Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Free as a Bird: TAKE Dance Takes Flight


Watching Takehiro Ueyama’s new work, Flight, was one of those times when I just sat back, enjoyed the dance, and gained insight from it. That’s good theater.

The choreographer (and artistic director of this small, impressive company of dancers called TAKE Dance, which I saw May 20 at the DanceTheaterWorkshop in Chelsea) stands alone on stage, his back to us while he contemplates the changing formations of images of starlings that are projected against the back wall. In response, he begins to dance. His first responses are wrong, and he knows it. After several of these attempts, dancers suddenly flood the stage, swirling and soaring. Are they the starlings? Are they the dances Ueyama creates? For what we were watching was Ueyama, a choreographer, responding to beauty, and then attempting to show us that response in a dance he created, all done so simply, so magically.

How does one respond to the beauty of starlings swirling together? The images on the screen are beautiful. Do we need to imitate them? They are different from us, and they have some understanding of beauty we humans can’t understand, unless we try to move like them. Not that we can, as we realize, watching them sweep across the sky. Except one – she soars out alone. Why does she do that? Why does she than return to the flock that swirls so beautifully and so indifferently? And how can the starlings know they are beautiful? We are the ones watching them, and we can’t tell them. Is someone else watching who can see? Does it even matter to them that they’re beautiful? Does anyone have to see them?

Ueyama felt compelled to make Flight after watching a flock of starlings against the Roman sky. “Their movements far surpassed any dance I had ever witnessed, with their breathtaking unison flights and banking turns, sculpting the air in patterns so seamlessly elegant,” he observed.

“Seamlessly elegant” describes the passion Ueyama shows us with the dancers. They too swirl and bank against the changing images of the real starlings. Are they dancers or are they birds who turned themselves into dancers? But there’s music, too, and it seems natural; it’s a variety of music, although one is an obvious choice (and why not?) -- a Glass piece. Finally, all is still, and man and birds watch each other.

Flight is a lovely piece. You leave the hall hoping you can find a flock of birds in the sky. (You can see the starling images on exhibit at the Foley Gallery through June 5; 547 W. 27th St., 5th floor,

The rest of TAKE Dance’s program reflected that same sensitive response to the world we see but can’t always understand. It was not a dance chauvinistic formula (dance = the world) but, rather, a more respectful question, How can dance respond to the world? That is a subtle and important difference. Based on Thursday’s evidence, TAKE Dance doesn’t react to dance as a feeding frenzy, self indulgent with vocabulary; rather, it does what Ueyama does in Flight – responds to beauty with humility and shows us something we can respond to in turn and perhaps reach greater understanding with what we see outside and within ourselves.

Another lovely piece on the program was Sakura Sakura, featuring Nana Tsuda and Sharon Park. This piece (the title is Japanese for “”cherry blossoms”) also by Ueyama, represents the beauty and strength of Japanese women. It shows, simply, what lies inside stillness. The dance begins and ends with women in repose, arms gracefully moving as if in a tea ceremony. A third piece, Left There by the Tide, with gentle but emphatic choreography by Jill Echo, represents waves of beginnings and endings of relationships, the title taken from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Much of the company’s dancing had the effect of both jarring and soothing simultaneously – jarring in that many movements are at first unexpected and then soothing because you understand their context right away. Dancers roll out onstage, heads and feet tucked under – like of eggs rolling into new life. (One latecomer rolled swiftly to stage center much later, funny and surprising.) A dancer leaps onto another’s back over and over, is tossed down or falls, and she keeps trying. It was violent, erotic, and playful all at once – or it represents a time when we didn’t make those distinctions.

What also struck me about TAKE Dance was the sensitivity and simplicity of their subjects (I wish the costumes had followed that path better, alas), and the wealth of music used, ranging from Mozart to Glass to the traditional song Sakura Sakura. Watching this elegant small troupe, I realized that the first rule of life isn’t survival, it’s to enjoy life’s beauty, even if you can’t understand it. We can still respond to beauty, and still cherish and respect it.

Singer/writer Mary Sheeran has sung through several operas, cabarets, and song recitals, including several performances of "Songs From the Balanchine Repertory." Her novel, Who Have the Power, an exploration of cultural conflict, feminism, and Native American history set on the American frontier, was published in 2006 ( Her next novel, Quest of the Sleeping Princess, which unfolds during a gala performance of the New York City Ballet, will be published later this year.

FLIGHT: Choreography by Takehiro Ueyama; Costumes by Cheryl McCarron; Lighting and Production Design by Jason Jeunnette.

SAKURA SAKURA: Choreography by Takehiro Ueyama; Costumes by Sabado Lam; Lighting by Jason Jeunnette.

LEFT THERE BY THE TIDE: Choreography by Jill Echo; Costumes by Cheryl McCarron.

TAKE Dance, May 20, presented at DanceTheaterWorkshop as part of the GuestArtistSeries. Artistic Director, Takehiro Ueyama; with Jill Echo, Assistant Director. Dancers: Kristen Arnold, Elise Drew, John Eirich, Gini Ianni, Kile Hotchkiss, Mariko Kurihara, Milan Misko, Sharon Park, Nana Tsuda, Amy Young; with guest dancers Stephanie Amurao, Christina Illisijie, Gabe Spellberg, Ann Olson, Jake Warren, Marie Zvosec. The company will perform at Skidmore College at Saratoga Springs, NY, on June 10. For more information, go to

1 comment:

Christina said...

Thanks for reviewing Take's work. I had the privilege of being a guest dancer for Flight. Along with the sensitivity and elegance of his work, I loved the athleticism and physicality inherent in it was well. Even in the creation process Take seemed to have such a sense of the timing of stillness versus constant energy. I wrote a personal account of my thoughts during performance of Flight on my blog ( if your interested!