The TAKE Dance Company’s Winter Intensive was definitely a step (or two) outside my comfort zone. But it was a surprisingly fun break from the binding of ballet.
I first saw the company in an open rehearsal last spring, and then at their season at the Miller Theater at Columbia (my review here). Both times I was drawn by the naturalness of director Take Ueyama‘s choreography and the freedom with which his dancers moved. Merely watching was not enough. It’s the kind of dancing that makes you sway in your seat, and when the opportunity to learn with the troupe came up I had to take part.
Until recently I’ve been so strictly ballet trained it’s ridiculous. The luck of the gig at Radio City shoved me into a whole new realm of dance that I’d been unconsciously avoiding by focusing only on the barre. What I learned in those three months of jazz hands, sharpness, and stage time was so valuable, and the process of learning things so foreign to my body gave me a welcome and exciting challenge.
That process is also partly what made me sign up for Take’s intensive. Ballet will always be a constant struggle for me, but it’s the same struggle day in and day out. Learning an entirely new movement language (and way to carry your weight, and way to move in general) is different, and very exciting to me.
On the first day I found myself surrounded by very comfortable, very good modern dancers from places like NYU, Vassar, and The New School. The only modern classes I’ve ever taken have been at summer programs or once a week at ballet school, always surrounded by fellow bunheads equally as uncomfortable as I. Not here.
Baryshnikov Arts Center has some beautiful studios with huge windows looking out to the Hudson River. The best part: no mirrors! Well, at least not in the room we spent most of the program in. It’s so freeing not to have to stare at yourself, haha. But on day one, since we weren’t sure where the “front” would be without a mirror, I sat myself near the back wall by the barre to stretch before class. Little did I know that would be where the accompanist (the fabulous drummer Marlin, who I’ve seen around the city before) and Take would be to teach. So, I ended up right in the front for my first real true modern warm up, with no mirror to see what everyone else is doing. Eek! Talk about self-concious.
Luckily, as the class went on things got better, and as the week went on I learned where to stand and the repetition of the exercises each morning. Those early frazzles didn’t last long, thank goodness haha. There was so much to learn and, though I’m sure I still looked like a trina trying too hard, I got a lot just from watching the other people in class. Some of his company members were there and between them and a few other really great movers I sensed the style better.
Coming most recently from the tight choreography of Radio City, the loose, almost messy quality of Take’s movements made me feel so out of control. You know when you're a kid and you just spin around and around with arms flailing until you're so dizzy you crash? And then your hands tingle and your head feels airy? That's how some of the combinations felt.
At Radio City, every little inch down to the tip of your fingernail (literally) had a specific place to be and count to be on and spot on the stage. In these modern classes, everything is so natural and “easy” and…free. I keep coming back to that word. There are all kinds of curves and transfers of weight that, once you get it, feel so right and obvious and improvisational. The trick is to let go and find a way to “get it,” which I had trouble with I think. Also the lack of counts in the music.
Once we got past the morning class each day we went into a repertory class where the fabulous assistant director Jill Echo taught us sections of Take’s work, “Linked.” This is the piece I saw them perform and was so inspired by, but it’s so much harder to dance than it looks!
On the first day, Jill watched class and later told us she was “trying to figure out our personalities with never having met us.” Each part in “Linked” was choreographed on a specific dancer’s personality, and she tried to match each of us with the part that would be most natural for us. She nailed me, and I’m glad. I was given her slower solo (which was a duet for our performance purposes) that was more adagio and calmer than the whiplash, wild choreography of most of the piece. For day one, it was a relief!
Many of the company dancers were in the studio teaching their own roles to the various people taking them on, so it was a great coaching atmosphere. Jill gave us tips on her gesture-heavy section. Taking on someone else’s original role like that in this kind of choreography is tough for many reasons – in one way you want to keep the authenticity of the choreography and the role, but you also want to make it your own and give it your unique flavor. It’s not the same as taking on traditional ballet roles that have been danced by the same kind of perfect body type for generations. It’s a bit like wearing someone else’s shoes until you find the comfortable fit for yourself.
Luckily as the week went on everything felt more natural. Another section I was in involved a lot of floor stuff, which was painful! Haha. My quads were killing and my knees bruised, but it was worth it. That side of his choreography is like being shot out of a canon, and it’s fun. We finished up the piece by Thursday and spent the final two days running and cleaning it group by group. It was so satisfying to see everything fall into place.
There were 6 casts of the same piece so that all 35 (!) participants got stage time at our final showing on Saturday. There were a whole lot more people than I had been expecting, but everyone was very accommodating. Casting was beyond fair and everyone was there to really work. Everyone with the company who helped out was so enthusiastic about teaching. It was such a positive, constructive, fun atmosphere to work in. Between this and Radio City I’ve decided that ballet is the least friendly of the dance forms, even though most of my closest friends are from the ballet world and I myself am sometimes a culprit of the stereotypes.
I don’t really mean to be bashing ballet. Really. It’s just there’s so much more…