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star struck

The right moves
Choreographer Marven Payne has a thriving career in Japan
By Toshiya Fujii
TOSHIYA SUZUKI/HIROSHI OHNUMA

Sometimes when you pass by a train station or walk between buildings in Shinjuku at night, you can see kids practicing their dance routines in front of big windows. “It’s good that dancing has become a major thing in Japan, but at the same time it is also bad that a lot of these kids do not have the basics,” says Marven Payne.

One of the originators of the “LA style jazz,” Marven is considered one of the best choreographers in the business, with 20 years of experience under his belt. The list of Japanese artists he`s worked with is impressive—Seiko Matsuda, Gekidan Shiki, Namie Amuro, Speed, Max, Da Pump, Kumi Koda, SMAP and the ST Kinki Kids, just to name a few. He is the only foreigner to hold the position of artistic director at a major Japanese dance company, in his case Hiromi Dance Company.

“Believe it or not, I was a geek in school,” he says. “Dance was a way for me to communicate with the rest of the world.” From dancing in his room, his hobby became more serious when he began taking jazz and ballet lessons as a kid. By the time Marven was 15, he had turned pro. In 1985, he had just started his first year in university in Philadelphia, aspiring to be a fashion designer, when a man from Japan asked him if he wanted to choreograph for Matsuda. “I didn’t have any idea who Matsuda was or what Japan was like,” he says. Nearly 20 years on, Marven claims Yokohama as his home.

In demand internationally, he travels around the world to teach. He says the best feeling is watching his students grow. Aside from his regular classes in Yokohama and at Tokyo American Club, he is currently working with two artists: Ellie and Hitomi Ono. Both are under Emerge Records, a record label he owns. Like many recording artists, they never received the proper support from their previous labels. “I basically started the label so that they would get the right push that they deserve,” he explains. From time to time, Marven gets away from the dance world and works as creative director at Xenn, a company that creates mobile phone and Internet content, teaches motion graphics at the Apple store in Ginza, and manages a production company, Body Emotions, in addition to the casting office, Emerge Casting, all at the same time. He is also a model occasionally, and a designer. His dream is to build a performing arts high school in Japan. “The education system here is set up so that when you get to a certain age, you either have to choose a career in the dance, or you have to study and go to juku (cram school),” Marven says. “Japanese dancers could be among the best in the world. They have strong, flexible bodies and a ‘work hard’ mentality. I want to set up a proper school, so children can get both kinds of education at the same time. It’s been my dream ever since I came to Japan and I intend to see it through.” www.marvenpayne.net


 

Q&A


Lenne Hardt
The voice of PRIDE has a lot to shout about
© DSE

Actor, narrator, singer and comedian, Lenne Hardt is perhaps best known for her decibel-defying announcements at PRIDE that energize the crowd and the fighters.

Why did you come to Japan?
To see how Manhattan sushi stacked up against the real thing. And to DJ at BAY FM.

What keeps you here?
My work, my brother and his family. They’ve been here over 30 years.

Which of your many jobs do you enjoy most?
I was made for performing live, whether singing with my jazz band, doing improv with Spontaneous Confusion at the Tokyo Comedy Store, or performing in plays. In my next show I play Sleeping Beauty’s evil witch. My brother calls it typecasting!

What has been the highlight of your career?
Calling out the names of those gorgeous hunks at PRIDE! How do you get in the screaming mood? I don’t scream! I announce, I intone, I amplify, I troll, I trill—but I don’t scream! It’s the excitement of performing in front of tens of thousands of people. What a rush!

Which famous people do you work with?
On Thursdays, I enjoy a few laughs with Tamori-san and Surube-san on Fuji TV’s Warate Ii Tomo. On Fridays, over at NTV, I wrestle for the mic with Music Fighter hosts Sayaka Aoki and King Kong. My athletic regimen keeps me in touch with Bob Sapp, Wanderlei Silva and Kazushi Sakuraba. For laughs I hang out with comedy teams London Boots and 99. Do you need more?

What does your husband say about you working with so many famous men?
He says he’s still the only guy who can talk to me without a cue sheet.

How do you relax?
I walk my dogs, scuba dive, ski, rollerblade, read, dance, sing, study Japanese, clean my house and do my nails.

What are you reading this week?
Besides Metropolis? The novel behind Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

Where in Tokyo do you live?
I have been in Shibuya most of my 17 years in Japan. I guess I’m a Shibuya girl!

Do you plan to stay here forever?
Indefinitely—is that the same thing?

PRIDE Final Conflict takes place Aug 28 at Saitama Super Arena. See www.pridefc.com for details. Catch Tokyo Comedy Store on Sep 8 and the Lenne Hardt Jazz Cabaret on Sep 16, both at Oh! God Cinema Play Café in Harajuku. See www.tokyocomedy.com for information about both events. The Tokyo Theater for Children’s Sleeping Beauty will be staged in November. AV

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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