“Have you seen the video of the tap dancing kabuki actor?” asked my American friend living in Japan. For real??, I asked. “I’ll send you a link.”
“Tap dancing kabuki actor” felt like an oxymoron for my mental inventory of a tap dancer. Think: The Nicolas Brothers, Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Michelle Dorrance, etc. Nary a one even slightly resembles a Kabuki actor.
Here is the video in question. The Japanese music that accompanies the dancer does not resemble the jazz music that generally accompanies American tappers. The “music” that accompanies the Kabuki dancer is at one with the moves performed by the actor. The geta shoes worn by the actor serve as props for the movement, and as instruments of percussion. The closest move I noticed that was a direct tap take-off was the cramp roll. It looked greatly exaggerated when done wearing geta!
This masterful Kabuki performance was designed to be humorous. All the nuance and expertise a gifted Kabuki actor has at his command is seamlessly used as the actor struggles valiantly to convince the viewer and himself that his inebriation affects his dance only slightly. The viewer is definitely in on the joke. This display is in marked contrast to that of a gifted tap dancer whose efforts are made to make the complex tap combinations look easy. The tap dance can be improvised to add another level of musical percussion to the performance. Each performance is designed to entertain. Both do so, but differently. American tap goes for bravado and physicality. The viewer does not gain insight into the inner personality of the performer. Japanese Kabuki explores the inner foibles of our humanity. It’s an internal exploration that has universal recognition.