Yuzuru Hanyu’s “Notte Stellata” — An ocean of Stars for Sendai
Miyagi Prefecture is one of the most beautiful destinations in Japan and enjoys great popularity, not least because of its magnificent vegetation. However, the tranquil façade of the scenic spectacle also conceals a deceptive side, as the region has become known primarily as the scene of one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent years.
On March 11 in 2011, the Great Tōhoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed large parts of the northeast area of the country, claiming the lives of many victims. Even outside Japan, the images of destruction triggered shock, with the entire world seeming to come to a standstill for that day. For Yuzuru Hanyu, the figure skating legend from Sendai (in Miyagi), this tragedy was a cutting event.
To commemorate the victims of the disaster, he organized the ice spectacle “Notte Stellata” (Starry Night) from March 10 to 12 at the Sekisui Super Heim Arena (Rifu, Miyagi). He was joined by an ensemble of talented figure skaters, including Satoko Miyahara and Keiji Tanaka, as well as American crowd-favorite Jason Brown, and captured the hearts of the audience.
“In this show, each of us skaters will put our feelings and thoughts into our figure skating so that each program will shine like one of the many stars in the night sky,” Hanyu greeted his fans right after the opening.
The two-time Olympic champion admitted to being nervous about performing.
“Since that March 11, every year when I skate, I incorporate my feelings, my prayers and my sadness,” Hanyu explained. “It’s the first time I’ve stepped in front of an audience on March 11 with such a heartfelt spirit and put on such a project. But I hope that through the show “Notte Stellata,” I can convey all my feelings and that (the audience) will discover in the program new aspects, new emotions and new themes.”
Hanyu opened the show with the eponymous program “Notte Stellata” and transformed the ice surface into a sky of thousands of stars. Gentle as the moon, he floated around in the deep blue light of the spotlights and stole the audience’s breath away with a soulful performance and rousing choreography. He landed not only a beautiful delayed Axel, but also a triple Axel and received great applause for his Biellmann-spin and his Ina Bauer.
A program to “Twinkling Stars of Hope” by Karl Hugo followed with all skaters (except Hanyu), then Rika Hongo, the two-time Four Continents bronze medalist, continued the show with an emotional number to “Prayers.”
“The main theme of this event is hope,” Hanyu told the media. “Maybe it was a little difficult to see, but on the screen (in the background) was the starry sky of Sendai on March 11. I developed this concept in conversation with David Wilson, who created the program for “Notte Stellata.” The opening is an original piece, and we talked from the beginning about making the skaters in this year’s cast look like shooting stars. For me, “Notte Stellata” and the subsequent opening form an overall program. So it was with that feeling that I performed.”
Miyahara’s performance to “Gnossiennes” and Shae-Lynn Bourne-Turok’s impassioned delivery to “Fire Dance” had already drawn huge applause. However, when Hanyu entered the hall for a second time and announced his collaboration with Kohei Uchimura, two-time Olympic champion in floor gymnastics, the excitement took on new dimensions. Hanyu was cheered not only for his elegant costume in black and gold, but also for his new program to “Conquest of Paradise” by Vangelis, which was superbly tailored to Uchimura’s gymnastics elements. Thus, Hanyu not only presented a wheel on the ice, but also coordinated his spin with Uchimura’s pommel horse routine, making them resemble each other like mirror images as the program progressed.
“I had David Wilson choreograph the beginning of the program, while I did the part from when Uchimura joined,“ the 28-year-old explained about working with the professional gymnast. “I had very few conversations about the composition of the choreography and our joint performance. We just put in everything we could give. We were very focused on each other during the performance. In this program, we wanted to create a mix of both of our energies. We told ourselves that we should both focus on our own performances, and that way we enrich each other very well.”
After the first half was dominated by more melancholic pieces, the second half featured mostly pop-heavy and hopeful programs. Once again, Hanyu sparked a flurry of enthusiasm when he danced the choreography to the song “Dynamite” by popular K-pop boy group BTS in a projection on the screen, while Bourne-Turok, Takahito Mura and Hongo brought the swinging beat to the ice.
“The first song (of the second half) is the one that brought bright smiles to people around the world during the Corona pandemic,” Hanyu announced. “I’m a shining diamond, I light up the night sky. Yes, like ‘Dynamite.‘”
As the show progressed, Brown, the 2020 Four Continents silver medalist, performed brilliantly to “Impossible Dream,” while Violetta Afanasieva shone to the pop song “Hope.” The latter even elicited enthusiastic exclamations from the audience by using several hula hoops in addition to her choreography.
The spectacle ended with Hanyu’s solo program to “Haru yo, koi” (Come, Spring, Come), in which he let himself be carried gently across the ice like a cherry blossom blown by the wind.
“The main reason I chose “Haru yo, koi” is the idea of hope,“ revealed Hanyu. “I thought directly about the earthquake and tried to imagine the hope that drove the people who suffered from the disaster. And I imagined many of those scenarios. I also wondered if I could reproduce that, (with that feeling) I performed.”
With the finale set to the Japanese songs “Kibo no uta” (Song of Hope) and “Michi” (Way), the skaters bid farewell to a standing ovation, with Uchimura, in particular, receiving great applause as he tried skating himself and ventured his first ice dance steps at the hand of Bourne-Turok.
Although Hanyu had announced his retirement from competitive skating last July, he remains the brightest star in the figure skating sky. As recently as February 26, he made history with his project “Gift” at the Tokyo Dome, drawing a full 35,000 spectators to the arena. “Notte Stellata” was another huge success and attracted thousands of spectators nationwide. Even cinemas in Hong Kong and Taiwan streamed the show live. Enthusiasm literally overflowed social media outlets such as Twitter and Instagram.
“Of course, not all viewers sitting here were affected by the natural disaster on March 11,” Hanyu said. “There are certainly people who have not experienced the aftermath of such an earthquake and have only seen the magnitude on the news. But, as I said in my speech at the end (of the show), I want to let those people know, too, that with “Notte Stellata” I want to alleviate even minor worries and give hope.”