Kazunori Kumagai: Tap Secret

by Justine Parker

Tokyo’s Aoyama Round Theater

April 8 and 9, 7 p.m.

Tap star Kazunori Kumagai has his feet on solid ground as he prepares his latest show in Tokyo. The 31-year-old dancer has just touched down in Japan after his first visit to Africa and a return to his sometime home of New York City.

Hailed in the United States as “a Japanese Gregory Hines,” Kumagai is known for fusing jazz, hip-hop and funk styles in his performances. Now, after spending half of 2007 back in New York, Kumagai says he’s become more “down to earth.”

“I went back there and started learning from other tap dancers once again,” he says. “The experience made me more humble and helped me to develop some new ideas.”

In the Big Apple — where he first studied back in 1996 — he visited students at the Harlem School of the Arts and performed a tribute to Jean-Michel Basquiat at the loft where the street artist died in 1988. And during his more recent trip to Senegal, he joined barefoot dancers in a daily ritual of movement, taking cues from the earth and his body. “Tap Secret,” to be performed at Aoyama Round Theater in Tokyo ([03] 3797-5678; www.aoyama.org), is the culmination of all these experiences, the dancer says.

For those who want to shake a leg themselves, in February, Kumagai opened Kaz Tap Studio in Tokyo’s Nakameguro district (www.kaz-tapstudio.com), where veteran hoofers and beginners alike can take lessons, rent studio space, or join workshops and jam sessions. He hopes the studio will help bring a new generation into step by providing a creative space for serious stompers. Which should help fulfill a demand he sees from the home crowd: “Japanese audiences are fresh,” Kumagai says. “They like tap dancing as a new art form; they can relate to it as a rhythmic experience.”