Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tap dancer Kazu Kumagai and friends at 92Y

Kazu Kumagai
(photo: Leslie Kee)

Kazu Kumagai--newly-minted Bessie winner for Outstanding Performance--has grown ever more soulful over his years in tap dance. His show for yesterday's Fridays@Noon at 92Y--shared with bassist Alex Blake, vocalist Sabrina Clery, guitarist Masa Shimizu and dance colleague Gabe Winn--should leave no doubt that Japan-born Kumagai's a hoofer in bearing, technique and feeling, a solo artist with something deep and urgent to say and the feet to say it.

Speak with Your Feet: Tap Dancer Kazu Kumagai and Guests Soliloquize is a mouthful and tongue-twister of a title, but the show proved to be a smooth, swift run through popular music from Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changin'" to Sting's "Fragile."

Kumagai opened with a dance to Maya Angelou's "Touched by an Angel," read by Clery. Angelou speaks of love's power to challenge and embolden the fearful, a love that "costs all we are and will ever be." Rippling his feet and slicing his toe along an amped oak wood platform, Kumagai seemed to test out newfound freedom before getting down and digging in. Finding that love real, reliable, he picked up this note of hope again, easing up a bit for "People Get Ready" (Curtis Mayfield) and, later, "Three Little Birds" (Bob Marley) where "every little thing gonna be alright." And even when things were very much not all right with this damaged world of ours, as in Ben Harper's confrontational "Excuse Me Mr.," Kumagai pulled us with him into the concentrated, confident energy he had steadily built. Ending "Excuse Me Mr.," he returned to that slicing toe, this time as sassy, triumphant punctuation.

The rapidity, steely clarity and array of his improvised footwork--so many points of impact, foot to wood; so mercurial these flips from rhythm to rhythm to rhythm--demonstrated numerous mental weapons at the ready. Yet Kumagai is decidedly a man of peace. His face-off with the young Gabe Winn was less a battle than a meeting of exhilarated minds sharing space, Winn starting quietly with a delicate filligree of sound, occasionally striking the edge of the platform for an accent. But both revved up, teasing out more and more saucy inventiveness from each other--two superb dancers in flight, head over heels for their art.

Speak with Your Feet was livestreamed for 92Y by Tisch School of the Arts Dance and New Media, and the video will be available here.

Check out Fridays@Noon's upcoming events here.

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