Kei Takei restores one's faith in the primordial strength of dance art, as she demonstrated once again in her performance last night at the Marvin Theater with two members of her New York-based Moving Earth Chamber Ensemble. The event was a third offering in the Smithsonian's new American Dance Experience series, capping a brief Takei residency that has also included classes and workshops at George Washington University.
It has become evident over the past half-decade that Takei is one of the most significant makers of dance in today's world. Her work is startingly original, at once simple and complex, and as compelling as the law of gravity -- indeed, in some ways her choreography seems not so much invented as discovered, as if it were immanent in the minds and bodies of herself and her fellow artists.
The Marvin program consisted of four parts of Takei's ongoing epic "Light," including a segment from the most recent (1979) "Part 14," sub-titled "Pine Cone Field." Her movement sources are many -- the animal kingdom, dance roots from her native Japan, everyday human action and reaction. But the idiom she has fashioned from all this is unique. Its impact is immediate and visceral, yet so resonant in so many directions that one speaks without embarrassment about "profundity" and "universality" in regard to "Light," attributes suggested as well by the loose, white peasant-like garb that is the uniform for its performers.
Each part of "Light" has its own imagery, rhythm and metaphor, but they all have some things in common -- a feeling of inexorability, like tides or seasons; a transmutation of the time sense, so that short passages can seem to encompass eons; and an almost liturgical aura. The performers seem less dancers than lamas, anchorites, or celebrants of some eternal mystery.
No capsule description can convey the spell these dances cast. "Part 5," accompanied by the incessant throb of Marcus Parsons III's drum score, is a Sysyphian cycle in which Takei, Maldwyn Pate and Richmond Johnstone struggle painfully again and again to rise from the floor, only to sag and collapse in heaps. The imagery, including a recurrent Pieta grouping, also alludes to comradeship and compassion. In a solo from "Part 8," Takei vibrates and hisses like an adder, attacking a pile of cloth with talon fingers, bedecking herself in grotesquely misshapen rags that eventually enshroud and entrap her entirely. It's a dance our acquisitive society knows much about. In "Part 10," Takei gropes blindly for succor as Pate and Johnstone pelt her feet with pebbles, making an incredible sound across the wood floor like the crack of breaking surf. The excerpt from "Part 14" was a real surprise in its touches of color and comedy, as well as its "ho! ho!" syllable duet expressing not only fear, awe, curiosity and doubt, but also affection and desire. "Light" is a continuing revelation.