Into the ’20s

By Chidera Obiwuma

On October 18, 2017, I witnessed my first live tap performance and it was very enticing and moving. Prior to the show, I was briefed on the life of Kazunori Kumagai, the tap dancer, and how he worked to do something that he loved and his exploration of a combination between Japanese culture and a traditional art form of African American culture, Jazz and tap dancing.

Regarding the live performance, it was very intricate and not only rhythmical to the ears but also appealing to the eye. It was very fascinating how when Mr. Kumagai did rapid taps to make quick rhythms, as I watched his legs, I didn’t see the movement move through his legs. I wondered how many years of practice did it take for him to move his leg at that pace? How fast was his leg even moving? Doesn’t his leg get tired? It was a really pleasing performance to watch, not only because I could tell Mr. Kumagai was in his element and really enjoying what he was doing, but also with the support he got from the other performers, Masa Shimizu on the guitar, Alex Blake on the bass, and Samuel Torres, on the percussion.

Before the performance, Mr. Kumagai said that the performance was not pre-composed but was just spontaneously made as the performance went on, and it was certainly true. As Mr. Kumagai started a certain rhythm with his tap shoes, the other performers would join in, adding their own element to it and outstandingly, they would all be in sync. It was amusing to see the back and forth battle between Mr. Kumagai and a specific performer to see if they could copy his beat. Mr. Blake was very enthusiastic on the bass; he not only played the bass but scatted to it. At some point he was so into the moment, he would lean back and I would get afraid because I thought he would fall out of the seat. Mr. Torres certainly showed that he was a master on the percussion. He moved his hands so fast between the cymbals and conga that his hands started to look like worms to me. Last but certainly not least, Mr. Shimizu was very overpowering on the guitar. Whenever a beat was started, as soon as he joined in, I could hear his guitar really well and it sounded really good to my ears.

I really liked the performance and would definitely like to see another performance between Mr. Kumagai and Co. I would also like to extend gratitude to the Kennedy Center for giving our Japanese Plus Program, not only the opportunity to see spectacular performances, but also to hear about the lives of Mr. Kumagai, himself, and Ms. Reiko Sudo, textile artist, in terms of what it took for them to achieve what they have today.

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