Artistic Director Robert Battle talks about the origins of Takademe, a dance he created in 1999 that’s having its Company premiere during Ailey’s New York City Center season. Originally posted on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s blog.
“Takademe is very special to me. I created it in a living room in Queens on another dancer when I was with the Parsons Dance Company many years ago. That’s significant to me: One, because of the innocence of making a dance in a living room in Queens; the other, because most dances, like most works of art, have a lot to do with whatever restrictions and problem-solving there happens to be at that time.
And one of the problems, as you can imagine, was we didn’t have a lot of space. And so the dance in some ways stays very stationary because of that. But then when we finally got studio space… you notice that the dance then travels on a long diagonal. Freedom. I’m always reminded of that as a metaphor for where I am now with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where there is a remarkable amount of space.
Part of the inspiration for Takademe was Indian dance, or Kathak. When I was a student at Juilliard, I didn’t study Indian dance but sometimes would peek in at those classes when they were being taught. I was interested in the fact that you utilize all of your gestural language in Indian dance—the way the heel is placed on the floor, the way you walk and place your foot, the way the eyes move. The language is really sophisticated in that way.
Also, when I started dancing, a lot of that was imitating Michael Jackson. And so in Takademe I actually see a lot of the way that the leg will snap, the snap of the head and that kind of thing that Michael Jackson made famous.
And then there is one moment where the dancer walks downstage and starts to mouth the words. I always wanted to be a singer when I started out and so I find that I utilize that mouthing thing in a couple of my dances. But I think it started in Takademe. The work contains a lot of my beginnings.
It was created on a female dancer but now both men and women perform the dance. Sometimes it takes on different meanings. Sometimes the very nature of how a male dancer interprets or uses his muscularity against the lightness of Sheila Chandra’s voice—it is very interesting to have that juxtaposition, to mix it up that way.
The dance sometimes takes on a serious, intense meaning while at other times people get into the humor of the timing and the gestural language. I’m happy to have Takademe in my first season at City Center. It’s going to be wonderful to see the tradition of that dance continued for even more people to see.”
Alicia Graf Mack in Takademe, choreographed by Robert Battle
“I love performing Takademe. It’s extremely quick and quirky, which is a very different way of moving for me. There’s always a reaction from the audience, because the relationship of dancer to music is almost one and the same. The piece isn’t meant to be funny, but because the music is so quick with all of these nuances, and the dancer can capture the nuances, it almost makes the audience want to laugh. It’s very smart. I always feel like a superhero when the lights come on the top of the piece because you start with your head down, and then you raise your head, and as the lights come up, you raise your torso and look out into the audience.”