The Birth of a Distinctly "Tokyo" Ballet Produced by Kumakawa Tetsuya

Kumakawa Tetsuya, the first Asian principal dancer of The Royal Ballet in the U.K., and founder of K-BALLET TOKYO, is expanding his artistic presence from Tokyo to the rest of the world.
Kumakawa at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, a venue he has performed at often.

—In September 2023, you changed the name of K-BALLET COMPANY to K-BALLET TOKYO. Can you tell us why?

I set up K-Ballet Company in 1999, which means 2024 is its 25th anniversary. The company has achieved prominence in Japan, but when people from abroad hear the name, they might wonder which city the company is in. I thought it'd be good to borrow the"Tokyo" name, which is world class, in our effort to get broader recognition. This was before I was appointed as a Tokyo Tourism Ambassador*, so I felt it was fate.

—How do you feel about Tokyo?

Nowadays, elements of Japanese pop culture and subculture, like video games and anime, have become very popular, and Tokyo is the center of these that is attracting global attention. I think those of us in classical music and theater—what people refer to as high culture—have to make further efforts when it comes to achieving recognition.

"The Metropolitan Expressway has a wonderful view, and it's also fun just wandering around downtown," says Kumakawa.

—K-Ballet Tokyo presents a new large-scale original ballet program every year.

They are original ballets, but that doesn't mean I want them to go beyond the realm of classical ballet. I believe we have to show respect for the classics, and create something that people even a hundred years from now will see and think, "That's classical ballet." But we must pay attention to how much time modern visitors use for leisure and how they receive information. I think it'd be difficult, for instance, for modern visitors to sit and watch The Sleeping Beauty for four hours straight, like they used to back in the day. For ballet to remain something that people know and love, we need in some ways to adjust the art to better suit the sensibilities of people today.

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The Sleeping Beauty, premiering October 2023, was adjusted for modern audiences. © ︎Hidemi Seto

—What efforts are you making to promote ballet in Tokyo to people overseas?

We want people to come see ballet in Tokyo, including those from overseas. To do that, we have to come up with works that are exclusive enough that people will want to come all the way here to see them, and we need to create an identity for original Japanese works. Achieving this goal will be quite a challenge but it will be a rewarding one. I set up K-BALLET Opto in 2022, in collaboration with Tokyu Bunkamura, Inc., which operates theaters, with the goal of creating high-quality original works, and discovering and producing new talents. K-BALLET Opto productions are held irregularly, but in January of 2023, we held a production called Plastic, which tackled environmental issues. There's only so much we can do at our scale, but we want to begin incorporating works that focus on various social issues.

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Discarded plastic umbrellas and bottles became props in Plastic by K-BALLET Opto. ©︎ Hajime Watanabe

—It seems like you've also been devoted to training dancers. What kind of future do you have in mind for them?

In September 2023, we opened the K-BALLET ACADEMY, a school for a small group of elite students. There, we've been working to incorporate Japanese-ness—the sense of beauty that comes from the Japanese physicality, forms of expression that are possible only because of the Japanese lifestyle and culture—into our methods and curricula. Kura Kenta, the director of the school, has taken my sensibilities, analyzed them, and turned them into a sort of theoretical framework for the academy. I think it's fine for young dancers who want to become professional ballet dancers to dream of a career abroad, but they should be able to train without leaving the country, in Tokyo. If 10, 20 years from now, the dancers who trained here go on to play lead roles in productions at K-BALLET TOKYO, that would make me incredibly happy.

The Kumakawa Foundation, established in July 2023 to to support children aiming to become dancers.

*Tokyo Tourism Ambassadors are appointed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government  to promote the appeal of Tokyo both domestically and internationally, with the goal of revitalizing local communities through tourism through increasing the number of visitors to the city.

Kumakawa Tetsuya


Joined The Royal Ballet in the U.K. in 1989. Served as the principal dancer from 1993 to 1998, and during that time, he was invited to be a guest dancer by ballet companies around the world. Established the K-BALLET COMPANY (current K-BALLET TOKYO) in 1999, taking on the role of the leading dancer while also producing, choreographing, and directing numerous works as an artistic director. In 2023, he served as a jury member for the Prix de Lausanne and became a Tokyo Tourism Ambassador.

Interview and writing by Kato Tomoko
Photos (portraits) by Sakaki Mirei
Hair and makeup by Kaijima Naoki (insence)
Special thanks to Tokyo Bunka Kaikan
Translation by Amitt