I forget. This is a every-few-minutes thing of my life, now. I forget trivial through momentous, concepts to vocabulary, schedule to, to, to.... I forget.
But this. sigh....
October 6, 2008: Five years (and three days) since my stroke; since my life changed utterly. (It's true.)
October 7, 2000: Thirteen years (and two days) since Velma and I had our first date; since my life changed utterly. (It's true!)
And Velma forgot, too. (Figured maybe we had too much to do with moving.... or something.) We will do something in the next few days!
Last night I dreamed that I was skipping and running cheerfully along a colorful series of ledges, rails and ropes, with a partner, improvised yet perfectly synchronized, while around us "The Candy Man" by Sammy Davis Jr played, and it was the beats and chord changes of the song that we improvised our steps to. And it all. felt. perfectly. natural.
One of the most excellent things Velma has introduced me to is the Pilobolus dance troupe. They perform at the Joyce theatre in New York every summer, and we've gone to see them every summer we've been together except the couple of summers we were dead broke. The last couple of years have seen our finances slowly climbing out of the crisis zone, and we've been able to indulge ourselves a little bit. Last year we went to see all three programs, and this year we're doing that again, and seeing one of them -- the one with the magnificent "Day Two" -- twice. And I was able to get seats in the second row for one of the shows, and fourth row for the other three.
There's a little bit of Pilobolus available on YouTube. This one's got a bunch of short clips, and is pretty representative, but doesn't give you a sense of them at length:
This one has two long pieces, and though (as is so often the case with dance on film or television) the intrusive and too-close direction detracts a little bit, it still gives a good sense of what they're like in a couple of their aspects. Especially the second piece, "Walklyndon", an early very goofy one that's one of my favorites:
This is always one of the highlights of our summer, and this year should be the best yet.
My acquaintance with dance doesn't even qualify as spotty; I have seen (apart from movies) a few pieces by a few choreographers and troupes (Alvin Ailey, Mark Morris, the amazing Pilobolus) entirely because Velma loves dance. Increasingly, so do I. But my ignorance of both the history and the technical details of dance means this is even less of a review than usual -- just a set of impressions.
A few months ago, Velma and I watched Dancemaker, a documentary about Taylor. I was fascinated by the process of choreography -- Taylor's choreography, at any rate, though it reminded me of the scenes in All That Jazz in which Fosse is struggling with putting the piece together -- a process which I would not have inferred from the dance that resulted. The finished dance seems so organic and whole, like it flows out of the dancers, that it's hard for me to wrap my head around it being assembled painstakingly out of bits, that it takes endless experimenting and variation to come up with the finished dance. Inspiration is somehow channeled into these discrete moments of thought and effort. I know how this works with writing, but writing (and reading), even at its most natural, feels like a mental process, a conscious process; dance has always seemed to me (in my ignorance) less conscious, more intuitive (though I knew it was at least a result of conscious training of the intuitive).
Well, I'm not sure how I imagined a complicated dance was supposed to be assembled.
Velma was excited by Dancemaker because we got to see a fair amount of backstage viewing of a performance of Esplanade, her favorite Taylor piece and one of her favorite dances. The Taylor company was performing it this time through town, so naturally that's the program we chose. It was my first time seeing the Taylor company.
It was a generous program: three long pieces, with disparate moods, widely separated in Taylor's career. The first was a rarely revived 1962 piece called Piece Period. It was my favorite, mostly because it was goofy. Much of the dancing was awkwardness tightly controlled so it becomes a form of grace, which is an effect I'm a sucker for. Lots of exaggerated gesturing and stage play. One bit was especially delightful: three women hopping around with their arms extended but their hands flopping. Most of the dance was done with the arm gestures, including swift circling patterns, sometimes in sync and sometimes in rhythmic patterns. I wish I could see it again and watch more closely. Velma tells me Piece Period has many parodic dance jokes in it, but it's funny whether you know or not, and sometimes it's just silly: at one point a woman comes out and carefully places five buckets on the stage, traipses about for a few seconds, then abruptly gathers them and leaves.
The second piece was starkly opposite in mood. Banquet of Vultures (2006, I think) is violent, upsetting, and crushes the one outbreak of light and hope in it. The dancing is extraordinarily physical and agonized; I could hardly bear the sequence in which the light-bearer is destroyed by one of the men of power. Even more impressive than that sequence was the one at the end in which one of the men of power, so awful and menacing through the dance, throws himself repeatedly in the air and to the stage in horrific spasms, a couple of times causing several people to gasp. Morton Feldman's eerie Oboe and Orchestra was a perfect setting.
They closed with 1975's Esplanade, which I guess has achieved the position of a classic. The audience applauded after every movement. It is amazingly beautiful, exuberant and flowing; almost all my attention was caught up in the patterns of the people moving together, and I rarely had time to pay attention to individual nuances. I feel entirely inadequate to describe it. It made my blood rush faster, matching the rushing of the people in circles; the musical lover of pattern in my mind was tickled by the movement in columns, the coordinated high-stepping, the reversals of patterns just made. And I knew that the excitement I felt seeing it could only be a fraction of what it felt like to be part of it. The highest performing arts, for me, are the ones that make me want to join. There is something blissfully beyond community in a group of people making something like that. I feel privileged to have been shown it.
I've been interested in modern dance since getting acquainted with Pilobolus and Mark Morris. So Velma pulled out an old tape of Alvin Ailey.
It was incredibly frustrating. Not because of the dance pieces; the two by Ailey seemed to be great, and one of the others, a disco-drug drama, was dated enough to be mildly amusing. The frustrating part was the director. When recording a dance piece for posterity, the director's job is to be transparent; I ought to never be aware of the director and his choices. Unless it is a collaboration between the choreographer and the director, the director is not there to be an artist, he's there to be a window.
This director seemed determined to contribute something, to highlight the experience. To that end, he constantly jumped in for close-ups and changed angles on the dancers. This disrupted my appreciation in two ways:
First, he frequently chose individuals in a company or even a body part of an individual to focus on to the exclusion of all else. In doing so, he made a decision both for the choreographer and for me; what I focus on ought to be my choice, subject to the subtle manipulations of the choreographer. When I choose to focus on one element in dance, I always try to remain aware of the other things going on; not only did this director not allow that, but he didn't allow me to focus on one thing the first time and something else the second time, which ought to be one of the main benefits of having the thing on tape!
Second, and crucially, he changed angles and jumped in or back in the middle of moves, all the time! Granted that if you're going to cut, it's hard to find natural breaks in the dance -- a good reason not to do it at all -- but even so, his primary place to cut seemed to be on the beat of the music. Since the relationship of the moves to the beat tends to be more subtle than that, those cuts were ham-handed. And every time he cut in the middle of a move, it destroyed the move for me. In that moment of having to refocus, I lost the line, the grace, the flow of every move. That flow is the heart of the beauty! It was gone! It was like being hit in the head with little hammers that made my eyes close at random intervals! He did this no less in the beautiful solo piece, Cry, than in the ensemble pieces! Auuuuuugh!
So I think I might really like Alvin Ailey; but I'm not sure. That Dudley Williams sure can dance, though.
"The monocles get stuck in my teeth."