was offered to me.
In each country dance is lived in a different way, what led you to choose Spain?
It was José Carlos Martínez who encouraged me to audition for the Spanish National Dance Company. It was very exciting for me to be able to work with him, it was what I wanted.
Culturally speaking, Spain is a very rich country. What do you like the most about here?
There are many things that I like. I love Spanish gastronomy: wine, omelette, sandwiches… I like how in Spain the taste of what you are eating is respected. I also love the weather, it’s always sunny. In Japan there is a lot of humidity. Also, I really like to speak Spanish.
What are your favourite restaurants in Madrid?
In Madrid there is a wide range of gastronomic offer to choose from. Every bar here is great. I really like a Galician restaurant where they make a delicious “empanada” (pastry); although I really want to try other type of cooking, something from Asturias, like cider.
One of your strengths is your daily work capacity, what motivates you to improve and learn every day?
There are many things that motivate me. Sometimes I watch videos of my favorite dancers and try to follow in their footsteps. However, I think that what motivates me the most is going back to my beginnings. I often watch videos from when I was little and observe my mistakes and how I have improved over time. I also record myself now to see my movements and examine them later. That motivates me to keep improving. Being able to recognize your mistakes and your improvements in your evolution is important to motivate yourself.
That daily effort behind dancing is a set of steps that lead to success. What does it mean for you to be the winner of so many prizes in international competitions?
Winning these contests made me aware that I have a talent for dancing, which is also something that motivates me. When I did not win, I did not feel it as a defeat, but as an opportunity to improve myself. My goal was to enjoy dancing on stage and because of that sometimes I had to work harder.
On the contrary, what has been the hardest moment of your career?
I think it was when I had my first injury, a broken foot. It happened to me when I arrived in Spain and I was starting my life as a professional dancer. I remember feeling a lot of pain and putting up with it every day to keep dancing. At that time I acted as the protagonist in Don Quixote.
When I returned to Japan for the holidays I went to a doctor and he diagnosed me with a tear that prevented me from dancing for three months. I had never stopped dancing, so it was very hard for me. I lost the opportunity to act in some functions that I really wanted. It was very difficult.
Nevertheless, it helped me to really understand what life was like for a professional dancer, it’s important to know when to stop. It helped me understand my body and gave me the knowledge to dance better.
Being an artist is also getting inspired by others. What dancers inspire you in your career?
One person who inspires me a lot is my colleague Alessandro Riga, the first figure of the Company. I really like how he works and how he helps others. Not only helps me, but also the teachers, everyone. I would like to have that ability to help in the future. He is always there when he is needed and knows how to advise very well. For me he’s a very special person.
As a solo dancer of the Company since 2018, you will have had many experiences, both in rehearsals and on stage. What has been the role that you have most enjoyed performing?
Although I always enjoy each piece very much, I admit that the most special role was when I played the lead character in Don Quixote. It was me and my partner’s first time as the protagonists, so being in the same situation made us enjoy a lot. Dancing as the protagonist in a ballet is a dream. It was a very fun and special, like a magical experience. Dancing as the protagonist in a ballet is a dream. It was a very fun and special, like a magical experience.
And the one that has cost you the most to build?
At first the role of the protagonist in Don Quixotewas difficult for me, especially because of the way of understanding Spanish literary history. However, I tried to find a way to understand things. With Giselle, from my current director, Joaquín De Luz, it was also difficult for me at the beginning because of the character’s way of being, it was very different from me. But finally I managed to unite his personality to mine and integrate it into my way of dancing.
Finally, dedicating yourself to art means learning something different every day and setting yourself new goals. What challenges do you plan for the future?
Right now I am happy with what I have. I like to dance and work hard for it, although I aspire to be able to participate more times as the protagonist in other pieces, for example in The Swan’s Lake. I also want to work with new choreographers, in contemporary and neoclassical styles.
Personally, I would like to be able to help people with what I do, especially in Japan. I would like to try to change the situation in my country so that the young people of future generations can also enjoy dance in a professional way. What I most want in the future is to be able to work in my country.
HARUHI OTANI – SOLOIST DANCER CND
Interview by: Natalia del Buey