If it hadn’t been for a serious shoulder injury, Takehiro Ueyama’s career might have unfolded on the baseball diamond rather than the modern-dance stage. At 17, he was dreaming of a professional career in his native Japan, and various universities were offering sports scholarships. The untimely injury abruptly terminated that dream, but with seemingly effortless grace—and after a hiatus of several years that included a bartending stint—he landed on his feet in a completely new way.
Ueyama found his way first to The Juilliard School, and then to the Paul Taylor Dance Company, where he performed from 1995 to 2003. His ebullience, verve and robust attack were notable during a period when Taylor was creating such masterworks as Piazzolla Caldera, Black Tuesday and Promethean Fire.
Coming to dance late, he nonetheless found it a logical transition from his athletic endeavors, and moved ahead quickly. “I always wanted to do something physical. I started practicing the Moonwalk and break dancing back then. Somehow I discovered dance, and Juilliard trained me well. I came there when I was already 24,” he recalled in a recent interview. “I’d had a little bit of formal training. My first dance teacher went to Juilliard, then started his own studio in Tokyo.”
Ueyama’s segue into choreography proved to be unplanned and spontaneous as his move into a dance career. “During my last year with the Taylor Company, we were in Rome on tour. I went to hear an orchestra performing Bach—the oboe and violin concerto. That somehow inspired me. I decided to choreograph with that music. I asked some of the Taylor dancers to help me out. We stayed in the studio after rehearsals, and that was my first piece. I showed it to Paul one day and he was happy about it. He gave me good advice: that you should make a statement in the first minute, that you have to set the tone. That encouraged me to keep going. Before that, I had never thought about choreographing.”
He has kept going ever since, and the performances of TAKE Dance Company this week at Dance Theater Workshop mark his troupe’s fifth New York season. The program includes two premieres and two well-received works from last year’s performances. His invigorating group of dancers includes two current members of Taylor’s company, Amy Young and Francisco Graciano, and former member Jill Echo. Ueyama himself performs in two of the works.
A run-through of his new Shabon, set to one section of a 2005 Steve Reich score, proves to be athletic and vigorous, marked by playful as well as reflective encounters. Ueyama initially created it as a work for 20 dancers, commissioned by Vassar College’s dance department, and has re-sized it for a cast of seven. The title is Japanese for “bubble,” and plans called for a bubble machine to be used during the dance. Footsteps in the Snow, a world premiere, is set to an Arvo Part score. “It is about memory, of all of us. Everybody feels they want to leave something behind, even after your body’s disappeared. It’s kind of a requiem to all of us,” the choreographer explained.
Love Stories, a three-part duet performed by Nana Tsuda and Kile Hotchkiss, covers a range of emotional territory in the course of its three sections, set to contrasting musical selections which all have some connection to films. The opening section is to an instrumental work by Glen Hansard, composer for the acclaimed indie film Once. The middle section is accompanied by an excerpt from the score for Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, and was inspired by a relationship depicted in that film. The third uses music from Yann Tiersen’s score for Amelie—despite the fact that Ueyama had not seen the film when he selected the music. His inspiration for this closing duet was a Magritte painting, The Lover. The fourth work on the program, Linked, set to a Pat Metheny score, is a joyful, uplifting dance for the full company.
Reflecting on his eight years with Taylor, Ueyama observed, “Spending time in the studio with Paul, watching his creative process, I didn’t realize then how much information I got from him.” At the same time, he acknowledged, “Sometimes, when you dance with a big company, well-known choreographer, you have to shut down your own voice.” Now he’s enjoying the opportunity to discover and explore that voice. “My dances are usually inspired by my life, what I witness, what I experience, what I dream about—a mixture of all those.”
> TAKE Dance Company
July 30 through Aug. 2, Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W. 19th St. (betw. 7th & 8th Aves.), 212-924-0077; times vary, $15/$25.