Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Take 2: Take Dance

Last weekend was full of TAKE Dance Company.

On Thursday I joined fellow bloggers, patrons, and fans of Takehiro Ueyama’s company for an open rehearsal at the Ailey studios. The fabulous Jill Echo (Take’s assistant director) spoke about how often process is more interesting than product in dance. Maybe it’s because I’m a dancer myself, but I totally agree. If given the opportunity to see both rehearsal and performance I find myself preferring the more raw version in process.

That evening we saw sections of two new pieces to premiere at the company’s DTW season in July. “Footsteps in the Snow” is a visually stunning piece I saw parts of at The New School’s spring performance last year, where he choreographed the initial segments on students. "Snow" covers the stage as the dancers move through it, throw, and sprinkle it. Thursday a new section was shown. The dancers improvised instead of making a mess of the studio with "snow." It seems like it will complete the work well, and I'm looking forward to seeing it finished in the summer.

After that came a section of a brand new piece titled "Shabon," which means "bubbles" in Japanese. Take and the dancers spent quite some time working through this one before running it for the audience. There were two bubble machines that had to be maneuvered throughout the space, having their own choreography for spitting out bubbles into the action. The piece itself is a playful, athletic take on childhood conventions (At one point the men cradle the women in their arms as if on a swing set. Later Amy Young stands in the corner and blows bubbles herself). But again it was the preparation and the working through tough spots - like when Mariko Kurihara walks atop the shoulders of the others - that enhance the appreciation for the final product.

I had hoped a similar glimpse into behind the scenes would come from the premiere of Damien Eckstein's documentary film "A Year With Take Dance" on Sunday night at Village East Cinemas (part of the NY International Independent Film & Video Festival). But what could have been an opportunity to delve into the nitty gritty of company life to expose Take's true art coming together behind the footlights, the film was more of a home video, a multimedia yearbook of sorts that entertained but rarely enlightened.

From the first glance it appeared the film was made in iMovie with maybe a handheld digital camera. It had a very homemade feel, which was charming at points and something like nails on a chalkboard at others (performance footage was jarred and unfocused, interviews had noisy party clatter in the background).

Let me preface this by saying that I have a deep respect for Take's work and his company, especially after working with them at the intensive in January. What I didn't like about the documentary was not the subject but the way it was approached.

First of all, the only piece of Take's work shown, described, and discussed until about an hour of the way in was the 2006 piece "One." We learned a part of this at the intensive, and many audience members Sunday night could have stood up and performed along with the film. It's a beautiful work, but one of many Take has created. Seeing the same slow image of his dances looping and pointing to the sky, swaying and crawling, got tired after a while. It wasn't until towards the end of the film we got a chance to see parts of my favorite high-energy piece "Linked" and the passionate pas de deux "Love Songs." Saving the best for last is good, but a little variety in the middle might have been nice.

The film flowed between clips of performance, in-studio rehearsals (complete with a cameo by little old me and Philip watching this rehearsal), post-show parties, conversations with company members and supporters, and candid moments.

The interview segments were amusing, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Yes, the impersonations of Take's hair tossing and indistinguishable accent rightfully garnered laughs (and more so if you've been in the studio with him firsthand!). But besides that there were moments when the dancers spoke of what an honor it was to work with Take. Yet their faces were as straight as a pin and their seriousness was only enhanced by the uncomfortably close-up shot. I couldn't help but giggle at what came off as sarcasm, even though I'm aware of their actual sincerity. If I read it as humorous, what did unfamiliar audiences think?

The documentarian Damien Eckstein has worked closely with the company before the film, notably as the composer for the lovely piece "Looking for Water" (my review of it here). He makes a few (cheesy for my taste) appearances throughout the movie but is very much part of the Take family. Besides the interviews, all of the personal footage is raw and real, a feat for a group fit for the stage. Everyone on screen appears natural and unaware of the camera. So much of today's other filmed dance(rs) are fake. Not so here.

There were a few narrative briefs that did take advantage of the ability to go behind the scenes with the camera. Then-apprentice (now company member) Gina Ianni got injured just before a performance, and we followed her from getting ice immediately to a physical therapy appointment the next day. Jill Echo spoke openly about being fired from the Paul Taylor Dance Company on film in the movie "Dancemaker" (I never knew that story!). Inclement weather threatened an important performance at Central Park's Summerstage to be nearly cancelled the day of the show.

These are the realities that come with dance company life that might have been more interesting to explore further - to show audiences more than just performance captures of something they could see better live. Still, the documentary entertained. Like with all art, one can either take it for what it is or pit it against what it could have been. With respect for the dance company, I had hoped for more.

Philip writes about the open rehearsal here and the film here. Ariel writes about it here, and Tonya here.. Good to see them and many other long-lost dance friends in the audience that night!

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