Friday, January 26, 2018

Lumberyard: Japan's Kei Takei returns with "LIGHT"

Kei Takei solo in LIGHT, Part 8
(photos: Kate Enman)

I remember Japanese choreographer Kei Takei from back in the 1970s when her company made its home in New York, and I used to think of her as "that woman who dances in diapers." Her vision seemed to arise from an earthly environment--she called her troupe Kei Takei's Moving Earth--but also from the humility and scrappiness inspired by watching and feeling and loving the elements of Earth. And, she's no different now at age whatever--which I hear she does not reveal--after many years of being off the New York scene.

Kei Takei's Moving Earth Orient Sphere has opened a season at New York Live Arts, launching this year's Lumberyard in the City Winter Festival. (BTW, while we debate PS 122's re-branding, surely it's time for Lumberyard to retire this festival's clumsy name.)  I was excited to reacquaint myself with Takei's work, which I recalled from the early days of my dance writing career. It felt amazing to revisit her solo from LIGHT, PART 8 (1974) in which this small, scampering character continuously ties fresh white garments to her body, growing into a bulbous, immobile mess that must be carried away by stagehands. The direct, naked lighting on all that white fabric--layered on so thickly--made my eyes sting. Honestly, I don't remember what I made of this absurd, caustic solo back in the day, but last night I wanted to burst out laughing. The opening night audience gazed at it quietly and responded to it, and the ensemble work LIGHT, Part 44 (Bamboo Forest), with reserve and polite applause.

Takei is as funny as a clown...with purpose. Like a clown, she puts her whole body into it. This physical investment you can't help but feel--or, at least, I can't--and that's what made me want to laugh. At the same time, I realize that here she is, an artist of movement, tying herself up and weighing herself down with things she does not need--whether they are material objects or useless ideas or restrictions. Fill in the blank, as I'm sure she'd want us to do. We've all been there. We could be there today, as could our world.

Takei, center, and members of her troupe
in LIGHT, Part 44
(photo: Kate Enman)

LIGHT, Part 44 (Bamboo Forest), a work from 2016 making its US premiere, opened the evening, danced here by Takei and eleven others. About this work, Takei has written:
To me, a bamboo forest is a mystical place. In it something is born, grows, and then vanishes. I am not trying to express anything in particular in "BAMBOO FOREST." It is simply that bamboo, whether it is giant or small, enchants and entices me. I follow it into its world.
And so she does, and so do we, something that we come to understand as the work concludes after a full hour of watching dancers mass, split apart, reorganize themselves into separate organic segments each with its focus, drive and rhythm, turning the single stage space into a tapestry of distinct and changeable dimensions, a living, breathing, regenerating forest. The work--with a minimalist set by Renta Kochi and rich music by Seiichiro Sou--deals with nature's cycles in which we, as mortal beings, partake.

Takei has been bringing to the stage her magnum opus LIGHT--in its numerous autonomous sections, now up to 45--since the late 1960s. She's an impressive elder and shows no sign of any interest, or need, to slow down or break focus.

Kei Takei's Moving Earth Orient Sphere continues tonight and Saturday night with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets for this and other Lumberyard in the City Winter Festival shows at New York Live Arts through February 10, click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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