Welcome back to Jeddah World Fest, dance lovers and Festival fans! We’re only a few days away from our opening performance and we’ve been working all year to provide you a summer of dance worth talking about. Be on the lookout for great reads about the dancers and choreographers involved in the Festival this year, as we’ve got some great interviews lined up.
For many dance lovers who attended Celebration of American Dance at Pritzker Pavilion in 2008, Kanji Segawa delivered an incredibly powerful, punch-you-in-your-face performance of Robert Battle’s signature work, Takademe. This year he returns to CDF with a reprise performance you’ll definitely not want to miss.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Kanji (via the wonders of technology) to discuss the Festival, his connections to other Festival companies and choreographers (including his wife, choreographer Jessica Lang), and where you can find him in the very near future.
MM: The last time you performed Takademe in Chicago two years ago, the audience at the Pritzker Pavilion went crazy for you. I’ve never seen that much uproar over a solo performance. Is it exciting for you to return to Chicago for a repeat performance of Takedeme?
KS: Absolutely, absolutely. I think the reason Takademe is great is because of the choreography. Robert Battle. That’s it, really! It’s well choreographed and I’m just grateful to be able to perform that piece. The magic of the piece is that through his choreography, through the music, I can connect with the audience. That’s the most fun part of performing Takademe, because as I go through the dance, I can sense the response from the audience. However with Chicago Dancing Festival, that was very interesting, because I’ve been performing this piece since 2000, but performing in front of 10,000 people – it’s just incredible. Of course I try to do my best to give all my energy, but the response I got while I was dancing was just incredible, something I never felt before actually.
MM: The Festival audience is wonderful, someone once said it was like performing at a rock concert.
KS: Exactly! And because of that, I think Takademe is the perfect piece, even for people who don’t know dance. They can relate to it right away.
MM: Can you give a rough guess at how many times you’ve performed Takademe?
KS: I don’t know, I’ve never counted! But in 2000, when I was in Ailey II my first year, the very first piece I ever did was Takademe. Robert came in to teach us Takademe and that was the first time I met Robert, ten years ago. And during that two year period that I was in Ailey II, I performed it many times. Ailey II does, of course, evening performances, but besides that during the day there are a lot of lecture demonstrations at schools. So sometimes I would perform it twice during the day before an evening show. After that, with Battleworks… I don’t know! I’ve performed at many different occasions, many festivals, and Chicago Dancing Festival is one of them, but it’s an absolutely an exceptional case, a different situation.
MM: So following your performance at the Festival, what’s going to be the future of Battleworks?
KS: That’s a good question! Unfortunately Battleworks is folding. As of now, I don’t think it’s officially announced, but we are looking in November in New York City to have a final performance for Battleworks. Robert, of course as everybody knows, is the next director of the Ailey company. We knew these past two years that they’ve been doing their research for the next director, and Robert was a candidate. But we were informed early enough and we were sort of preparing for this. It’s definitely sad for the company to go, because it was wonderful. But it’s great for Robert, and we just have to move on for whatever is next.
MM: That being said, what does the future hold for you? Any plans or projects lined up?
KS: I’ve been fortunate to do many different projects because Battleworks, good and bad, was never a full-time company. So these past 8 years, I’ve always been working with other choreographers and I’ve been teaching and choreographing at universities. After Chicago Dancing Festival, I’m going to Martha’s Vineyard to work with Morphoses. Actually my wife, Jessica Lang is one of the choreographers who will work with the company. And I’m going to be dancing for her!
MM: Wonderful! I was just going to ask you if the two of you have worked together in the past or if you had plans to work together in the future.
KS: Yes, we’ve worked together – I’ve danced for Jessica many times. Also, I’m always with her in the process of a new creation, as much as possible, as much as our schedule allows, I help her. So this is going to be wonderful, because for five weeks we’re going to be in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachussetts to do a residency with Morphoses. Jessica is creating a new work and we have a performance of it at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. So that’s the first thing I’ll do. In December I have an engagement with Mark Morris, The Hard Nut, Mr. Morris’ Nutcracker. I have to say that Mark is another person who has helped me these past 8 years. I’ve been working between Mark and Robert, back and forth, and he keeps giving me wonderful opportunities. I have a lot of projects coming up with him. January and February I’m going to perform Mark’s new opera NIXON in CHINA at the Metropolitan Opera. So I’ve engagements coming up through next spring, I feel very grateful.
MM: Chicago is very much a foodie city, do you happen to have any favorite restaurants when you come visit Chicago?
KS: Our wonderful friends Jay Franke and David Herro take us out, every time we come to Chicago, to this restaurant called Kiki’s Bistro, a French bistro. It’s very good.
MM:Do you have any other attractions in Chicago that are of particular interest to you?
KS: The Museum of Contemporary Art is beautiful. And the museum near Millennium Park, the Art Institute – everytimes I go to Chicago, I like to visit there. Chicago is just a beautiful.