By Lisa Shrewsberry
For most, words are the main vehicle of conveyance for meaning — we say what we say, when we need to be heard. For dancers, there’s a deeper destination — one where words are not allowed.
Or, as legendary choreographer Martha Graham put it, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”
Call Eddie Taketa, with the New York-based Doug Varone Dancers, fluent in soulspeak. He has danced for much-lauded choreographer and director Varone since 1994, as part of a company whose collective style is imbued by humanity.
Taketa recently took on nearly two weeks of face-to-face instruction in Beckley with West Virginia Dance Company, founder Toneta Akers-Toler alongside, coaching the six dancers through excerpted portions of a Varone body of work to present regionally. West Virginia Dance Company will debut its new piece first in Wyoming County, Oct. 20 at Wyoming East High School at 3 p.m. as part of a National Coal Heritage Area performance.
The group will also dance the work, subtitled by Taketa as “Five Chapters From a Broken Novel” on the Woodrow Wilson High School Auditorium stage, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
A third performance is planned for the Cabell County community at Huntington High School Nov. 17 at 2 p.m.
Born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, visiting choreographer Taketa has danced professionally since 1982, having performed with such companies as the Murray Louis Dance Company, Nikolais Dance Theatre, and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company.
Part of the mission of the Varone Dancers is in dance education, reaching communities and other companies through their productions, tailoring parts or suites of complete works for what is appropriate as well as challenging to dancers and audiences everywhere.
Taketa has instructed at numerous universities, festivals and studios throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia.
“This project is an intense two weeks where we teach them the piece followed by a periodic check-in through video,” Taketa explains.
He and the other Doug Varone dancers participate in a number of educational projects throughout the year, filtering their message through the lenses of diverse regions and cultures.
“It’s a great way for us to get the work out and more importantly to get it out for others to experience.”
Dance, no matter where it happens, is an experiential art.
“What is dance, what is music, what is theater? So much about the performing arts is personal. For us, staging projects and taking them out to other dance companies, giving them the opportunity to experience the work, is the greatest way to communicate our art form,” Taketa comments.
West Virginia Dance Company received the piece just 10 days before a full-length rehearsal before their peers. The dancers make it apparent they have in a short time embodied the work to make it their own. The piece is complex and frenetic, flowing and poetic, illustrating the bound while appreciating the unbound; at times a tableau of unity, at others, of beautiful discord and dissent.
The suite chosen for West Virginia Dance Company has an interesting path as to how it was made, Taketa shares.
“The complete work is an evening-length piece consisting of 20 individual dances. Each was created as a very unique, separate entity. It became evident that the dances could then be excerpted to create shorter suites of anywhere from two to 15 of the dances. In that way, we offered the opportunity to create dances for a particular venue.”
It is, as Taketa describes, a dense and challenging undertaking for the dancers, pushing them within their craft. At the same time dance is a communal experience, it is also a personal triumph.
“The detail and responsibility lays with (the dancers) as individuals. They are all dealing separately with their paths through the piece. There are moments when they have no one else to rely on other than themselves.”
Taketa and West Virginia Dance Company founder Toneta Akers-Toler take notes at a series of open rehearsals attended by dancers and dance lovers from across the state at McBee’s dance studio. Taketa tweaks the performers to perfection, requesting a longer extension here or a lingering pause there, until the dancers are each comfortable in their new skins.
He embraces the chance to instruct in West Virginia, where he had only before toured on a few occasions.
“Dance is a community, that is the main point we are trying to communicate. We function as a community in collaboration with one another; the survival of our art form is dependent on that. Dancers can’t work in vacuums.”
West Virginia Dance Company is set to begin its 37th year touring the region, having from the beginning held fast to a tradition of dance education through its public school performances. It is the state’s only professional touring dance company. The new Varone suite will become part of the company’s repertoire for the next two years. Taketa’s visit for staging was funded in part by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
“(West Virginia Dance Company) provides that link for a rural community to experience something. People come and see this and it opens up a whole other world for them,” Taketa remarks.
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