Friday, April 22, 2011

song and dance

On Thursday night, Stephen and I went to the ballet. Very exciting. We see a lot of theater when we can, but I, at least, don't have a lot of experience seeing dance. Unless Fred Astaire movies count.

It made me think a lot about the discussions we had been having as Stephen prepared for his symposium at the Tacoma Art Museum, actually. Back then, the talk was about how the body on the canvas tells the story. Last night, it was about how the body in movement tells the story. My brain always wanting to find story--but story isn't always the most important aspect of an art. What's interesting to me about dance is how minimal the elements of story become. Or can become. And they hit you as viscerally as if you were given a narrator and a plot to follow. They go to the fundamental. The body moves, the body interacts with another body, and it gives you something to feel.

We saw Song and Dance, presented by Oregon Ballet Theater at the Newmark. Part one was a square dance set to Vivaldi and Corelli. With a square dance caller, even. Choreographed by Ballanchine and originally performed in 1957. Somehow, I never realized that dance choreography could live in the same way music lives. How it can be created and written down and used again and again. How if you saw Square Dance done by the New York City Ballet in 1957, you'd see the same dance as I saw last night.

I was pretty rapt when Julia Rowe and Chauncey Parsons danced alone. Everything was so exact. And of course so light. The only way you knew they were touching the floor was that little clunk of the toe shoes against the stage. During the first intermission, Stephen told me Ballanchine was known for his very exacting choreography. I found it fascinating to watch.

Part two was called Speak and took from hip hop. It was totally cool to see this on the heels of Ballanchine. Completely different body story, movement story. About the lovely way culture can create a dance that lives in the bodies of people in their everyday lives, a way bodies communicate through movement. I think when dance goes modern it can sometimes turn out hokey, but Speak was totally great. True. Different kinds of subtle from the Ballanchine. And pretty exhilarating.

Left Unsaid was something gorgeous. Something almost surreal about the way it played with the relationships of the people on the stage. As it started, I realized I didn't know what to expect of it. I'd remembered the first one was going to be a square dance, I'd remembered about the hop hop, but I went into this one with a blank slate. And what I got was like anonymous story being born. Because I didn't have any expectations of theme, I tried to let my eyes just watch the beauty of the dancing, but it was always hints of story in my head. During one of the dances, I actually found myself letting that story take the form of one of the novels I've been following as it takes shape in my Dangerous Writing workshop. And it was another revelation of what dance can do. And I'm pretty sure I know who's going to die at the end of that novel. Well, maybe not, but beauty of movement, well-choreographed use of dramatic tension, became complete story in my head.

Stephen noticed that the woman from Speak was the principal woman in Left Unsaid. I thought everyone danced beautifully, but he has the eye for singling people out, remembering faces, and he has a more studied eye when it comes to dance. And he said she was outstanding. Anne Mueller - who apparently has been a part of Oregon Ballet Theatre since 1996.

The music was Bach. And contrasting with that, another element in Left Unsaid was apparently yoga. Which I don't know, so I can't speak for it, but I'd love to have had the knowledge to be able to pick out the "asanas" (OK, I don't even know what that is) that I read were a part of the choreography.

Last up was Eyes on You, which was all Cole Porter music. Sometimes piped in, sometimes live with a vocalist and piano. It was really cool, getting these very different types of music and of dance in these four different segments. Really reminded you of all the many worlds you can get to with just bodies and music. Well, bodies and music and a simple bit of costume and stage set. The use of color and contrast, visually, worked really nicely in Eyes on You. I liked the costumes all in white against the changing color of the backdrop. It seemed like the costuming was a successful reference to the Thirties - didn't seem like a bad imitation, which most imitations of that time period seem to turn out to be. Stephen's the expert on time and costume, and if he says something is successfully period, I figure it must be.

Overall, a lovely evening. Here's another picture I found on OBT's Flickr site:

Anne Mueller from Speak. Can't you just tell how cool she is?

Song and Dance goes until May 1st. Here's a link to their site if you want to check it out!

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