Kei Takei’s ‘Light’ embodies rhythms of nature, drags at times

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Kei Takei’s most recent dance project, “Light,” has dominated nearly half a century of her life. Since 1969, the Japanese choreographer and dancer has been adding to the collection of pieces that make up her “dance diary” thus far. On Saturday night, at San Francisco’s CounterPulse theater, Takei and her company performed her most recent additions. In Parts 44, “Bamboo Forest” (2015) and 47, “run” (2017) of her extensive project, Takei powerfully spoke to the immensity and inevitability of the cycle of nature, while also at times losing her audience because of prolonged repetition.

“Bamboo Forest” featured Takei and her 12 accompanying dancers in a rhythmic work inspired by the succession of life and death, as experienced by the titular bamboo forest. Takei’s inspiration for the piece arose in a similar fashion as past works, with guidance drawn directly from the natural world. As the choreographer herself noted in the CounterPulse program booklet: “To me, a bamboo forest is a mystical place. In it something is born, grows, and then vanishes. I am not trying to express anything in particular in ‘BAMBOO FOREST.’ It is simply that bamboo, whether it is giant or small, enchants and entices me. I follow it into its world.”

In order to successfully manifest this focus on natural rhythms, Takei and her company embodied a series of contradictions. The group alluded to the stark contrast between life and death, despite their stemming from the same essential cycle. The dancers completed rigidly precise steps with grace and fluidity.

They moved in seamless synchronization at times, yet one or two performers regularly asserted an air of individuality by dancing apart from the group. The company weathered the tremors of a battleground-like storm together, finding harmony in chaos. Spotlights illuminated some, while leaving others in darkness. Younger dancers moved alongside their elders, who danced side by side with those of an even mature age.

“run” depended upon a series of similar dichotomies, yet Takei performed this piece solo. In both “Bamboo Forest” and “run,” moments of tranquility followed bursts of exertion. Despite the tiredness and resignation that played over the dancers’ faces in such instances, strength and resolution emanated palpably. In both pieces, by abiding such contradictions, the dancers seemed to bow their heads and acquiesce to a greater force, presumably the hand of nature.

While a sense of awe and wonder at the greatness of nature spoke clearly in the opening of “Bamboo Forest,” with Takei emerging from initial darkness flanked by her company to face an unrelenting spotlight, the occasional monotony of the dance lacked momentum at times.

The piece relied upon a series of repetitive movements, and though grand in their potential implications and significance, appreciation for symbolism at times gave way to boredom on the part of the viewers. Takei likely could have communicated the same emotions in 25 minutes instead of 50. Though only spanning 15 minutes, “run” suffered from a similar setback, with only a few basic movements making up the entirety of the piece.

Despite the seemingly excessive prolongation of “Bamboo Forest,” the performance as a whole did effectively allude to the natural law inevitably governing us all.

The dance’s accompanying track by Seiichiro Sou — who composed music for “Bamboo Forest” and arranged music for “run” — was particularly helpful in conveying the range of emotions experienced as the “forest” progressed through a variety of phases. Gentle melodies and the rhythmic patter of rain lulled the theater into a sense of serenity while dancers swayed accordingly onstage. At other points in the piece, forceful booms and quick-paced melodies complemented the dancers’ angular, powerful strides and rapid motions.

Furthermore, regardless of any slight missteps in choreography, the aptitude that the dancers, including Takei herself, displayed served to consistently elevate the performance. The group embodied sequences that, on less nimble bodies, may have appeared forced with seemingly effortless grace. Each dancer likewise demonstrated theatrical prowess, exhibiting mourning, longing and submission acutely in both body and face. With every step, intention spoke clearly, lending the performance as a whole an air of authenticity.

Contact Ryan Tuozzolo at [email protected].