You can imagine Mirabal’s drum and rattles and calls—now getting louder and faster, now simmering into silence—summoning spirits to a ceremony. Koma enters with handfuls of feathers, burdened in both soul and body. When, trudging forward, he suddenly bends the elbow of his outstretched arm and strikes it against his side, the gesture has the force of a knife meant to wound.

We don’t ascribe roles to these two or wonder what they are doing. When Koma and Eiko press into confrontations with each other’s bodies in Raven, you see—as you do in others of their dances—two people bound together for better or for worse. Their most intimate move consists of bending their knees and leaning together until they can push their heads into the crook of each other’s shoulder. At the end, when they do this, Koma sinks lower, until his face is pressed to Eiko’s thigh; she pushes his head down further and pulls his hips up until he’s squashed against her in an inverted V. Then she pushes down on him, fast and hard, and he collapses. Silence. Is he dead? Eiko, on the floor again, rolls and arches toward him. He stirs. The end.

Some years ago, when I was interviewing Eiko and Koma, I mentioned that several of their most recent dances seemed to be about death. If I’m remembering correctly, Eiko laughed and said that maybe all their dances were. But they are also about living and endeavoring to live, even when, in one of their earliest works (inspired perhaps by Hiroshima), they wore costumes that made them look as if their skin were peeling off and that they were held together by bandaging.

Eiko and Koma ground themselves.
Anna Lee Campbell
Eiko and Koma ground themselves.
TAKE Dance in Takehiro Ueyama¹s "Flight"
Yi-Chun Wu
TAKE Dance in Takehiro Ueyama¹s "Flight"

Details

Eiko & Koma
Danspace Project at Saint Markís Church>
May 27 through 29

TAKE Dance
Dance Theater Workshop
May 19 through 22

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The video of the making of River(the site-specific version) shows footage of the rehearsals and first performances in the summer of 1995—upstate in the Schoharie Creek and then in the Delaware River). The performances began at dusk, and you see Koma maneuvering Eiko downstream and into view; she’s tangled in—one with—branches of driftwood, a white face in the black, unknowable water. But earlier in the documentary, when a sunlit rehearsal ends, the camera shows Koma beckoning toward the shore, and a second later, the couple’s two little sons race from their places on the bank and plunge gleefully into the river. In Eiko and Koma’s works, as in life, birth and regeneration hold hands with death.

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At the beginning of Takehiro Ueyama’s new Flight, the last piece on Program B of his company’s Joyce season, the choreographer is standing with his back to us, and he maintains that focus as he begins to move. He’s a fascinating performer—weighted, but silky—and I wonder why his choreography for the other excellent members of TAKE Dance doesn’t explore the dynamic subtleties that are part of his own sensibility.

Ueyama was a member of Paul Taylor’s company for eight years, and, while his movement vocabulary is nothing like Taylor’s, he, like Taylor, favors big, lush, muscular movements and orderly patterns that involve quite a bit of unison. His Japanese heritage mingles with his training and professional experience in the West, producing dances that are both restrained and physically expansive. Everything is attractive; nothing rocks the boat.

He has mentioned in interviews and programs that nature inspires him, but it’s obviously not nature red in tooth and claw; his choreography objectifies and stylizes natural phenomena and human behavior. Flight, the most complex work of his that I’ve seen, applies a view of the avian world to people. They wheel and fan their arms. In unison, they make pecking motions or join their two outstretched hands to suggest beaks. They rush around—circling, clustering, speeding away. Jason Jeunnette’s lighting and Damian Eckstein’s sound score enhance the atmosphere, although Cheryl McCarron’s costumes are puzzling (baggy long-johns mottled in brown and rust).

The shifting patterns are rendered denser by the addition of six dancers to the 10 company members. But Ueyama has delved into bird life only so far. He’s seemingly uninterested in individual forays or the intermittent flickers of notion you see travel through a flock or a community. He, appearing only at the beginning and end of the dance, remains the observer. Has he learned anything? Has anything changed for him?

When I first saw Ueyama’s choreography a year ago, I was bothered by his relationship to some of the scores he uses. Deeply musical choreographers make you feel the innate rightness of their movement choices—that this or that sequence flows felicitously with (or deliberately dissents from) the composer’s phrases. In a piece like Ueyama’s Sakura Sakura (2005), which uses both a sweet Japanese song (“sakura” refers to cherry blossoms) and the Adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23, the choreographer acknowledges the meter of the music and its new beginnings and windings down, but he seems unaware of what’s happening within that framework.

Sakura Sakurais a work for seven women. Sharon Park and Nana Tsuda are featured, but each is highlighted in some way, sometimes while her friends sleep on the floor. Kristen Arnold and Gina Ianni dance companionably side by side and end with a hug. Jill Echo, Marika Kurihara, and Amy Young also have moments in which they step briefly out of the pattern and show their soft, springy power and flashing limbs.

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