Monday, September 10, 2012

Zen and the Art of Dance

There is nothing so public yet so intimate as a dance concert where feet squeak and thump on Marley floors, sweat glistens under stage lights, and breath audibly expels. I’m afraid it will go the way of conversation. As conversation moved to text messages on a cell phone, live performance is fast becoming a You Tube submission viewed on a handheld screen, the dancers the size of insects.
This weekend I was fortunate to be an audience participant at my daughter Cara’s faculty dance concert at High Point University, featuring, among others, her twin sister Mackenzie. I’ve been watching Cara and Mackenzie put on shows almost from the time they learned to speak, though they didn’t start dancing until they were thirteen. They have always moved cooperatively, harmoniously, and in synchronization the way twins do: in utero, as babies sharing a crib during their first few months, as children creating shows and reenacting movie scenes for our pleasure, and, now, as adults, who perform on stage and in film.
Both have used dance as a launching point to engage in other performance arts. Cara writes and performs songs and stories and makes film; Mackenzie performs aerial dance, ala Cirque du Soleil. This weekend’s concert had all of that: original songs sung a cappella by a wonderful ensemble of women, contemporary dance, film, and aerial performance.
I like to sit up in the balcony. I think dance is best viewed from above so the whole structure of the dance can be seen or one can zoom in easily on an individual dancer.  I’ve learned to train my eye to do both almost simultaneously.  It enhances the whole experience.
Ronald and I sat in the last row of the first level balcony on Friday night and the first row of the same balcony on Saturday night. The reason we sat four rows lower on Saturday was that I noticed we were just slightly too high on Friday night, and Mackenzie, when she reached the top of the fabric on which she performs her aerial work, was partially obscured by the proscenium curtain.
In the opening work Raven choreographed by Belinda McGuire, Cara and Mackenzie wove, ran and dove amongst a web of light. Lighting is integral to live performance in that it focuses the eye, sets the tone of the work, and facilitates the movement. This photo belies the beauty of the lighting but captures the beauty of movement.

The next piece was a short film by Cara titled On Learning.
It is a memoir in movement and voice as Cara talks about one of her mentors who taught her dance and inspired her to be a dance teacher.  It was not my first time seeing the film, but I tear up each time, because it reinforces the tenet that it takes a village to raise a child. We did not do it alone, and I am ever appreciative of all the people who assisted us. Trish Casey, the teacher featured in the film, was in the audience Saturday evening. After the show she could only voice how humble the experience left her.
Mackenzie performed her aerial piece next. She was a bird in flight, gracefully moving up and down the fabric until the end of her piece when she wound herself in the fabric almost to the rigging twenty feet above the stage floor, then dropped about fifteen feet in a spin that caused me to gasp aloud each performance.  Here she is, wrapped in silk.

Linda Donnell performed Compartment choreographed by Cara. Linda is my age, and I was mesmerized watching her lithe ballet-trained body adapt to Cara’s physical and unstructured movement. Vintage commercials from the 1950s were played on a screen behind her, an ideal time captured in the ideal world of advertisement, in contrast to the reality of how we live in a world of stress and constant motion.

I love the clear sound of a cappella voices, too, and after a brief intermission, Eve at the River opened with an a cappella solo titled Our Quilt, written by Cara and sung by Toni Manuel in her resonant, beautiful voice. The song, stark and soulful, is about the work of women. Her voice reached down to my soul, like the chill of dipping toes in cold stream water that both surprises and refreshes. Later in the piece, singers Toni, Suzy McCalley, Linda Donnell, and Cara each told a story then blended together unique voices in song, and I felt lifted as their voices rose and suffused the theater while surrounding the dancers, Breanne Horne and Mackenzie, in the fount borne of women’s work, love, sorrow, and joy.

Cara shares her art by having a conversation with the audience at the end of each concert, inviting them to ask questions or share thoughts about what they’ve witnessed. It is her way of extending the intimacy of live performance and making art accessible. On Saturday night, Ronald raised his hand. His was not a question but a comment about the way the performance had moved him.
Art has a way of transporting one from everyday worries and concerns. Certainly I spent last week glued to the television, watching the Democratic Convention that was held just down the road from where I live. I cheered; I cried; I fretted; I applauded; I felt hopeful. But in reality, politics don’t often make their way directly into our homes nor impact our lives on a day-to-day basis. No matter what goes on in Washington, no matter who is elected, as appalling, or even heroic, as it all seems at times, life goes on in spite of it.  (That’s no excuse not to vote, though! That’ll be another post topic on another day!)
So I was happily transported on Friday and Saturday evenings into a whimsical world with light and voice and music and movement, interrupted by occasional darkness as the stage was set for the next piece and dancers changed costumes.
I know Cara and Mackenzie’s interest in the arts was inspired by their childhood. I exposed them to story in print, on film, and in live theater, and Ronald exposed them to visual arts and music. Then we made the choice to support them as they pursued dance, a choice we were able to make as middle class parents, though it was still a financial challenge. 
Any foray into the arts is fraught with hard work, missteps, isolation during the creative process, lack of funding, lack of opportunity, and competition for audiences. As I’ve experienced in my writing career, it isn’t easy on the ego either, and I admit my skin is thinner than theirs and, yet, they still feel the hurt of rejection and critique.
Often I share their emotional, and sometimes physical, pain as they take their journeys both together and separately.  Sometimes I still want to stick my nose in and give my opinion, and I do and often I regret it later and only hope I caused least harm in the process. Sometimes they want to know what I think or just want to talk about their frustrations or the creative process or new ideas, and I am there for that, too, just as Ronald is. (For more on the topics of parenting and creativity see my posts Parenting Creativity and Parenting Creativity Part 2.)
I think that’s the best roles we can play as parents and as artists, too: listening to their creative ideas and processes, and being part of the audience. Even as adults, they look to see where we are, and they know that if there is a balcony, that’s where they’ll find us.
I was transported and transformed by the beauty of live art, and I hope I transported you for a few minutes as you read this blog, viewed the film On Learning, and looked at the lovely photos taken by Kenneth Jackson during the dress rehearsal. 

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