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11.11.2007

A minor correction and some additions to my previous post on the subject of the McCallum Theatre's choreography competition of last night. The Hero-like ballet which completed the competition was entitled 'Falling Petals', not 'Falling Leaves'. I was in error. There was clearly no connection between the two routines. Leaves, petals, fluttering colours and swishy movement - utterly unrelated.

There were other observations that I wanted to make, however, before they slipped my mind. Years hence, no, even now, they may only be of use to jog my own memory of the actual event - of no interest to my readers at all - but I will put them here anyway.

To begin with, the first dance (Nicole Haskins's 'Fading Shadows' from the Sacramento Ballet Company, featuring several couples dancing alternately in variations on more or less the same physical/aesthetic theme - forgive me for having no knowledge of the language used to describe or analyse dance as an art) reminded me of a familiar poem of John Donne's that I would like to post here. It is lengthy, but certainly worth the time, whether you have read it twenty times before or never at all. The innovative beauty of Donne's language strikes forcefully and without warning, though not inevitably, and it is good to be very still and willing in case this should be the time:

A VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING.
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears ;
Men reckon what it did, and meant ;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers' love-
Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th' other do.
And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.


Essentially, I was reminded of the poem by the continuously repeated motion of spinning upon the stage - not in the twirling way that seven year old girls pretend to be ballerinas, but the influence of one body upon another so that a certain pull or pressure from one would cause the other to slowly spin as though feet and hands were rooted in place and the rest of the self spun upon these two opposing points. All the while, feet and hands were somehow held, if not in physical fact, then in nearness of relation by the partner. The presence of the one with the other, whether they moved apart or not, was always consistently influential. It reminds me now of the quotation from Jane Eyre, spoken by Rochester:

'I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you--especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.'


Only the dancers never move far enough apart to snap the chord that fixes them one to the other. These were my thoughts with the opening piece.

The second dance, vaguely alluded to in my semi-incoherent post of yestereve, was called 'Push'. It was the competition piece by Jennifer Backhaus, coupling the music of Zoe Keating ('Frozen Angels') with a two-person ballet. My first thought when the curtain rose was of a Depression-era farm couple. They were wearing brown burlap-looking material, or so it seemed from the mezzanine (and I ought to add that I haven't had my eyes checked in a number of years...), standing side-by-side, moving in slow-motion with the kind of weary gravity reminiscent of Steinbeck. I am sure, had he seen them at the side of the stage in those first moments, that he would have been inspired by their attitude to write several chapters of slow-moving, carefully-crafted prose.

As I was saying, they moved in slow motion, walking forward as if responding to a plow before them, or a window shade at the side. From the first moments to the end, from their molasses motion to the quicker turns they made around each other, they would continuously move as though in action upon or reaction to some external thing we could not see. But, like the couples in the first dance, they never moved far from each other. Though one would open a door while the other stood oblivious, it was one dance - their dance. Of course, when they moved with each other, it was far more beautiful than these abstract, unrelated activities. But, unlike the first dance, they did far more than come together and pull apart. There was a lot of gentle falling (and every time one fell, the other had to catch and right again) and, as the title suggests, necessary pushing - that they might move together and not askew. At times, one would have to be lifted by the other - a common sight in a partnered dance, but not so common to see the woman carrying the man with the same willingness that he has carried her but seven steps before.

This is what I meant last night when I said that it was like Life and Love. A small and silly way to say that I saw two people face the world last night. Outside of time, neither meeting nor ageing, but simply - yes, simply - Being together. So that the push which is pain to one and force to the other becomes a perfect balance shared (yet alternately willed and trusted in) between two - in order to make the two into one.

(A thrilling fear ran through me as the curtain fell - that I could watch them move like that ceaselessly forever, their motions seemingly random and yet in perfect harmony one with the other - It was good that the curtain fell, that other dancers took the stage with or without skill to shake me from the blinkless gaze I had fixed on them - though it be beautiful, it was not right to only watch them with the thought 'how beautiful is life' and not to go out and live it, like or not the dance.)

There were others, of course, but the only other one worth so many Words was Greg Sample's 'Hold Me to This', a dance commissed for the 10th anniversary, inspired (as were two others) by Maya Angelou's words: 'Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.' Sample choreographed the piece inseperably with an original poem or set of poems, that I would love to have in writing (except for the sneaking suspicion that they should only be heard as they were last night - in tandem with the four dancers on the stage, doing whatever it was they did there that seemed to be speaking without mouth).

Whoever has had the patience to remain with this post so far, I hope that upon leaving your screen and stepping into the greater world, you will be able to see such beautiful things - whether in the washing of a teacup or the humming of a roommate - rather than relying on my own poor description of some random choreography. For the most beautiful of these was only so in that it took that life that is so common, found between waking and sleeping, and sometimes not even bound so far, and placed it concisely on a stage. What words here are nothing to the living.

p.s. 11.11. God bless Psalm.

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