Kanji Segawa, a modern dancer, is a member of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater which is one of the most well-renown dance companies in the USA. Since coming to NY as a scholar via a Japanese government program in 1997 his performance has fascinated audiences from various countries. He takes his passions for dance further by educating young dancers in New York and Japan as a directing of his own dance troop, DPNY. In our interview we asked him about his work as one of a few famous Japanese dancers in the world and the key factors that led to his success.
Interview with Kanji Segawa
– You actively work as a dancer, a teacher/choreographer and a director of your own organization Dance Project New York. Could you tell us about your current work?
I joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (*1), one of the most renowned dance companies in the USA, in May 2011. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater actively performs not only in NY, but also all over the USA and the around the world throughout a year. Our NY season starts in December 2011 at New York City Center, and I have recently been in rehearsal for these shows. I’m excited about these performances because they will be held here in NYC.
(*1) Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater grew from a now-fabled performance in 1958, and has become one of the renowned American modern dance companies. Founded by choreographer and dancer, Alvin Ailey, that performance changed forever the perception of American dance. The Ailey company has gone on to perform for an estimated 23 million people at theaters in 48 states and 71 countries on six continents. On July 1st, 2011, Robert Battle was appointed as a Artistic Director by Judith Jamison, who had worked as a successor for 22 years after the death of Alvin Ailey.
– What kind of theme does this show have?
Each night, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater features a different program of the many varied ballets by different choreographers the company has in its repertoire, which includes Alvin Ailey’s own work as the central core. This winter season includes more than 20 ballets in various programs with 30 dancers performing each night. You can enjoy different types of dances because the casts and themes change daily.
Each choreographer has their own concept and music, so I try my best to capture their unique dance style and form, which are different from one choreographer to another. Music also plays an important role in our works, and I want to learn about the music’s deep history, rhythm, and artistic beauty. I want to reflect them in my dance performance as much as possible.
– What is unique about this show?
This is the first season directed by Mr. Robert Battle since he was appointed Artistic Director this year. I have been working with him for about 10 years with his former company Battleworks, and I am excited to continue to work with him at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He is one of the most important choreographers in my life.
– You have been performing abroad since you came to New York as a scholar from an agency for cultural affairs in 1997. Are there differences in the reaction and the sense of art between audiences in Japan and in other countries?
Generally speaking, American audiences react simply and directly to what is happening on stage. I feel that the audience and dancers are all together. There is no boundary between them. Dancers are always conscious about their audience and respond to their reaction. On the other hand, Japanese audience quietly and warmly observes our performance. It is as if they are seeing our stage through a TV screen.
I do not think there is a difference in the ideas of art between people from different countries. The art ultimately appeals to people’s mind and spirit, and no matter where you come from it is an individual response.
In New York, dance has become a more stable art form than in Japan, and people are more familiar with dance since dance is a bigger part of people’s daily lives here than in Japan. Media in NY, like the NY Times, reports on art everyday.
– You are working as a bridge between Japan and the US through Dance Project New York (*2). What does choosing New York instead of Japan as a working place imply? Also, how does your identity as a Japanese person and your way of thinking affect this activity?
My mother, Erika Akoh is a dancer as well as a choreographer and a dance instructor, and I have been surrounded by dance since I was born. When I was little, my mother took me to dance shows in various countries once a year. Above all, I was fascinated with New York, and at the same time started to dream of becoming a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. That’s why I came to New York to make my dream come true.
However, I discovered a deeper meaning as an artist when I first started working as a professional dancer in America. In Japan, when I had a dance show, only my family, friends, and people who liked dance came to see it. When I was a member of AileyⅡ, the junior company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, I went on tour all over the USA. Our audience included children in elementary schools, kindergartens, and care centers for senior citizens, and they gave me a lot of praises. I learned for the first time that dancers could make people happy and contribute to society. NY has many opportunities to make such things happen, and I chose this city as my work place. For example I had an experience when I was teaching dance to children from Chinatown or Harlem, their teachers translated what I said because these kids could not speak English. Although I could not communicate with them through English, I could communicate to them through dancing. I have always thought about how important it is to give back to the people and community through what I do as a dancer, a dance teacher, and an artist.
Dance Project New York is my mission. I am grateful that I have been accepted as a Japanese dancer here in New York, and I want to share what I have learned through dancing with the people of Japan.
(*2) Dance Project New York Dance Project New York (DPNY) was established in 2006 to provide educational workshops and performances in New York and Japan. DPNY is a group of Japanese and American dancers in NYC under the leadership of director, Kanji Segawa. DPNY”s mission is to provide the experience of American dance to the Japanese community while giving young generations of Japanese dancers ideas for career development in the arts. DPNY brings happiness and fulfillment to people by bridging the cultures of Japan and the United States. In April 2011, DPNY held a charity event for the relief of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and donated $300,000 to Japan Society in New York.
– As one of a few renowned Japanese dancers in New York, what do you want to express as “Japanese” through dancing?
I do not think I have to show something “Japanese” because I am Japanese. Whatever I want to perform, it comes from me, and I happen to be Japanese.
The majority of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers are African American and Hispanic. I am the only Asian in the company. Even if you have the same choreography, how you move, how you count rhythm, and how you jump are different from person to person. It comes from the difference between our physical characteristics and personalities. I appreciate my personality as Japanese. Even if I do not think about showing Japanese characteristics, they are innately reflected in my dance style.
– What do you think is an essential point to succeed in the art field around the world?
First of all, it is important that you have a broad perspective. Although my profession is modern dance, I always keep track of what is happening in other areas of the field. Especially in New York, things are changing quickly. You have to keep in mind that you not only need to watch modern dance, but also ballet, opera, and musical. At the same time, it is necessary to learn about history to know at where you stand and where you want to go.
Second, you have to concentrate on getting yourself to a confident state of mind instead of comparing yourself with others. Dancers are very competitive, but you always have to focus on making an effort to make yourself better, and finding your strengths. It is easy to find your weaknesses, and they easily stand out. As you work to improve your weakness you also have to recognize what you are good at and be confident in that.
Lastly, having good connections with others is a key to success. It is hard to survive in the dance world because there are not enough jobs for all of the professional dancers. It is necessary to keep good relationships with others as well as work hard. Even if you do not notice the meaning of meeting new people at this moment, it could have a lot more meaning in 3 years, 5 years and 10 years. I would like to keep these good connections I have made with others.
– What is your dream?
At this moment, I want to concentrate on performing as a dancer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but I do not dance to only satisfy myself. It is my goal to share my artistry with others, and also give dreams, hope and peace to others, as my mother always says, through dancing. I want to affect others as a dancer as well as a teacher and a choreographer. I also would like to carry out DPNY performance in Japan someday. I would like to introduce these amazing Japanese dancers who are working in the United States and share with Japanese audience how amazing and fun American dance is.
What is your dream?
KANJI SEGAWA (Kanagawa, Japan) began his modern dance training with his mother, Erika Akoh and studied ballet with Kan and Ju Horiuchi at Unique Ballet Theatre in Tokyo, Japan. In 1997, Mr. Segawa came to the U.S. under the Japanese Government Artist Fellowship to train at The Ailey School. Mr. Segawa is a former member of Ailey II from 2000-2002 and Robert Battle’s Battleworks Dance Company from 2002-2010. He worked extensively with choreographer Mark Morris from 2004-2011, repeatedly appearing in Mr. Morris’s various full evening productions including as a principal dancer in John Adam’s opera Nixon in China choreographed by Mr. Morris at Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Segawa is currently a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater under the direction of Robert Battle. Mr. Segawa has taught and choreographed for prestigious institutions including at Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation (Ailey School, Ailey Camp, Arts in Education), American Ballet Theatre (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, NYC Summer Intensive, NYC Collegiate Summer Intensive and Make a Ballet Program, ),Steps on Broadway, Texas Christian University, Brown University, Long Island University, Dance Bermuda, Booker T. Washington Performing Arts School, Metropolitan Ballet Academy, among others. He is a recipient of the Outstanding Choreography Award for Youth America Grand Prix in Philadelphia in 2009. Mr. Segawa is Artistic Director of Dance Project New York, a project that provides educational workshops and performances in New York and Japan. DPNY’s mission is to provide the Japanese community the experience of American dance while giving young generations of Japanese dancers’ ideas for career development in the arts.