TAKE DANCE | Sarah Carlson (Dec. 2015)

Friday, December 11, 2015

By Sarah Carlson

Since before SteelStacks was even conceived as a venue, Robin Staff, the Executive Artistic Director of DanceNow has been bringing exceptional modern dancers from NYC to the Lehigh Valley. These days, Staff programs artists throughout the year in the Creative Commons and on the TD Town Square stage at Musikfest.  And once a year, each December, Staff presents a flagship performance overlooking the stacks themselves in the splendid Musikfest Café.  In years past, the program has been swept up in overt holiday cheer. This year, choreographer Takehiro Ueyama and his troupe Take Dance presented two works with a more subtle connection to the season but equally spirit-filled.

The program began with Linked, a work created in 2008 but so alive and well today that it nearly leapt off the stage in its fervor. The piece starts with the flash of revolving disco lights; a girl and a guy groove to a pulsing score filled with heavy base and synthesized guitar. Soon the couple is replaced with an interplay of bodies exuding a youthful, lithe energy. Turns move into leaps and effortless extension of limbs. Set to a series of vivacious compositions by Pat Metheny, the movement is luscious, open and effervescent.

Seemlessly, Takehiro shifts into a larger group section incorporating a small herd of students from the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts. Filling the stage, the group moves all together in slow unison that contrasts the surging breath of the music. Linear sidewinding and moments of isolation communicate a quirky, animal-like intensity.

As the piece continues, the pace of the movement accelerates. Outer gestural movement sequentially ‘links’ through the dancers’ core into a dizzingy flow of sinuous dexterity. The sheer speed of the movement vibrates off the dancers and they shimmy their feet in barely contained glee. The piece climaxes with a jumble of bodies dancing full throttle with an inexorable surge of power that leaves the audience awestruck.

If Linked is joy incarnate, Footsteps in the Snow embodies a more sober sentiment. The stage floor, which has been carpeted in confetti snow, literally glows while an opening duet gestures in contemplative coolness. Wearing black pants and white shirts, the dancers appear formal which elevates the seeming informality of their snow play. Each time a hand or a foot touches the snow, it emerges coated and we are left to witness the beauty of the flakes as they waft delicately back to earth. The duet descends into an immersive, full body roll through the confetti as a larger group of dancers enter.

There is a haunting tenderness with which the dancers move and interact; slow, sensing, internally focused. Little quivers of energy break up this reverie; a shaking foot, a vibrating head. These moments, though fleeting, hint at an instinctual shiver response to cold but also, perhaps, to uncomfortable truths, like our very mortality. In the program, Takehiro offers a quote as a filter for this piece: “While not immortal, we hope to leave our imprint behind”. Accompanied by Arvo Part’s eloquent melodies, Footsteps is transfixing and communicates an almost spiritual sense of yearning. As the pacing of the movement picks up, snow is thrown by the fistful. The dancers yank themselves up by their own collars suggesting an internal struggle to continue. The urgency of the dancers suggests a desperation as they slip and slide in a fury to leave their mark.

Takehiro’s program captures a complexity of experience that is refreshing. In a season that is sometimes relentlessly cheery, Footsteps in the Snow offered a cool homage to the angst the holidays can hold for many.