Big Island to Big Apple

One of Hawaii's most successful contemporary dancers, Eddie Taketa, talks about his big break.
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Courtesy of Doug Varone and dancers

It’s a good thing Eddie Taketa follows his instincts. If it wasn’t for that, this contemporary dancer at the top of his game—winner of a Bessie (that’s a New York Dance and Performance Award, the Oscar of the dance world) for Sustained Achievement in Dance—might instead be the world’s most graceful engineer.

More than two decades ago, Taketa was a student at UH Manoa and three semesters into an engineering degree. But “it wasn’t working,” says Taketa. Another nice Japanese boy might have soldiered on and saved the mid-life crisis for later, but Taketa took a semester to explore other options. “At first I went into computer science. But I also took some dance classes,” says Taketa, with a gleam in his voice, “and that’s where it all started.”

The Big Island kid who grew up surfing Honolii had found contemporary dance—and dance found him. A UH class given by a visiting artist ended with an invitation to

Doug Varone and Dancers’ Hawaii Tour

Jan. 19, 8 p.m., Leeward Community College Theatre (Oahu; 455-0385).
Jan. 22, 7 p.m., Kahilu Theatre (Big Island; 808-885-6868).
Jan. 24, 7:30 p.m., Maui Arts and Cultural Center (Maui; 808-242-7469).

New York City to join a professional company. The rest, as they say, is history. Taketa has enjoyed a notably lengthy career in a punishing discipline littered with the injured and the burned out. How has he survived? “No big plans,” he says. “I just let it roll along, whatever feels most right.” In 1994, he joined the celebrated company Doug Varone and Dancers, with whom he tours to Hawaii this month.

“After all the different companies I’ve performed with, I’ve found a real home working with Doug,” he says. “The work is so instinctive and intuitive, and I’ve certainly run my life that way—which can be reckless, but at the same time I think it’s very honest.”

In an art form that has sometimes been criticized as cryptic or distant, Varone’s expressive work has delighted critics nationwide by reaching out to its audience with a blend of physical daring and instantly recognizable human situations.

Taketa says, “What we do in our work, we’re trying to bridge the gap [between dancers and audience]. If the dance is very sincere, if the performer dances from a place of integrity, there’s a kind of space where we meet in the middle.”

A New Song and Dance

Eddie Taketa isn’t the only connection Hawaii has to New York’s Doug Varone and Dancers’ current tour. The company will also perform “Beyond the Break,” a brand-new suite of dances set to the virtuosic ukulele music of Jake Shimabukuro.

Choreographer Doug Varone’s company is known for its emotional subtlety, but this time he wanted to shake things up. The set design will be “really brash,” he says, with “rock-band lights.”

“Every time I step into a studio, I try to make a work that in some way is drastically different from the last piece that we created,” says Varone. “And we had been making a lot of dark work. [With “Beyond the Break”] I just wanted to free it up and have fun.”

Courtesy of Doug Varone and dancers