Last year, something unexpected happened to me. I went to several dance performances, and the end result is, I can’t get enough dance.
It’s not like I have never seen dance before. I have, for example, particularly fond memories of Twyla Tharp’s 66 and, since reading Joan Acocella’s biography of Mark Morris, try to follow his stuff too, when it comes near me. But one or two shows per year were fine; they slaked any need I had. Now, I feel like I could watch dance every week and still want more. Only the pocketbook stands in the way. (Those searching to assuage their dance need vis-à-vis need-for-bucks and living in the greater New York City area will want to check out Ryan Wentzel’s blog entry “Dance on a Dime.”)
What caused the shift from medium enthusiasm to enthralled aficionadoism, you ask? Well, partly it was easy barriers to entry. New York’s Joyce theater, for example, is both relatively cheap ($10 tickets) and low key (at ground floor and just one balcony, you never feel like you’re sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon). Partly it was music. In the past year, dance performances have introduced me to the music of Nina Simone and Moby, both not part of the Meta-ist jukebox prior to the light fantastic upon the stage.
But the main reason is that the dance world is Thinking about Things. Meta-style. And here’s my piece d’ resistance example: the Seán Curran Company. His performance at the Joyce Theater last year was, for two pieces, wonderful but standard dance fare. And then, a portly middle-aged man in a business suit came on the stage. Spoken words began to be broadcast on the loudspeakers—not spoken word as in rap, but talks and speeches. And, looking at his feet and with a frowning expression, the portly man began to dance. A considered and moving dance. About being a portly man in a business suit.
Readers. I don’t know why, but somehow, he conveyed that this was a dance about Difference. The Other. And of course, that it why the experience was of a piece with Adventures of a Midlife Graduate Student. Our talk is robust about Othering and people’s response to Difference. Gender difference. Sexual difference. Racial difference. Bodily difference. Implicitly, these differences exist against a backdrop of the unmarked standard. Certainly white. And more specifically—since there is a space for gender and disability difference–the white, able-bodied male.
But think about the unmarked standard of dance. Customarily, the dancer is young. Lithe. Minimally clad. They usually look outward—if not directly at the audience, at least in the direction of the viewers. They gaze into a middle distance. They move to music. And they move between solo and paired.
This dance was, in every way, Different from those standards. Older. Portly, as I say. Clad in the most conventional full-body suit imaginable. Looking at his feet. Moving to the beats contained in speech, not music. And alone.
It was a thrilling meta moment. Really. He was using these differences to stage Difference, and to enlarge the concept of difference. And to question, really, what is Difference? Who is not Different?
Done without a trace of “let’s bring back the white male” or “give these guys a break.” Just, we’re all Different.
Later, the playbill revealed that the dancer was Seán Curran himself, who apparently no longer dances frequently. So, his company became one I watch for. Its Web site gives a lot of great information on the company (although, sadly, the schedule is currently not updated).
Dance, dance, dance…