Thursday, November 6, 2008
My Own Adagios
What is dance? What is movement? What makes a dancer a dancer? And why do dancers dance? In this, my first dance blog in a series of humbly insightful weekly essays on dance in the modern world, I will examine the definition of dance, particularly contemporary dance. Last year, in a series on the meaning of a dancers life, I received quite a bit of dance feedback and got some serious dance controversy going over the truism “to dance is to live,” as I presented my converse thesis that “to live is to dance.” I hope to generate a similar discourse with this dance blog series.
I have been recently privileged to observe a dress rehearsal of three historic masterworks. Well, actually, I didn’t really watch the dress rehearsal itself, but I received an official recording of it. Well, actually, it wasn’t exactly an official recording, but it was a video somebody made from the wings of a pretty good mark through and then put up on Youtube. It has since been taken down, I’m sure for copyright reasons. Like I said, it was a pretty good mark through. At any rate, I feel very strongly that these works entirely embody my ideas about the definition of dance. I have never seen such deeply moving choreography. In all my years of training and all my performance experience, I will say with authority that these dances, themselves, could define dance for all the world.
The glowing effervescence of the first work, which contained a plethora of girls in green and purple chiffon dresses and several men in sherbet-colored spandex, spoke of the love and beauty of movement. The dancers floated and flitted across the stage, weaving in and out with serene, early-morning smiles gracing their faces. Dance is grace and beauty. Movement sings from the soul and lightens the energy in the air around it. As I watched their 6:00 extensions and twitching, fluttering arms, I felt my spirit elevated to the heavens. In my experience in the dance world and as a dancer, this joy surely defines all the time I have spent moving. I remember my most recent performance, as I executed my very last shimmy to the audience before my final pose, glorying in the glitter of the sequins on my costume and the rhinestones in my tights and feeling that lovely thrill that my audience’s lives might have been changed by my performance to “I Hope You Dance.”
The second piece, by contrast, whose long and complex foreign name I refuse to defile by spelling out here on this humble website, was all darkness and struggle. Dance was here presented as a convoluted travail, an epic, endless, painful battle against pounding authority. I wasn’t entirely certain of the plot at times, or really at anytime, but what struck me the most were the twisted, contorted positions of the dancers, and the unnaturally pained expressions on their faces. Their costumes were hideously ugly and plain, except for one glorious green dress worn by the shortest girl. I could go on for hours about my personal interpretation of the dance movement by movement, but I think the most significant opinion of mine is the way in which this dance impressed me as a description of my personal experience of long rehearsals in the studio, as when I was preparing for my aforementioned performance of “I Hope You Dance.” Although I did not have a rehearsal coach and I choreographed the solo myself, I pushed myself to the point of breaking, for the sake of my art. And because I didn’t really have a studio either, but rehearsed only in my living room, the way I used my furniture, doing layouts off of my loveseat and stepping from coffee table to easy chair to finally leap to the floor, closely resembled much of the choreography in this work, which was organized a series of square boxes, often used as chairs. It depicts dance as a struggle, a dancer as her own worst enemy, and the torment of failure which could drive one to the brink of suicide no matter how beautiful one’s dress may be, is as relevant and poignant as the enchantment and beauty of the first piece.
The last work was my favorite, as it emphasized the grittiness and humanity of dance. I hated the costumes, but the music was just so…ethnic. I could hardly get over it. The best part of the dance, in my opinion, was at the end when a whole crowd of people burst onto the stage and shook the life out of the audience. I could hardly contain my joy. The celebration and the ecstasy of the movement contrasted with the drab homeliness of their hideous costumes reminded me of the glorious feeling of dancing in the midst of a run-down, boring world. This reminded me of dance as escape, dance as the path to enlightenment or heaven or someplace better than where I am now. It gave me the strangest sensation that I was somehow on my way somewhere. Just like when I was finally, after so many long nights rehearsing in front of my webcam, invited to perform “I Hope You Dance” at a Senior Center downtown. All those people in the audience…the applause was deafening. At least I’m pretty sure it was applause and not snores or random flatulence or anything. And I’m sure they would have given me a standing ovation if they could have stood at all. At any rate, it was a defining moment for me and my career, and 5 years later, I am still hoping for another opportunity like that. I keep trying to email and network with my contacts but they haven’t responded in a while...I have spent 5 hours a day on Answers4Dancers.com and so many other websites, but nothing has turned up. Nevertheless, I keep on hoping. Dance is beauty, dance is torture, and dance is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen. *
* [A small note aside: My thesis is essentially a warning of the dangers of allowing the blessed intersection of dance and the internet (which can and does, in fact, prove extremely helpful in forwarding a dancer’s career), to constitute our dance careers. If all the people who spend so much time on the internet composing lengthy blogs about themselves and the dance world and dance as they see it spent even a portion of that time working in the studio, they might be better dancers. Perhaps some might rarely use a studio, might see no reason for real training, and become so wrapped up in their own opinions and the dance world in their computers that the dance world outside their computers begins to become fuzzy and all the good opportunities like getting your name out there, networking, researching, etc., become more damaging than helpful. Just a thought.]