(photo by Angele, from Takehiro Ueyama’s Love Stories, taken from A Year With TAKE Dance website)
So, last weekend I, along with several other bloggers, was invited to see the film, A Year With TAKE Dance, by Damian Eckstein, about the small company TAKE Dance, which premiered as part of the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival at the Village East Cinemas in the East Village. I’ve seen TAKE Dance a couple of times, and have written about them here. Artistic director and choreographer, Takehiro Ueyama, originally from Toyko, danced with Paul Taylor for a while, before starting his own company in 2004. What I’ve seen of his work so far I’ve really enjoyed –it’s mesmerizing, with very sharply drawn, evocative images, much of them stunning, most of the movement slow and really drawn out. His dances remind me a bit of Shen Wei’s best work. But you have to have a lot of patience! There isn’t much fast-paced dancing. Sitting through one of his dances is kind of like the equivalent of watching a very experimental film — mainly for very serious lovers of that art form.
So, I was kind of surprised to learn that a film had been made of his small, rather experimental company. I learned at the premiere, when the director, Damian Eckstein, spoke a bit beforehand, that he’d worked with the company many times, mainly composing music for them. So, there you have it.
Anyway, several of my fellow bloggers have already written about it: Philip, Taylor, and Ariel. At first I found myself disliking it, but as it went on, I liked it more and more and I left the theater thinking it a success. The biggest problem is that most of Ueyama’s dances are the kind that really don’t show up so well on film. We’ve had umpteenth discussions about dance on film and TV, which kind of dance does best (ie: flashy Latin ballroom, flashy hip hop), etc., on Apollinaire Scherr’s blog, and most of Ueyama’s choreography — particularly those dances shown first on the film — One, Looking For Water — fits in the not so great on a 2-dimensional screen category. The music is so light as to almost be nonexistant, the movement is slow slow slow — almost like Butoh, except, well, faster than Butoh, but you know what I mean. Every movement is kind of drawn out to its maximum potential, and you really need to see it in person to see all of its miraculous dimensions. The two-dimensionality of film is just so reductive, you lose so much, and then since it’s so flat, you begin to get bored as a watcher.
Fortunately, there’s so much more than just filmed versions of the dances. Once Eckstein really begins to interview the dancers, we start to get a sense of their personalities, and the company comes to life. But it seems like he went chronologically — like his earliest filmed segments are those which appear earliest in the film — when the dancers are not used to having a camera pointed at them and are reserved. I worry that the places where they lighten up and begin to have fun come a little too late.
In viewing the film, I tried hard to put myself in the position of someone who knew nothing about this company, who knew nothing about dance; since film tends to reach much wider audiences than does dance, there likely will be many who see it who aren’t dance people. And I wonder how Waiting for Guffman-esque it may appear to them up front. After we’ve seen all of this extremely slow-moving, extremely subtle movement, then we see the dancers looking straight at the camera talking about their work with such serious, deadpan expressions on their faces. Like all of this slow movement is hyper challenging. It is, as a matter of fact, but I wonder if I was not a dance person and might not be able to see that on screen if I’d think it was a Christopher Guest-esque satire. Most of the audience was filled with TAKE fans and friends so what a general audience might think was impossible to tell from the opening-night crowd.
But about halfway through, the dancers start to feel more free, laughing, making fun of Ueyama’s hilarious expressions of which he is often unaware, his unique “Japanenglish”, his personality, his cryptic instructions that you’d have to have worked with him for some time to understand, the way one dancer completely baffles everyone by shaving his formerly shaggy head the night before a big performance (the before and after pics of this one — if I was his partner, don’t know if I’d recognize him up there onstage!) — basically everyone’s naturally sweet personality, their idiosyncracies, come out and it becomes a company of real people that everyone, regardless of dance background, can relate to.
Jill Echo, a former Paul Taylor dancer who now works with TAKE as a dancer as well as rehearsal director, talks about getting fired from Paul Taylor, and how embarrasing that was since her dismissal was made rather public in Dancemaker, an award-winning, popular documentary about Paul Taylor. You feel horrible for her. (I remember seeing the documentary and feeling sorry for the dancer who was fired — because the other dancers kind of went on and on and on about it — how awful it would be to be thirty and unemployed, what’s she going to do, etc. etc. — but I didn’t remember the dancer’s name and never would have known it was Echo if she didn’t say so here.) She says Ueyama told her not to worry, she was beautiful, she wasn’t going to leave dance, she was going to work with him now. We also see James Samson (current Paul Taylor dancer, whom SLSG has crushed on here) and former, retired PT dancer Andy LeBeau (and Samson’s boyfriend) speak about being able to dance together again with TAKE. You end up really liking Ueyama for giving people these kinds of chances.
And then at the end, Eckstein shows clips from Ueyama’s dances that are more suited to film – his fast-paced, high-energy Linked, and Love Stories, in picture above (which was inspired by a Magritte painting).
So the film went out on a good note and overall, I found it very entertaining and enjoyable. I do wonder what others thought, particularly non-dance people. If anyone happens to find my blog through an internet search, please do comment! Find out more about the company here, and view a trailer of the film here.