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