Orchestra taps dancer Kumagai for cross-genre concert

by Nobuko Tanaka

Thirty-three-year-old Kazunori Kumagai started tap dancing when he was 15. Four years later, he went by himself to New York to attend special training for a role in “Noise/Funk,” a Broadway show that traced black history in the United States through tap, hip-hop and funk rhythms. His Broadway dream was thwarted by visa issues, but that didn’t stop him from getting experience on a different stage — the clubs, lounges, streets and subways of the city.

It wasn’t long before Kumagai was attracting serious attention for his artistry, with weekly newspaper The Village Voice dubbing him Japan’s Gregory Hines (referring to the U.S. dancing legend) and Dance Magazine naming him one of “25 to Watch” in 2006, saying, “Tapper Kazunori Kumagai dances like the American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock painted.”

Since then, Kumagai has danced his way energetically around the world, with performances in France, Germany and Senegal. He has also collaborated with artists from other fields, including jazz trumpeter Terumasa Hino and cutting-edge contemporary choreographer Jo Kanamori.

On Aug. 31, in a special event likely to become part of Tokyo arts folklore, Kumagai will dance while more than 100 musicians from the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra perform classics ranging from “Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47” by Dmitri Shostakovich and “The Harpsichord Concertos, BWV 1052-1065” by Johann Sebastian Bach to popular jazz numbers such as Duke Ellington’s “African Flower” and “Naima” by John Coltrane. The performance will be under the baton of Kenichi Nakagawa — known for out-of-the-ordinary symphonic collaborations such as conducting classical music accompaniments to actors performing readings.

“I believe that tap is a percussion instrument as well as a (form of) dance,” says Nakagawa. “So, Kumagai will be collaborating with us as a musician, too.”

Meanwhile, Kumagai’s excitement over the project is proclaimed prominently on his Web site.

“What was Bach’s attitude toward this song when he composed it, and how would he feel about my tap rhythms if he were here today?” he wonders. “I would like to bring my living sound and rhythm to Bach’s classical music while also imagining his thoughts. This will definitely be a big challenge and a revolucion (revolution) in my career.”

“Revolucion: Kaz meets Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra” will be held at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall in Shinjuku Ward on Aug. 31. Doors open at 7 p.m.; the performance starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost ¥4,000-8,500. For more information, call Sunrise Promotion at (0570) 00-3337 or visit www.revolucion2010.info. For more information on Kazunori Kumagai, visit www.kazukumagai.net