Friday, May 20, 2011

"Trying To Get It"

Eight hundred and fifty postings. And during that time, have I ever mentioned an interest in the art form known as dancing?

I don’t believe I have.

Would that, do you think, suggest a prodigious disinterest in that particular mode of entertainment?

I believe it would.


Not long ago, Dr. M’s friend, Leah, called and asked her if she was interested in attending a performance of a well-known Modern Dance troupe, currently appearing at a downtown theater. Dr. M replied that she was. Leah then added that her husband, Paul, was also interested in attending, so she wondered if I had any interest in attending as well.

This immediately put me on the spot. If it were just the ladies, I’d have had an easy “out.”

“Why don’t you two go?”

But that wasn’t the way things were. A male person had already accepted.

Leaving me no choice whatsoever.

Thank you, Paul.

Okay, so I’m at this event. Two hours of uninterrupted – except for the intermission – dancing. Rather than behaving with the begrudging reluctance a macho cliché, I am determined instead to find out what this dancing thing is all about. I mean, the theater is almost totally filled. They can’t all be there under duress. Maybe dancing isn’t so what I think it is. By which I mean, not for me.

Why “not for me”?

Because it’s dancing.

And what’s wrong with dancing?

I’m a writer. My preferred method of communication is words. Dancers communicate with their feet. I don’t understand that, since there’s a much easier way of doing it. You just open your mouth, and people immediately know what you mean. For the non-cognoscenti (from the Latin, cognosco-cognoscere, meaning "to know") such as myself, dancing, not unlike mime, is two hours of “What the hell is going on?”

Tonight, they’ll be dancing to the music of Handel. There’s a big symphony orchestra. Four opera soloists are also in the mix. It’s a combination of music and singing.

All in the service of the dancing.

What kind of dancing exactly? Twenty-four dancers, evenly split, male and female. They are colorfully attired. And they’re all barefoot. There’ll be no scuffing of the stage floor tonight. Though there could be splinters.

The evening is divided into performing segments – twelve segments in the First Act, seven in the Second. (Meaning, if you get through the First Act, you’re almost two thirds of the way through. Not a great attitude, but I’m looking for any ray of sunshine I can find. While, of course, still learning about “The Dance.”)

In “Segment One”, a male dancer stands on stage alone. And every time a female dancer races by, the male dancer intercepts her, lifts her up in the air, holds her aloft for maybe three seconds, after which he lowers her to the floor, and she races away. That happens six times in a row. It is pretty much the high point or “Segment One.”

I will not describe each segment individually, for fear of falling asleep at my computer, and inducing a similar effect on my readers. Prior to the beginning of each segment, one, or a number, up to four, transparent curtains would be lowered, dividing the stage horizontally into sections. Sometimes, a solo dancer would dance “clean” in front of the audience, meaning with no curtainically separation.

On other occasions, one or a group of dancers would dance with a curtain veiling them from the audience, producing some effect, though I have no idea what that effect is supposed to be.

Sometimes, the dancer, or group dancers, in one section of the stage would mirror the movements of the dancer, or group of dancers, in another section of the stage.

Sometimes, the dancers' movements would be complementary. I think that’s the descriptive I’m looking for. And sometimes, the movements would have no relationship to each other whatsoever.

Sometimes, it was funny. One of the vignettes portrayed what appeared to be a hunting scene. Dancers played horses. Other dancers played “the hounds.” And three other dancers entwined themselves together to form the trunk and branches of a tree. Inevitably, the “hounds” scrambled over, and urinated on the tree.

The major triumph of the First Act was that I was able to stay awake for the whole thing. This does not mean I enjoyed, or, to be honest, understood a large portion of what was going on. But at least I saw it.

In my defense, it was not easy to remain attentive. There was no narrative to follow, leaving the performance lacking any kind of “arc”, or tension inducing “build.” What you had in the First Act were dancers skillfully (I imagine “skillfully”; I mean, nobody fell down, or anything) going through their paces, covering twelve consecutive, but in no way interrelated, vignettes.

After which you got to stand up and walk around in the lobby. And maybe purchase a cookie, a "Good job!' compensation for staying in the game.

The Second – and final – Act was more encouraging, partly because it was the second and final act, and partly because, as mentioned, there were seven segments in it instead of twelve. But there was also, I think, something else going on, which I can explain in one of two different ways.

The Second Act was objectively better. Or I was finally getting the hang of what exactly was going on. (It is possible it was both.)

What I started to realize was that the core concept of the performance was concerned with shapes. The point was not to focus on one dancer – unless they were the only dancer on the stage – but to focus instead on the spatial relationship between the dancers or groups of dancers, and the configurations they constructed on the (curtainically divided) stage.

What the audience was watching was a human kaleidoscope, a constantly changing mosaic, forming, dissolving, and then re-forming into yet another rearranged alignment.

That wasn’t all they did. But it was the only part I could figure out. It was a program about shapes.

As I left the theater, while my companions took the elevator, I availed myself of the stairs, where my eye caught sight of an audience member with an impressive shape of her own.

Perhaps the evening’s entertainment had heightened my sensitivities to the shapes that surround me.

Perhaps not.


Bernie Bolshoi said...

Bravo! And when it was over, did you have the option of calling an 800 number to vote for specific dancers? Amazing you could stay awake for the entire performance. In terms of time, would you consider it rapturesque?

PG said...

The Emperor's New Tutu?
This reminds me of the first and last time I took my daughter to see a ballet, The Nutcracer'. I fully expected her to fall in love with the whole thing, as little girls are won't to do, but instead, after about ten minutes of special effects, prancing corps de ballet and magnificent music, she turned to me and asked, "why isn't anybody talking or singing?"
She was not impressed.
To her credit, she loved a raucous production of "H.M.S. Pinafore" at Stratford, later that year, so all was not lost.