Tuesday, September 16, 2008

SOAKED, BUT SO WORTH IT (September 12th)

Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. Well, at least I consider it the opportunity of a lifetime. Wendy Dwyer, our accompanying professor here in Lyon, purchased us fifth row tickets to that evening’s William Forsythe performance! For those of you who don’t know much about modern dance or the modern dance world (and that’s totally fine! Personally, I feel like modern dance isn’t something that most Americans ever truly get exposure to because even as a dancer I didn’t know much about or have much of an appreciation for modern dance until studying it in college), William Forsythe is one of the top modern dance choreographers of our time. He is extremely creative, resourceful, inventive, and works at such a fast pace, he can turn out two to three complete pieces for his personal dance company in a single year. Personally, I feel he is limitless because his choreography comes from a very intellectual base, and this allows him to easily and uniquely manipulate the underlying mechanics of dancing.

What made this performance even more appealing and exciting was the fact that I studied and worked closely with Forsythe technique in my Dance Technique & Composition II class last semester, which was instructed by Sally Bomer. Due to this fact alone, I felt all the more ready to experience the program. Unlike the other choreographer’s works that I had viewed here in Lyon, I was already connected to these pieces. I had the background information. I had done my research. I had an immense amount of knowledge concerning the inner workings of Forsythe’s mind, and I was just itching to use it to my advantage… to dissect his three pieces and unfurl his choreographic choices.

Not to mention, I felt even luckier when I realized that, even though I’d been exposed to a ridiculous amount of videos featuring Forsythe’s work, I had never seen Second Detail, Duo, or One Flat Thing, Reproduced! What I would be watching, would be completely fresh. I couldn’t wait to see what qualities the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon would add during Lyon’s very own Biennale de la Danse.

The first piece began a few minutes late, and I found it hard to sit still with all the anticipation built up around my bones and under my muscles. Finally, the curtain rose, and I was awestruck. There were thirteen dancers on stage, and all of them had slicked back hair and were clad in skintight, white-gray unitard-like costumes that almost seemed to fade away into the similarly toned background color. The female dancers were wearing pointe shoes, and after only a few movements, it became apparent that this would be a piece of Forsythe’s with heavy Balanchine* influence. The very balletic movements were supplemented with modern lines and modern formations that caused the members of the audience to pick and choose what portions of the dance they personally wanted to view. About five minutes in, I had a very strong sense of something mechanical. It seemed as if I was watching machine—a human machine. Mostly this sensation was due to that fact that every motion, whether individual or performed within a group, was extremely calculated and synced completely with the musical elements that shared the same space. Plus, the piece was very obviously gendered. The females tended to stay in one group, performing the same type of movements while the males performed a separate phrase of motions on a separate portion of the stage. Not to mention, when the dancers were seated in the row of chairs that lined the back of the stage, they always sat with the genders separated. Of course, this isn’t to say that the dancers didn’t all link up at specific points throughout the piece, but such occurrences were very few and fleeting. Then, out of the blue, with what seemed like less than five minutes left to the entire twenty-six minute piece, a female dancer who did not resemble the rest entered the stage. First of all, she had wild, wavy hair in a mass of snarls covering her head. This most definitely made her appear different. Secondly, she was wearing a white fluid dress that had slits up the sides and somewhat hid her physique. It looked fairly Grecian to me, but when I noticed her intentionally smeared lipstick, I immediately thought “barbaric wild woman.” Her movements were nothing like the others. She weaved herself in and out of their ridiculously structured formations while throwing her body around and allowing herself to be free, loose, and unpredictable. In the end, I felt as though Second Detail was definitely a high contrast piece, and I loved the introduction of that final character. It was an unexpected twist mimicked by unexpected movements. It was brilliant.

Even so, I must admit that Duo was my most adored piece of the evening. In fact, it was the only one that I actually wrote notes concerning when the curtain finally went down (of course I couldn’t write notes while the dance was progressing… I was watching way too intently; completely wrapped up in the experience). I was first drawn in by the drastic change in lighting and costuming from the previous number. Instead of blending entirely into the background and being clad in dismal, bland colors, the dancers were oppositely clad in all black. They were both women wearing sheer leotards and pairs of black shorts. The sheerness of their tops were a bit shocking at first, but less than a minute into the number the choice made sense to me. Such costumes allowed the audience to view the dancers working muscles and bone structures much easier. This added another element to the piece, and made the effort behind simple movements more visible. Overall, I feel like it added to the audience’s understanding of what the dancers’ capable bodies were doing. Plus, from where we were sitting at least, we could hear the dancers’ breaths. They were strong and forceful and, due to the costumes, much more connected to the piece because they appeared to be an entirely intended and necessary part of the dance’s choreographed motions. These motions were somewhat balletic, but mostly modern. They pushed no boundaries of strength or flexibility, but seemed to be extremely important. As the dance progressed and movements were repeated, it appeared as if the women were telling a story and trying to get the audience to understand. Due to the erie lighting and musical elements that resembled carnival music gone bad mixed with portions of a music box as it winded down to silence, it was clear that the story was somewhat disturbing. Of course, since I loved this piece, I was also critical with it. My first qualm concerned the dancers. The dancer who remained on stage left for most of the piece and wore the turtleneck-styled leotard kept "out dancing" her partner. For example, she would lift her leg just high enough to beat the height of the other girl’s leg or she would hold onto the static and even flowing movement for just a hundredth of a second longer. This did not help to add anything to the duet. My second qualm was with the face that this piece was a duet in itself. I saw no reason for the two dancers. They never made eye contact. There was no physical contact between the girls. They basically performed the same motions the entire time, and when they didn’t, it appeared to be two separate, unrelated solos instead of a connected duo. I just found myself wanting some other clearly intentional reason for the choice of two dancers.

The final piece, One Flat Thing, Reproduced was most definitely the most ingenious and creative dance of the entire program. I had never seen anything like it before and would never had been able to come up with such an ingenious idea. As soon as the lighting begins to come up, the dancers shout a command (“Go!”), and pull four columns of tables forward from the back of the stage. The tables remind me of those that could be found in high school lunchrooms or even those in operating rooms! Plus, it cut the stage into two planes that I had never noticed before. The lower section was the normal portion that audiences usually view. The upper portion was a brand new level made up of an interesting flat yet not solid surface. In a quick overview, the piece took place on both of these planes, and the audience had the unique experience of watching a dance happen while the dancers appeared to be sliced at the waist when they danced on the lower level. Tables were moved, fourteen dancers flowed in and out of the intended dance area, and movements were timed so perfectly that everything including the musical accompaniment felt like one solid element. Obviously, such a piece must have taken a lot of preparation and work on the parts of the dancers because the consequence of possibly missing a cue or even being slightly off mark when starting a movement could result in a serious injury. I gave all of the dancers props for actually agreeing to do this, and I imagined the first caste’s blind faith in Forsythe must have been extremely strong. All in all, it was a well-designed piece and highly apparent that the dancers were all enjoying themselves (shared smiles, giggles, and words on stage emphasized that point). I left the theater very impressed and full of energy and awe.

As we began waiting the eleven minutes for Tram 3 to arrive and take us the two stops to our residence, it became clear that the skies weren’t going to stay closed up. Slowly, the drizzle that danced and speckled the sidewalk’s light gray color with splotches of a dismal, darkened gray shade began coming down heavier. Crashes of thunder could be heard and every few seconds lightning would streak across the sky revealing our tired but contented faces all the more. Although none of us seemed to care, for we were still discussing the performance of the evening and safely sheltered by the wide overhang that was considered the tram’s stop, we probably should have been at least a little bit.

By the time the tram arrived, it was pouring—absolutely and utterly. We all rushed inside feeling warmer and inspecting our shoes and dresses for any water damage when Lisa, apparently the smartest of us (we LOVE her), made it a point to explain that we’d be walking home all three to four blocks from our stop IN the actual downpour. I can’t even describe the responses of disgust that she received, but they were most definitely loud and disapproving. Quickly, in an attempt to somewhat preserve our dresses, Paige pulled pages out of a newspaper and gave it to each of us to use as a makeshift umbrella. I can’t even tell you how much I cherished mine at the time. Finally, the tram arrived at our destination, the doors opened, and I positioned the paper over my head before starting to make a run for home!

The water was ridiculously cold and coming down in buckets. As it engulfed us, I realized that I’d never heard so many girls scream so high pitched before! Although I looked for some sort of shelter, there was absolutely no helping it, nowhere to hide, no place to wait it out. All we could do is run, and run we did! Anyone in heels, except maybe for Paige, ripped them off in order to enable herself to run faster and prevent slipping. Falling into a puddle would have been completely wretched, and the puddles we were trying to avoid by leaping over and around them were quite large and deep.

As my newspaper disintegrated over my head, and I let it be dragged out of my hand into the street, I couldn’t help but see our actions as our own, improvised modern dance. The song was a mixture of our shouts, the rain on the pavement, the thunder crashing, and the voices or the music coming from the rooms of buildings we were streaking by. Our movements were obviously determined, somewhat free, somewhat frantic, and most definitely fast.

Once everyone was inside the door safe and sound, the screams from outside turned into a ridiculous amount of uncontrollable laughter. We were SOAKED through and through. Everyone’s makeup was running, and no one had come back unscathed. Of course, Christine (as always) had her camera ready, and without any self-conscious feelings, we all posed for a shot to remember the night, the rain, the fun, and the experience.

As that final picture of the evening proves, running through the storm was positively worth the evening’s total experience. We got to see a true Forsythe performance in person from five rows away! Not to mention, we got an absolutely amazing story to tell in the process! I mean, who else can say that they ran barefoot through the streets of France in a thunder and lightning storm while wearing the best attire they owned? Personally, I can only think of about ten other people excluding me.

Yeah, it was totally worth it.

Avec l'Amour,

*Balanchine was a very famous and influential 20th century choreographer who cofounded the New York City Ballet. Some of his work includes Serenade and Swan Lake (after Lev Ivanov).


Chinako said...

This so far, is your BEST entry! The love you have of dance in all forms is so apparent and you bleed this love through your words. The descriptions and movements were things I could clearly see in my head, and I too made the correlation between the modern dance and the frantic "get out of the rain NOW" race that ensued... I almost wish that was caught on film.

I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying this experience to the fullest degree (as you should). I'd love to read more of these types of stories!

Love & Misses

Chinako said...

GRAMER: 5th paragraph, 9th sentence up from the bottom: "The dancer who remained on stage left most of the piece and wore the turtleneck styled leotard kept out dancer her partner." I'm guessing it should say, "... kept out dancing her partner.", no?