|Legend Tokyo chapter.7
(Aug. 19 - 20, 2017 at Tokyo International Forum - Hall A)
winner of the Best Work award (Legend): avecoo
aveco♀ & ichico♀
This is a program aimed at training/nurturing the dancers for the choreographers who have been winners in the Legend Tokyo competition and promoting the spread of their winning dance works. The contents include experiential workshops and auditions with the winning choreographers, through which they become students of the respective choreographers and learn to perform their winning pieces.
|Legend Tokyo is a street dance competition that has been held since 2011. What makes it unique is that it is a choreography contest in which a number of choreographers who have been selected after preliminary rounds choreograph dance shows (no longer than 5 minutes in performance length) using dancers they have chosen through open auditions, and with these pieces they compete against each other in the final competition for the title of best work (called the “Legend”). In 2017, the finals were contested by 20 compositions by the same number of choreographers and the winner was the choreographer avecoo with his powerful work on the subject of LGBT using 39 dancers. The two days of performances for the competition drew a total audience of nearly 10,000, and the winner is decided on the basis of ranking of the works performed with 1st to 5th place rankings of the top five by both the jury panel, made up of representatives from the entertainment industry and producers, and audience votes, with the judging criteria being whether the works are ones that can be enjoyed by anyone and whether they move people (all jury and audience judging results made public). Until now, the Legend Tokyo competition has introduced artists who are now widely active in the general performing arts scene, such as the winner of the 1st Legend Tokyo competition, Tatsuya Hasegawa (DAZZLE) and the 2nd Legend winner, Umebou (General direction: Imajin Itoh). But now, Legend Tokyo has become the biggest event of the street dance scene, and the driver behind it all along has been Mitsuaki Kudo President/CEO Just-Be Co., Ltd. as the publisher of the free paper SDM (Street Dance Magazine). In this interview we talk with the adventurous Kudo about his passion for dance and the unique perspective he brings to the dance industry.
Interviewer: Takao Norikoshi, Dance critic
The 2017 Legend Tokyo competition
This year’s Legend Tokyo was the seventh holding since it was launched in 2011, and the organizational body behind the competition is the magazine SMD (acronym for Street Dance Magazine), and this year’s event was held as a commemorative of the 10th anniversary of the magazine’s launch in 2007.
This year’s event had a full agenda including the competition with 20 choreographers from around Japan competing (with works of up to 5 minutes), as well as special commemorative performances by past Legend title winners like DAZZLE and Umebou, Memorable Moment and others. And I was very happy that this time we were able to have our two days of competition performances at the venue we had always hoped we would be able to use someday since we first launched this event, the Tokyo International Forum Hall A (5,012 seats).
In this 2017 event, the winner of the Best Work award (Legend) was the choreographer avecoo, whose choreographed piece on the subject of LGBT titled aveco♀ &ichico& #9792; had 39 dancers dressed in costumes with all the colors of the rainbow acting out songs of love in dance.
Avecoo was the winner of the “Semi-Legend” (2nd place award) in the 4th Legend Tokyo competition. That time, the motif of his composition was Oiran
(highest ranking Geisha) titled Abe Sakigake (Geisha of the chambers of Abe)
. This was also a very highly finished work of choreography that was called a masterwork and was always near the top in terms of Net replays. But, one of the criteria for judging pieces in our Legend Tokyo competition is that the work be one that anyone can enjoy. Since Abe Sakigake
has some degree of eroticism to it, there was a spilt among the jury votes for the Legend title. The jury was clearly divided between jurors who praised it highly and those who didn’t. This time (2017 Legend Tokyo) avecoo’s piece was a second try in response to that (4th Legend Tokyo) result, and I found it laudable of the choreographer to come back with a piece that didn’t try to accommodate the general audience but, instead, presented an even stronger and more defiant LGBT message. I think it was the result of having the resolve that it was more important to say what you want in terms of artistic expression than to win the 1st prize. And unexpectedly, the result of the judging was the opposite of the first time, because all of the entertainment industry jurors voted for avecoo’s work this time. That resolve led to victory.
It was a piece that gave expression to love between women in a group dance that used unique devices like having all the dancers linking arms to create a giant eye image that represented the eyes of society. Given the fact that there are very few works created in Japan that give expression to one’s own sexuality or gender, it made me think how significant and important it is that Legend Tokyo is there presenting this type of work as entertainment.
It was a work that really made very skillful use of all 39 dancers. Legend Tokyo holds its performances on large stages, so at times there have been works with as many as 100 dancers. The fact that these choreographers are popular enough to attract so many dancers to their auditions and the fact they have the skill to choreograph large group dance pieces with the quality it takes to clear the difficult hurdle of ranking among the top works in the competition is quite impressive.
If I be allowed to return to the subject of contemporary dance as a whole in Japan, I would say that there are very few works that are choreographed for more than ten dancers. Because there is a tendency to think of large groups dancing in unison as a form of dance that can often become depended simply on the good feeling of seeing large groups moving perfectly in unison and for that reason the resulting pieces become sadly lacking in creativity, more and more conceptual pieces with less and less dance movement are created, and the number of artists choreographing for large groups has decreased. But, Legend has gotten past that trend and has attracted artist to choreograph more and more pieces that use unconventional rhythms and such to bring new appeal to dances with groups of dancers moving in unison.
Until now, the mainstream of group dance pieces was having the lead dancer dancing (front center) and having other (back) dancers dancing the same choreography simultaneously, and the only difference between works was whether there were, for example, five back dancers or ten. But in the Legend competition, we have street dance artists who are used to competing in the group dance context with new kinds of group-dance expression, and the result has been the creation of many new types of dance works that have tens of dancers dancing in combination and with uniquely Japanese detail and nuance in the background and emotional expression. Also, the piece that won the Audience Award at Legend Tokyo this time was a work titled “The JAZZ” by SHOJIN that took the dance of the Musical movies of the Fred Astaire era and rearranged it in contemporary devices and style for large numbers of dancers. This gave new appeal to what at first appeared to be old material and the product won the appreciation of a broad range of audience in a way that I think is wonderfully new.
The Legend Tokyo system
Next I would like to ask you about the unique system of organization that Legend Tokyo uses. Would you explain to us the process by which you select the choreographers for the final Legend Tokyo completion? Also, the dancers that perform in the Legend Tokyo pieces are chosen by open auditions. Would you tell us how that works and what the philosophy is behind that system?
The choreographers are chosen for the final competition from basically three categories. The first is the seed category. These are the choreographers that have won awards in previous Legend Tokyo competitions or ones with similar past achievements. Another category is presently active choreographers that the competition wants to invite. The third category is choreographers that have won the various qualifying or affiliated competitions that are held in major cities around the country each spring. The qualifying competitions are ones that we organize or affiliated competitions that have local organizers. Since there are now competitions like “master works TOKAI” in Nagoya that were inspired by Legend Tokyo to start their own local competitions with the same type of concept and aims, we have formed tie-ups with them to serve as qualifying competitions. In this way, a total of about 20 choreographers are selected in or around March to compete in the Legend Tokyo final competition. Then, each of these choreographers is given a big feature introduction in our magazine SDM.
What kinds of career experience or achievements form what you might call the artistic “backbone” that these selected choreographers bring to Legend Tokyo?
One is the group that has some experience working in the entertainment world. Another career background some have is as instructors in the rapidly growing in the world of “children’s dance school” industry. All around the country today there are charismatic choreographers active in the children’s dance school business, and each of them will have about five dance teams that they form from among their dance school’s students. And since it is easy to form a group of 30 or 40 young people, this group of choreographers competes in the preliminaries/qualifying with this type of student team. And then there are people like instructors who are good at choreographing pieces for recitals by their dance schools around the country and become popular among the students, and there are dance teams that win popularity as performers at events and dance companies like DAZZLE and Umebou. When choreographers are chosen by us to compete in the final competition, we always have them hold “open auditions” for selecting dancers. This process is the biggest thing that makes Legend Tokyo different from other competitions.
In other words, the choreographers don’t enter the final competition with the teams that they passed the qualifying competitions with but have to re-choose their dancers for the final competition through open auditions after they have passed the qualifying. What is the reason for this?
This is something that could never be done with a dance team contest, but since Legend Tokyo is a choreographer competition we can separate the selection of the choreographers and the selection of the dancers. In our magazine SDM, we introduce the choreographers who have been chosen to compete in the final Legend Tokyo competition on a grand scale like heroes in their field, and together with that feature article we advertise the open auditions for dancers who want to dance in this choreographer’s piece. By doing this, it doesn’t mean that a person can automatically become a member of a company like DAZZLE by being chosen in their audition, by it tells them that there is a chance to dance in a piece choreographed by DAZZLE’s Tatsuya Hasegawa. In this way, we hope to provide the choreographers the opportunity to meet new dancers, and we want to offer the performing dancers a new experience they wouldn’t have had otherwise. This opportunity attracts dancers from around the country to get on a plane and fly all the way to Tokyo to rehearse to perform in a piece by this choreographer they admire, and in some cases we hear that dancers even take this opportunity to move to Tokyo. But, I have to admit that at first there was some opposition to this system.
Whether it be ballet or traditional Japanese dance, isn’t it the case in Japan where dance is mainly learned as a hobby or as part of a child’s cultural education in a system in which the students pay the teacher for lessons. As a result, most teachers don’t want their students to be taught by teachers other than themselves, because it might lead to losing a student to another teacher they like better.
That’s right. But, in order for the students to broaden their perspective, I think it is best for them to have more opportunities to dance in pieces by other choreographers. But there is also the idea that letting the students broaden their perspective makes it harder to keep them in the teacher’s fold. That’s why the holding open auditions that gave dancers the chance to dance in other choreographer’s works wasn’t received well by many in the industry at first. Of course, among the chosen choreographers there were those who said they didn’t want to bring in other (new) dancers, so couldn’t they compete in the final competition with just the usual group of their own students? In some of the big cities there may be several choreographers who were chosen for the [Legend Tokyo] final competition, so it happened that one dancer might be performing in more than one choreographer’s work. For this reason, it has become a situation where the competition for the choreographers to get dancers to perform in their pieces has also become more competitive.
That would indeed cause some opposition, wouldn’t it? But, you have stuck with your policy of holding open auditions, haven’t you?
Yes. That is because we truly want to make Legend Tokyo a choreographers’ competition. Until Legend Tokyo came along, street dance events were mainly just contests of dance skills, and the main idea was just to show off the dancers’ skills. It was like, “Wow! So-and-so’s moves are awesome!” Or, “It was like watching a black dancer!” Even I used to watch the competitions with that kind of attitude. Certainly, that makes the dance scene is a lot of fun and it brings more depth to the industry. But as the publisher of a dance magazine, in the course of covering a lot of dance events, when I thought about things from the perspective of how to spread the popularity and breadth of dance, I came to think that a new sense of value, a new perspective was needed. Definitely it is always important to raise the quality of dancers’ skills, but there is also a need to nurture the quest for new values, new visions that can create worlds of dance for more people to enjoy, other than just the dancers themselves. And, I long had the feeling that if we don’t seek such new values and new means to expand the audience, the world of street dance would eventually begin to shrink.
For example, when you think about the impact of Michael Jackson’s music video for Thriller
, weren’t there millions of people around the world that became interested in dance because of it? But, more than the moves of the individual dancers in that video, I believe its real appeal lay in the way the zombie motif combined with the choreography in a fusion that created a world people had never seen before. I believe that is what it takes for the general audience to become interested in dance. And I believe that, while keeping the general audience in mind, it is absolutely essential for the future of street dance that we make opportunities for artists to expand the power of choreography and the depth and breadth of the worlds they create in their works. To that end, in Legend Tokyo we offer the chance for many dancers and people from the general public to perform in the pieces of choreographers they admire. And at the same time, through the open auditions, we create the opportunity for the choreographers to come in contact with a much broader cross-section of the dancers that are out there, rather than limiting themselves to their own dance teams. What we really want to do is to make Legend Tokyo an event that gives the people involved a place where they can expand their perspective beyond the limits of the dance industry they know. That is the ideal that has shaped our system. And the open audition rule is one of the cornerstones of that system.
What kinds of people apply as dancers for the open auditions?
Many of them are instructor-class dance professionals. Although I don’t know the exact statistics, there were somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 people auditioned for positions among the approximately 1,100 who actually performed in the final competition this time. We also had our guest companies like DAZZLE and Umebou hold auditions. For dancers for regions outside the major cities, even if they are highly skilled, there are very few chances for them to perform in big stage productions. But, even if they wanted to, it is often difficult for them to move their base of activity to Tokyo. Partly for that reason, we schedule Legend Tokyo so that it all concludes in the summer, so if these dancers can get a summer vacation to come to Tokyo and perform in our competition, there is a chance that they can go home with the experienced of having performed on the biggest stage of all with the finest of crews and fellow dancers. And if they are lucky they may even be able to say with pride that they danced in a Legend-winning piece. This chance that the open audition rule offers dancers is something that simply never existed before!
I see. It functions not only to help raise the level of dance throughout Japan but also helps stimulate the dance environment as a whole, doesn’t it? Another rule that you have in Legend Tokyo is that each work must include more than 15 dancers.
One of the defining features of Legend Tokyo is the sheer size of the stages used for the performances. If the performances only feature a few dancers, the audience is left with a feeling of something lacking. And, taking music videos as an example, from the standpoint of conveying the image of the choreography, I think it is easier to get the message across with greater impact if there is a large number of dancers. Also, there is the concern that if the number of dancers as few it will come down eventually to a contest of the individual dancers’ skills. And, since we want to make this competition one that offers the choreographers an environment where they can explore the possibilities of pieces performed by large numbers of dancers, we have made the rule that each performance must have more than 15 dancers. In terms of actual numbers, the average is between 30 and 40 dancers per work.
Creating an environment to support street dance
There is roughly two months of studio work time (rehearsal time) between the open auditions and the final performances. For most of the chosen choreographers they are choreographing a large-scale work for a large stage with many dancers for the first time, I believe. Is there any form of support that you give them before the final performances?
Before the final performances we have the contestants each submit their stage lighting plans, and many of the selected choreographers this is their first time submitting a lighting plan. In charge of all the lighting for the performances is a man I put my complete trust in, Kazunori Yoshida, and it is a difficult job he has collecting and executing the lighting plans, because some of the contestants submit impossible plans, while others change their plans without warning. So we hand out to each contestant group a simple manual explaining how to make a lighting plan. SDM also organizes how-to seminars on lighting plans.
Also, for Legend Tokyo we recommend that all of the contestants separate their production work and their creative (studio) work. When you have so many performers involved, it leads to a tremendous amount of office work, so much so that early on when many of the choreographers were trying to handle the office work themselves they all had a really hard time. So now, in order to allow them to concentrate on their creative work during the studio work/rehearsal period, we had each contestant team have one person assigned who was specialized in the production office work.
By the way, we also organize a “FINAL LEGEND” stage performance program. This is not a competition but a program for Legend Tokyo winners to do repeat performances of their winning works so that they can use this as a platform to continue to polish them as their own repertory pieces. In preparation for these performances, we run a dancer training program we call “Legend NEXT”(*)
, and in this program we also simultaneously train the groups’ office staff members. In short our aim is to tell the choreographers who have become known through Legend but have no production office staff people that we will pay the cost of training office staff for them so that they can do their own production work for performing in our FINAL LEGEND program, so we call this our “production assistant support program.” Thanks to this program, the companies and groups that perform in the FINAL LEGEND program will all have an office staff member specialized in production work in their company to do the necessary clerical work for their 50 to 60 dancers and staff.
We introduced this system from our 2nd FINAL LEGEND production in 2014. We implemented this system because we could see clearly that without it the performance program would get bogged down and come to a stop in time. For a company with 50 or 60 dancers and staff, if the choreographers had to do all the clerical and office work like getting letters of consent from everyone and seeing to the distribution of tickets, they would have no time for doing the creative studio work and holding rehearsals. This kind of laborious, nerve-wracking office work can often lead to trouble at performance time if not carried out properly, and when trouble strikes, it always comes down eventually on the shoulders of the organizers, which means us (laughs). Considering that, it is better for us to pay for the office staff so that the companies can handle the office work training, and train their own staff at the same time. The fact that we have helped train the necessary staff and thus helped build each company’s organization is one of the big reasons that Legend Tokyo has been able to grow to the great size and scale it has now.
Having not only the Legend Tokyo competition but also the FINAL LEGEND performance program for the winning companies has helped instill in the dancers an appreciation of their dance productions as things to be polished and take pride in as “works” [of art]. Because, in the past, these groups used to simply use the names of the music they used in a piece or their own group name as it is in lieu of a work’s title. In this sense, Legend Tokyo and FINAL LEGEND are now two inseparable parts of the same program to promote dance.
Now we clearly understand that the purpose of this program is to help raise the general level and quality of street dance. At the same time, it seems to me that the amount of money necessary to build the infrastructure and environment to support the dance as you are doing must be considerable and difficult to raise.
That is what I am constantly struggling with as president of SDM (laughs). But, it is so gratifying and makes me so happy when choreographers tell me that they have become successful thanks to being recognized through Legend Tokyo.
By the way, it seems that many of contestants in Legend Tokyo create and bring their own stage art to the performances.
Yes. We don’t allow the use of video in the stage art, but anything the companies bring can be used as long as they can set it up in 30 seconds and remove it in the same amount of time. Recently we have been surprised numerous times by the size of the sets that contestants have brought to the competition; like the giant Torii
gate that Seishiro (the winner of the 5th Legend award) constructed for their work Kokeshi
Another unique thing about Legend Tokyo is the fact that you use representatives of the entertainment industry as your jurors and the standards that you set for your judging criteria.
Before Legend Tokyo, it was generally the practice in dance competitions to have important figures from the dance world serve as jurors. But with Legend Tokyo, we invite people from the entertainment industry and the like to serve as our jurors. This decision was first met with quite avid criticism, with people say, “Why do we have to listen to these people who don’t know anything about dance critiquing the works?”
Our jury is made up of 12 jurors all bring different perspectives as judges. For example there are those like people covering the event industry for entertainment magazines like Pia
, people from entertainment production agencies like HoriPro and Yoshimoto, theater people from the staffs of theaters like the Kanagawa Arts Theatre, theater arts people like musical directors, music people like recording company producers, people with an overseas perspective like performing artists active overseas and also dance-oriented people like dancers and choreographers. This is because Legend Tokyo is not a contest where professional dancers compete on the basis of their dance skill but a choreography competition where choreographic works are judged on the basis of whether they can be enjoyed by not only people who know dance but also people who don’t know dance.
When we think about the question of what defines the public audience that we want to come to see the dance in our competition, the answer is a conglomerate of people with a wide range of viewpoints. That is why our method is to have a jury that will judge the works from a variety of perspectives to decide the overall winner.
Aren’t there times when these 12 jurors with different perspectives will come up with conflicting views?
Our judging standard is very simple. We ask the jurors to list up their top five choices in order of preference based on the criteria of works that they liked because they were works that could be enjoyed by anyone and whether they have the power to move people. For the five works each juror choses, the 1st place work on each juror’s list gets 50 points, 2nd place gets 40 and so on down to 10 points for the 5th place work, and then the winners are determined simply by the point totals, so there is no arguing or conflict involved whatsoever. Also, it is all-transparent because the judging results are posted on the internet with the names of each juror and their choices. And there is also a stringent rule that says any choreographer who fails to win any points at all loses the right to compete in the next Legend competition (however, they can compete again if they win in the next set of preliminary rounds).
Another thing is that videos of the all of the Legend Tokyo final performances are posted on the internet. Is this common practice in the street dance world?
Our feeling is that we want people throughout the country who couldn’t come to see the stage performances in Tokyo can see them on the Net, and we want these powerful works that the choreographers have created to live beyond the short period of the Legend stages and go on to be spread around the world. If my memory as a magazine editor serves me right, I think that this practice has been commonplace in the USA, but I think Legend Tokyo is the first to adopt it in Japan. But now it has become quite common.
But this has led a growing number of people to think now that since they can see the videos later on YouTube they don’t need to go to the theater to see the actual performances. So now for us, the organizers of the event, the challenge has become how to offer that added value of things that can only be enjoyed by coming to see the actual performances. Today, you can listen to most music on the Net, but the attraction of a live performance is the vitality you can only find there. What is it that the audience enjoys there? What sense of shared experience does the audience need? Through trial and error we are translating these questions to the dance performance context to find answers (laughs)
How Legend Tokyo was born and what lies ahead
What made you decide to start Legend Tokyo? What was your pivotal encounter with dance?
To answer that question, I have to go back some time to my first encounters with theater, which was when I was 18 and it was at the height of Japan’s boom in the popularity of musicals like Cats
and Phantom of the Opera
. At first I wanted to be a musical director, so I went to New York and saw almost every musical that played on Broadway. With the typical passion of youth, I convinced myself that American entertainment was amazing and Japanese entertainment was not keeping pace. But when I went back to Japan to renew my visa, I happened to see the anime movie Neon Genesis Evangelion
at the recommendation of a friend, and it blew me away! The modes of expression and the direction were both bold and finely nuanced, and it was overflowing with appeal that only Japanese artists could create. That started me thinking that, actually, Japanese entertainment is amazing.
To follow manga, anime and computer/video games, I began to think that there was another new form of uniquely Japanese entertainment culture that I wanted to nurture: street dance. So, in 2002 got together with a friend and started a free paper dealing with street dance that we named movement
. But that friend held different values from mine concerning entertainment, and as a result, I went independent and started the company that I run today: Just-Be Co., Ltd. For about ten years, as a form of editorial production, I edited a magazine sold in bookstores named Dance Style
that mainly featured articles on technical skills for dancers. In the course of doing lots of interviews for a variety of articles, I found out that there was a lot of interesting work being done for recitals by students of dance schools that people were enjoying. And in the field of street dance as well there were groups like DAZZLE that did stage performances that attracted audiences from the general public. That made me feel that I wanted to find ways to get more people to enjoy this kind of dance.
That led me to start the free magazine SDM in 2007 to be distributed nationwide as a as a media to teach young people who liked street dance that it was a dance form that could also have great appeal as a stage art and as entertainment.
But with it you didn’t start Legend Tokyo right away, did you?
That’s right. I first of all launched the magazine as a means to be able to start an event like Legend Tokyo. In other words, SDM wasn’t simply a street dance magazine, from the very first issue it featured articles about things like how to use stage sets and how to write lighting plans and other practical information for creating stage productions. In that way we built a foundation that enabled us to hold the 1st Legend Tokyo event on July 29th, 2011. By the way, I was the only one in our company that didn’t have any actual experience as a dancer (laughs).
What made you choose the name Legend?
I am not an event producer, I basically always approach things from a media standpoint. I think of the purpose of Legend Tokyo as not to simply an event, but to be a media that communicates the appeal of dance and spreads that message. And as I thought about words in that direction to communicate the message, the word I arrived at was “Legend.”
When we think of the year 2011, the first thing that comes to mind is the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. At that time, putting on an event must have been very difficult.
It was. Originally we were planning to hold the event during spring vacation on March 31st. The earthquake struck on March 11th, just as I was heading for an organizational meeting for it at the Shibuya Kokaido venue (now being reconstructed). To tell the truth, I wasn’t aware at that moment of the gravity of the disaster. And most of my staff were heading toward the meeting on their motorcycles at the time, and so they didn’t feel the strength of the tremor (as they would have if they had been in a building when it struck), and so all except one of them arrived at the theater as if nothing had happened. That is why just after the earthquake we announced, “We will not postpone it. Japan’s largest choreographer competition is going to be held on schedule as planned.”
From your standpoint, you had gone to the effort to launch a magazine and spend three years in preparation, waiting for the right time to hold this event, so you surely didn’t want to give up the opportunity, did you?
But, after that, as everyone learned the extraordinary scale of the disaster, we began to receive complaints saying that it was extremely imprudent to think of holding a dance event at a time like this. As the news of the nuclear reactor accident came in, we began receiving phone calls from morning to night saying things like, “How can you think of holding an event that gathers so many dancers in Tokyo, which is now being affected by the radiation from the power plant!” and, “At a time like this when there are electricity power shortages all over the country, how can you think of holding an even that uses so much electricity!” It was really a difficult time, and it pushed me and our staff to the limit mentally. I think it was the hardest time I can remember in my life. We search for possibilities as best we could but finally, on March 20th, we announced that the event would be cancelled. I added that I didn’t know when it would be but that someday we would hold the Legend event and when that time came I hoped we would receive everyone’s support again.
Cancelling the event must have brought a tremendous financial loss.
All the tickets had been sold out and we then had to refund them all. Since the event had been cancelled at the last minute, a good number of the contractors demanded full redemption on the contract fees. The result was that we went into debt to the sum of about 10 million yen (approx. US$90K), which was just too much to absorb for a small company like ours with just four or five employees.
After the 9.11 terror attacks in the U.S., Broadway was one of the first to resume performances, weren’t they?
Yes, that’s true. And the interesting thing is that when we announced the cancellation of the even, the complaints stopped immediately and we began to receive emails and calls saying, “Don’t cancel it. Now is the time when we need Legend to give Japan the emotional boost it needs.” And in the pages of SDM we ran an eight-page feature article titled “Entertainment won’t be beaten by natural disaster” (featuring entertainers who had continued to perform in order to encourage the people in the stricken areas). And we announced that the Legend program would be revived.
When the first Legend competition was finally held on July 29, 2011, there were 25 contesting choreography works, including one from the disaster stricken Fukushima Prefecture, and when the competition was over the winner was DAZZLE’s work by Tatsuya Hasegawa titled Hana to Otori / Misty Mansion
was chosen winner. The event was a big success, but after the first Legend Tokyo most of our employees quit the company. I was told, “We don’t understand why an editorial (publishing) company should have to undertake such a difficult task as this.” With this, all that was left of the company was me and Yoshitaka Nagahama, who does our general stage management. Suddenly there were just the two of us in the office but we decided to do Legend Tokyo again the following year. Then, by 2014 with the success of the 4th Legend Tokyo and our FINAL LEGEND program, we managed to finally paid off all of the company’s debt by March of 2015. With this we felt that the disaster of 2011 was finally over for us after five years of efforts. But with the 5th Legend Tokyo in 2015 when we used the 11,000-seat Yokohama Arena as our venue, we were in the red again to the tune of 30 million yen. (laugh)
Contemporary dance and street dance both emerged at about the same time (1970s), but despite this fact, there was no real interaction or exchange between the two. However, in about the last ten years we are seeing some artists beginning to fuse the two to create new and original styles of dance. With this, we saw the emergence of competitions for street dance with a story-telling aspect like “TheatriKA’l” (2011) held at the Kanagawa Arts Theatre, where DAZZLE won the grand prize, and then at Legend Tokyo DAZZLE also won the Legend award to give it two wins in a row. That was the first time that I learned about the existence of Legend and I felt that it must be a new sign of the times. I would now like to ask you about your vision for the future of Legend Tokyo.
I think a producer is the first one who must get tired of something he or she has succeeded in producing. In the process of holding the Legend competitions, thousands, even tens of thousands of dancers have come to share a common understanding of what Legend is, and this is something that is built on the accumulated love and passion of these dancers, so it is very strong. If I, as the leader of a production, should suddenly decide to adopt a new direction, I think the people involved would probably say to me, “No, Kudo, this isn’t right!” (Laughs) I do feel some impatience about wanting to move on to the next thing but finding it can’t be done now.
I have always wanted to help develop street dance as another new form of uniquely Japanese entertainment culture to follow manga, anime and computer/video games, but the things I want to do, the things I can do and the things I should do are always changing at a very fast pace, and the goals I see in front of me are changing every year. Among these goals, I think a big issue is the number of audience we are attracting. For the 5th Legend Tokyo held at the Yokohama Arena, it was a very tough experience for me not being able to fill the arena with our audience.
If it were a pop idol’s three-days concert, normally all of the tickets would be sold out and various goods sell like hotcakes. But, even though Legend Tokyo is offering the very highest level of dance entertainment, we couldn’t even sell out one day’s performances. What is the difference here? I am always thinking about what we need to do to fill Yokohama Arena properly with dance alone. One of the answers is the “FINAL LEGEND – 2.5D Choreography” event we held at the Asakusa Kokaido venue this year.
It was an attempt to create a fusion of a number of contents, with dancers playing the roles of manga characters and having popular TV personalities (comedians) serve as masters of ceremonies.
For the time being, my goal is to increase the size of audience coming to see dance with projects like this time’s FINAL LEGEND. But at the end of the day, we are still a magazine, not an entertainment agency or managers for choreographers or event producers. I believe that Legend Tokyo will always be an event with a media orientation of creating an environment to communicate a message. Whether the environment that we provide lives or dies depends on the choreographers. I will believe in the artists’ spirit to the end, and will always try to present the best stages possible that fit the needs and the directions of the times.