Ballet dancer Tetsuya Kumakawa is one of the most celebrated names in the world of performing arts. His success as artistic director of his own ballet company has allowed him to indulge his passion for Ferrari. However, as he explains, it also leaves him with little time to truly enjoy his growing collection of Prancing horse models
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Don’t you think it suits me?’ Tetsuya Kumakawa says impishly in reply to the question, “Why
Ferrari?” Then he smiles, and launches into an impassioned analysis of this most famous of
Italian products. He’s leaning against his pristine 246 Dino, arguably the most beautiful Ferrari ever made. ‘When I was young, I had always thought of Ferrari as more of a status symbol or a goal, something I’d always be reaching out for,’ he says. ‘I was more into speed too, back then. I made such efforts to become somebody that would perfectly fit to being a Ferrari driver. I drove my car to get rid of the noises in my head! ‘But as time goes by, my respect for Ferrari’s tradition
and its craftsmanship is growing.
I admire the beauty of the craft in its construction, beauty which could never be found in cars designed just by computers and manufactured automatically. I probably have this feeling because I’m a classical ballet dancer, dealing with music and choreographies born some hundred years ago or more, and absorbing the history and the works of artists who have gone before me.’ Tetsuya Kumakawa is a superstar in his native Japan, not to mention a leading light in the ballet firmament worldwide. Born and raised in Hokkaido,
the northernmost prefecture in Japan, he became the first Japanese dancer to win the Gold Medal in the Prix de Lausanne, one of the most prestigious competitions aimed at discovering the talent of young ballet dancers. That was in 1989 when he was just 16, and later that same year he went on to became the first Asian dancer to join the Royal Ballet in London. Many other firsts followed. Kumakawa became the youngest dancer ever to be promoted to soloist. In 1993, he became principal, the highest rank in the company. His reputation grew not only because of his elaborate
technique – his soaring jumps and high-speed spins were breathtaking – but also for the outstanding acting skills which bloomed in roles like Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Basil in Don Quixote. Naturally, he has worked with the ballet world’s very best, including Maya Plisetskaya, Sylvie Guillem, Darcey Bussell, Viviana Durante and Miyako Yoshida. In Japan, he is undoubtedly the best-known male ballet dancer. In 1999, Kumakawa left the Royal Opera House and established the K Ballet Company, named after his initial, which has since established itself as one of Japan’s most powerful and popular ballet companies. Kumakawa is a vigorous Artistic Director for the
Company, directing and choreographing nearly all of K Ballet’s repertory, including classical masterpieces such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Coppélia. As well as essaying the lead roles, on occasions he’s even designed the stage set himself. Alongside the role of Artistic Director, Kumakawa also supervises the teaching curriculum in the ballet school and studios organised under his company. But his fame goes beyond the borders of ballet.
Kumakawa has starred in two movies, and received the Japanese equivalent of an Academy Award for a performance by an actor in a leading role for his work in one of them. His appearances on television and commercials have also made him famous outside the ballet world. And, of course, he has become well known for his love of cars, too. And, as is so often the case, his fascination is rooted in his childhood. ‘You could call guys my age the “supercar generation”. At elementary school, we went crazy collecting erasers shaped as Lamborghinis and Porsches and so on, and raced over how far we could get them to fly them using the back of our pencils,’ Kumakawa recalls. ‘If I had grown up in a busy city like Tokyo, it might have been different, but in Hokkaido I never had
a chance to see such beautiful cars.
The excitement of the movie The Cannonball Run ignited my adoration further. I still clearly remember how I admired Sammy Davis Jr. driving a Ferrari 308 GTS in the film. ‘But I’ve always thought it was beyond my reach. I started ballet at the age of 10, but I’ve never known any dancer in Japan who enjoyed much fame and major commercial success then. When I was 12, my friend said to me, “We will never be able to possess supercar”, and his words clung to my memory for many years.’ When he started to dance for the Royal Ballet in his
teens in the UK, he purchased his first car, a Triumph Spitfire. ‘Then I drove British and Japanese cars for several years, and finally, at the age of 24, I acquired my first Ferrari, a red 328 GTS. In Japan, there’s an old saying, “Jump off from the stage of the Kiyomizu Temple” when you take the plunge and do something [Kiyomizu Temple is one of the oldest temples in Kyoto and the main hall of the temple is designated as a national treasure]. Of course, there was no Kiyomizu Temple in London, but I gathered all my courage and purchased the car. It was an absolutely fascinating and
astonishing moment, the childhood dream coming true at last. I bought it at HR Owen’s in Knightsbridge, and in its showroom I also noticed a black F40. Its beauty was beyond words, like it was a car made in heaven and never really existed in the real world. The F40 became my next dream and, three years later, I obtained that car in Japan. That was even before the foundation of
Ferrari Japan, I gather.’ Kumakawa’s 246 Dino is another inspiration. ‘It’s in perfect condition. This particular car was made in 1971 and I was born in 1972, so we are almost the same age,’ he notes. ‘I have always felt the beauty of the background story, that Enzo Ferrari created this exquisite car for the love of his son, Alfredo “Dino” Ferrari, who died so tragically young. I even feel kind of reverence towards the passion of Enzo Ferrari, who created a car in honour of his son’s dream.
‘But it has an almost feminine beauty, I feel like my Ferraris are like girlfriends. The curve from its
waistline into its hips… The black F40 I acquired in my late twenties, that’s more of a masculine beauty. Since then, I have owned white and yellow Ferraris as well, but I like to choose rosso, the Ferrari red, because it reminds of me of the red lipstick that looks so good on my girlfriend. I also own an F50, and it’s also red. ‘As I grew to put more of my heart into creating classical ballet pieces on stage, I felt more drawn to classic cars. If not for my love for the classical ballet, I
wouldn’t have loved Ferrari this much. But, at the same time, I’m interested in the new 458 Spider too.’ Now we know the answer to the Ferrari question. Now for the next, perhaps inevitable one: Why ballet? ‘I didn’t choose ballet. Ballet chose me,’ Kumakawa famously pronounced early in his career. Since then, as a talent chosen by Terpsichore, the muse of dance, Kumakawa has danced and fought to establish ballet culture in Japan, where the audience was more limited in comparison to the Western countries where the genre was born and has been cultivated for centuries. ‘In Japan opera draws a bigger audience than ballet, especially a male audience. Ballet is thought of as a
favourable art form only for women and girls. But to me, ballet really is one of the supreme stage art forms, one that encompasses the beauty of dance, music, literature, and drawing. I used to think of ways to draw a bigger male audience to ballet performances, but now I feel that it is open for everybody who understands and appreciates its beauty. ‘Looking back, I think the joy of going to the theatres was much more open to public, more common and something real. Now, people can turn on the television or their computer to enjoy whatever they want. As a dancer and creator of classical ballet, my duty is to maintain its long held tradition and, at the same time, try to develop it by creating and adding something original, something new to satisfy the present-day
audience. I feel that same spirit towards tradition and evolution when I admire Ferrari cars.’
K Ballet Company’s year ends with the annual performance of The Nutcracker in the festive season.
Kumakawa created his version of this masterpiece full of dreams, ingeniously utilising the beauty of
Tchaikovsky’s fluent music. As well as being Artistic Director of the K Company, he was recently been appointed Artistic Director of Orchard Hall for a fiveyear term, one of the renowned classic concert halls in Shibuya, Tokyo. In February 2012, he is to premiere Cinderella for the hall’s renewal commemoration, directing and choreographing another classical masterpiece originally composed by Sergei Prokofiev. He has never been more successful, or busier. The only
downside is that opportunities to drive his beloved Ferraris are becoming rarer.
‘Because of so many commitments and meetings, it is getting harder to find spare time to drive my Ferraris, especially on weekdays. Thus it has become a weekend pleasure. When I don’t have time to drive, I go to the garage and stare at my cars, admiring their beauty, then get into the driver’s seat and enjoy the space within.’ But for Kumakawa, there is a very clear connection between these two contrasting spheres of his life. ‘To me, creation is something that’s happening within my mind. What I dream and construct in my head seems more real to me than the all the things you see around us. I think that’s what creation is all about. In that sense, what I show in the theatres is almost virtual, a dream coming true. People come to sit in the auditorium to enjoy these dreams, something that I totally dreamt up and then somehow manage to realise on stage. ‘Maybe I am feeling the same way when I sit in the driving seat of my car. I am enjoying the dream that
Ferrari has created, enjoying the limitless possibilities realised and supported by the pride in their tradition and true craftsmanship.’
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine 15 issue March 2012