Takehiro Ueyama

Music for contemporary

Takehiro Ueyama’s path to becoming a choreographer is a perfect example of how sometimes the art chooses you. Growing up in Japan, he originally wanted to become a professional baseball player. After an injury when he was 16 derailed that plan, he got hooked on the burgeoning b-boying craze, though it was something he did with his friends for fun, never a career option. It wasn’t until he was 20 that he stumbled into his first modern dance class at a teacher’s invitation—and hated it. “All of a sudden, movement became so dramatic,” he says. “I just wanted to move and dance and turn and jump. It was none of that. We were on the floor forever.”

Then, he took a workshop from Graham teacher Kazuko Hirabayashi. “Her class changed my mind—her philosophy and her movement, the structure of her class. Electricity went running through my spine.”

Today, Ueyama creates work for his contemporary company, Take Dance. His style, a merger of his Eastern upbringing and Western training, is full of sweeping arcs and cyclical patterns that are alternately fluid and frenetic, quiet and explosive.

Without his influential teacher, he might never have stayed in the dance world. It was thanks to Hirabayashi that he came to New York and auditioned for The Juilliard School. He had never been on his own before, let alone in a foreign country. “I couldn’t even figure out the Juilliard application,” he says. “She made everything happen. I didn’t know what to eat. She packed lunch boxes for me.”

Another stroke of serendipity led him, after graduation, to audition for the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Still a newcomer to American modern dance, he was only familiar with Taylor’s greatest hits, particularly Esplanade, which Ueyama had performed in a Juilliard concert. “It was such a great piece. I thought it might be nice to dance that kind of dance many times for many years,” he says. As though it was always meant to be, he went on to dance for eight years with the Taylor company.

Looking back on his performing career, Ueyama knows “it was like a dream job.” But, he adds, “I wasn’t 100 percent happy, because I knew something was missing. I knew I wanted to do something on my own. I wanted to be myself.” DT

 

Artist: Les Tambours du Bronx

Album: MMIX

“This French percussion band plays with a powerful rhythm. It really works with my movement, especially when it gets athletic.”

 

 

Artist: Ana Milosavljevic

Work: Reflections

“Ana is a composer of poetic sensibility. This is a timeless composition and one of my favorite works. A rhythmic piano phrase provides a constant undercurrent for the piece. It’s like a huge ocean canvas, while the violin melody is like a brush that adds colors and creates motion, waves and wind.”

 

Artist: Eiji Miyoshi

Song: “Ame (Rain)”

“This is a type of Japanese traditional song called enka from the postwar era. It’s a sentimental ballad, and Eiji’s beautiful vocals are unforgettable.”

 

 

Artist: Michael Jackson

Albums: Thriller and Off The Wall

“I began dancing after I watched MJ moonwalk for the first time during the Motown 25th Anniversary performance. I often listen to his songs when I warm up before a rehearsal or performance.”

 

Artist: Mozart

Work: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K488: Adagio

“This particular Adagio movement resonates with my Japanese roots. To me, each note of the solo piano sounds like a cherry petal falling, while the powerful orchestral score sounds like hanafubuki, the cherry blossoms in full bloom, falling like a snowstorm.”

 

Photo by Quinn Batson, courtesy of Takehiro Ueyama

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.


The state of Alexis' health changes from day to day, and in true dance-teacher fashion, she works through both the good and the terrible. "I tend to be strong because dance made me that way," she says. "It creates incredibly resilient people." This summer, as New York City began to ease restrictions, she pushed through her exhaustion and took her company to the docks in Long Island City, where they could take class outdoors. "We used natural barres under the beauty of the sky," Alexis says. "Without walls there were no limits, and the dancers were filled with emotion in their sneakers."

These classes led to an outdoor show for the Ballet des Amériques company—equipped with masks and a socially distanced audience. Since Phase 4 reopening in July, her students are back in the studio in Westchester, New York, under strict COVID-19 guidelines. "We're very safe and protective of our students," she says. "We were, long before I got sick. I'm responsible for someone's child."

Alexis says this commitment to follow the rules has stemmed, in part, from the lessons she's learned from ballet. "Dance has given me the spirit of discipline," she says. "Breaking the rules is not being creative, it's being insubordinate. We can all find creativity elsewhere."

Here, Alexis shares how she's helping her students through the pandemic—physically and emotionally—and getting through it herself.

How she counteracts mask fatigue:

"Our dancers can take short breaks during class. They can go outside on the sidewalk to breathe for a moment without their mask before coming back in. I'm very proud of them for adapting."

Her go-to warm-up for teaching:

"I first use a jump rope (also mandatory for my students), and follow with a full-body workout from the 7 Minute Workout app, preceding a barre au sol [floor barre] with injury-prevention exercises and dynamic stretching."

How she helps dancers manage their emotions during this time:

"Dancers come into my office to let go of stress. We talk about their frustration with not hugging their friends, we talk about the election, whatever is on their minds. Sometimes in class we will stop and take 15 minutes to let them talk about how their families are doing and make jokes, then we go back to pliés. The young people are very worried. You can see it in their eyes. We have to give them hope, laughter and work."

Her favorite teaching attire:

"I change my training clothes in accordance with the mood of my body. That said, I love teaching in the Gaynor Minden Women's Microtech warm-up dance pants in all available colors, with long-sleeve leotards. For shoes, I wear the Adult "Boost" dance sneaker in pink or black. Because I have long days of work, I often wear the Repetto Boots d'échauffement for a few exercises to relax my feet."

How she coped during the initial difficult months of her illness:

"I live across from the Empire State Building. It was lit red with the heartbeat of New York, and it put me in the consciousness of others suffering. I saw ambulances, one after another, on their way to the hospital. I broke thinking of all the people losing someone while I looked through my window. I thought about essential workers, all those incredible people. I thought about why dance isn't essential and the work we needed to do to make it such. Then I got a puppy, to focus on another life rather than staying wrapped in my own depression. It lifted my spirit. Thinking about your own problems never gets you through them."

The foods she can't live without:

"I must have seafood and vegetables. It is in my DNA to love such things—my ancestors were always by the ocean."

Recommended viewing:

"I recommend dancers watch as many full-length ballets as possible, and avoid snippets of dance out of context. My ultimate recommendation is the film of La Bayadère by Rudolf Nureyev. The cast includes the most incredible étoiles: Isabelle Guérin, Élisabeth Platel, Laurent Hilaire, Jean-Marie Didière, who were once the students of the revolutionary Claude Bessy."

Her ideal day off:

"I have three: one is to explore a new destination, town, forest or hiking trail; another is a lazy day at home; and the third, an important one that I miss due to the pandemic, is to go to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where my soul feels renewed by the sermons and the music."

Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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