There is a sense in which light can be said to be the source of all life. For dancer-choreographer Kei Takei (pronounced "Kay Takay"), light is, almost literally, her life - in the form of a magnum opus that consumes most of her waking and sleeping hours.
"Light," in fact, is an epic dance work that has engaged Takei's creative energies over the past eight years and is still growing. Part I was introduced at New York's Dance Theatre Workshop in 1969. Part III, to be performed by Takei, her associate Maldwyn Pate, and 13 locally recruited dancers at the Dance Project at 24-45 18th St. NW, rear, tonight and Sunday evening, was created in 1970. The most recent Part XIII has its premiere in Fort Worth last year.
Though "Light" tells on connected story, no story at all in fact, and though the parts are self-contained wholes in themselves, it is all of a piece in imagery and style. The content is "abstract," but vividly suggestive - we see the dancers, all adorned in simple, loose-fitting white garments - trudging in hordes, struggling with each other or with obstacles real and imagined, crawling, groping, falling, twisting, contending with invisible fates. In Part VII, for instance, a central figure (Takei) pounds a stick on the floor and barks commands that flog the group into repetitive tasks and drills. They seem to be fellow-wayfarers on some endless, passionate but wearying quest.
In its ritual aspects - the repetitions, the tribal patternings, the earthiness of its imagery - "Light" seems to transcend the self-indulgence that has trivialized so much "experimental" dance of recent years. Though Takei calls it a "spiritual diary" from time to time, "Light" makes statements, however, untranslatable, about the timeless universals of life experience.
Who is Takei? A short, chunky young woman with the face of an imp or a saint, born in Japan, who came to this country in 1967 and formed her own, innovative dance troupe, Moving Earth, two years later.
In the inner circles of dance there is common agreement that Takei is one of the most important artists to emerge from the avant-garde scene since Merce Cunningham - and perhaps the most startling individual.
In its intensity, its formal originality and its cumulative viseceral impact, "Light" is one of the seminal choreographic productions of the past decade. In terms of abstractly expressive movements. Takei has been [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the same sort of territory that has claimed Robert Wilson's attention in the theater, and Meredith Monk's in that no-man's land between choreography and drama.
Kei's involvement in dance started in her Tokyo childhood. "When I was little, 6 or 7, I took dance classes at a temple near our home. My father was very interested in Japanese classical dancing, the very formal, patrician kind one sees in the Kabuki theater. Later I took ballet lessons, which I found extremely difficult, and then I started working in children's theater. Finally I met a great teacher, Kenzi Hinochi, whom I felt I could really trust, and from him I learned very much."
In the late '60s, American modern dancers like Paul Taylor and Mercer Cunningham made tours of Japan, and Takei got her first exposure to a new esthetic world. When Anna Sololow arrived in 1967, she spied Takei in one of her classes and recommended her for a Fulbright scholarship to the States. That September, Takei was enrolled at Juilliard.
"I had such difficulty with the language," she says, "that I failed nearly every course." But her choreographic impulse survived. She had already begun making dances in Japan, mostly modeled on the kinds of dance she had thus far been taught. Forralling sympathetic fellow dancers, she put on several concerts of this same sort in New York, including, in 1968 at International House, a retrospective of all her early work - "I felt I had to get it out of my system," she says.
At that last concert, Maurice Edwards, the director of the Cubiculo Theater was present and got sufficiently intrigued by Takei's work to invite her to do a program for him. It was a turning point.
"I knew I had to throw away everything I had done up to that point and start all over," she says. "I realized that I wasn't doing what I wanted to do, but what was expected of me - I was being polite, in the Japanese traditional way, I wouldn't contradict my teachers. And I always had to struggle over making a 'dance.' When it came to me that what I was after wasn't a 'dance' but a creation, I suddenly felt freed, and that's when I began to work on 'Light.'"
For Takei, "Light" is in no way directly autobiographical. "I have not taken anything of my own personal experience directly into it, but yet, in a way, everything I have live through comes through. Sometimes, even, there are particular memories involved - children's games, for example, that I've used."
Her creative method varies with her expressive needs. "Sometimes I have a feeling or atmosphere I want to project, and I need to experiment with the dancers to find what kind of movement will convey that atmosphere. Sometimes I work it out on my own body. And often I just come upon movement from watching life around me - I'm home, cooking in the kitchen, and I notice my own hand move in a beautiful way. I watch for movement everywhere, in the street, in the river, in the sky."