"Light," Kei Takei's epic dance cycle on the human condition, began with "Part 1" in 1969 and this year attained "Part 15" with no diminishing of its astonishing creative potency. As "Light" has grown, so has dance itself, which now seems a deeper, more inclusive, more far-reaching art form than before Takei happened along.
The growth extends also to those of us who have been lucky enough to watch the work evolve, and to those nowadays who see its completed sections and are touched by it. This is because "Light" is less a dance in any conventional sense than it is an expedition, Takei's ongoing pilgrimage towards spiritual illumination which she continues to share with us. Just to characterize it this way is enough to indicate how removed it is from almost any other contemporary choreography.
Takei, together with associates Maldwyn Pate and Richmond Johnstone of her Moving Earth Chamber Ensemble, presented four excerpts from "Light" in the grand ballroom of the University of Maryland's student union last night. The program was a repetition of the one given at the Marvin Theater last March for the Smithsonian's American Dance Experience series. More than most dance works, however, "Light" varies in shading and tone from performance to performance by its very nature. The cavernous ballroom, moreover, lent quite a different aspect to the opus than the intimate Marvin. Hence, though the program and the performers were the same, the experience was new and no less revelatory.
Of the four excerpts shown, the most recent was the segment from "Part 14 (Pine Cone Field)," created in 1979, in which the whole epic seems to take a new turning. Over most of the preceding parts there hangs a sense of struggle and tragic destiny. This excerpt from "Pine Cone Field," however -- though not without its darker chords -- sounds an almost playful, comic and lusty note. It begins as Johnstone unfolds a piece of cloth, layer by layer in a sort of reverse origami, into an enormous square -- the pine cone field. The stage blackens, and when the light returns, there is a bracing shock of color -- the bright red of Takei's peasant garb, breaking the white-and-black tonality of the rest of "Light" for the first time.
It's not only color that gets introduced, but language. Side by side with Takei is Pate, the two of them with baskets of cones strapped to their backs, and as they begin to trudge stockily across the field they grunt something between a "ho" and a "haw" in rhythym with their steps. As they change intonation and phrasing, the monosyllable becomes a whole lexicon and expressions, indicating wonderment, fear, surprise; a complete gamut of feeling. The two also explore each other -- they nuzzle, bump, feel and kiss, like children discovering the existence of fellow beings. Eventually, they also plant, harvest and eat, march further and grow weary and stop, crouching together. at this point Johnstone, who's been sitting quietly at a corner of the field, lifts the cloth, tosses it over the couple's heads, and ties them into a bundle, staring musingly at it as he retreats into the fading light. Perhaps, after all, it was all his own imagining, a dream of youth and learning and love.
It made a wonderful contrast to the evening's other excerpts: the recurrently disintegrating trio of "Part 5"; the fiercely acquisitive solo (for Takei) from "Part 8"; and the perilous passage by the "blind" Takei through flying rock which is "Part 10." Through all of them ran a single moral, though -- where there's "Light," there's hope.