My Experience Watching Modern Dance in London

Posted on January 27th, 2010 by

I have always enjoyed dance whether I am watching or performing it.  When I saw Tangled Feet Undercover, Naomi Cook’s VIVIDdreams, and Letizia Mazzeo’s Is The Grass Greener?  at “The Place”, I experienced a variety of emotions.  These emotions were brought on by not only the dancing, but the atmosphere and over all feel of the show, venue, audience and individual dancers.  Unlike many modern dance performances that I have attended, here I was able to successfully interpret the dances and thus gain a greater appreciation for this style of dance. 

Upon arriving at the venue, my classmates and I entered a crowded white room that contained a bar and several small tables and chairs.  The room was hot and noisy but I could still hear the buzz of jazz tunes being played through the speaker system.  As I looked around I noticed that the people waiting with me were of a much younger generation than those I was used to seeing at other performances.  The audience was primarily composed of young adults and I didn’t see a single child, which was another vast and refreshing contrast. This young audience brought passion and excitement to this crowded room.  It was clear that they shared a genuine interest in the content of this performance.  As refreshing as this was, I was ready to take my seat, but the auditorium was not yet open and my classmates and I were forced to stay in this crowded room.  We stood uncomfortably until the ringing of a cow bell announced that seating could begin.  I had never been summoned by a cow bell before and it made me feel like I was thundering around in a large group of cattle as I followed the messy line which inched into the theatre.  I took a second row center seat and tried to ignore the lack of leg room.  I looked at the stage which was empty except for a bed placed in the center.  I read the program.  “Bedtime.  A man and woman wrestle a duvet into submission, invading the darkly comic territory between domesticity and fantasy, sex and death.”  Intrigued, I wondered how such a complex and controversial topic could be made into a dance. 

As the lights dimmed and the dance started the silence was broken by a male and female voice.  Each voice was listing reasons why they had slept with the other.  “I slept with you because you are attractive,”, “I slept with you to make someone jealous,”, “I slept with you to make you pregnant,”.  Then a couple dressed in their pajamas proceeded to dance on and around the bed.  At first I didn’t know what to make of this.  Normally I find modern dance confusing and impossible to relate to.  However as the dance continued I noticed a story line developing that I could follow.  The voices I heard were the insecurities of each person.  Throughout the dance the man and woman went through a range of emotions which they expressed through movements and gestures.  Sometimes they seems cold, they illustrated this by avoiding eye contact and using terse abrupt movements.  Sometimes they seemed confused, one searching for the other when he or she was just outside their line of vision.  Sometimes the couple seemed dysfunctional; the dancers displayed this when the man was trying to sleep on the bed but the woman kept changing positions while she slept to make it impossible for him.  Sometimes they were playful; this was apparent when the couple was making their bed, they smiled and threw about the bedding as if they were teasing one another.  This playfulness ultimately dissolved into passion when they made love.  Afterwards the woman wrapped the man up in the bedding and pushed him under the bed.  Again the voices started.  “I slept with you because I was drunk,”, “I slept with you because I wanted a relationship with you,”, “I slept with you because you’re so pretty.”  Then another man appeared in his pajamas looking at the woman who was lying on the bed.  The lights went out and the dance was finished.  I quickly related this dance to the ups and downs of relationships.  Sometimes they are cold, sometimes they seem confusing and dysfunctional, sometimes they are light and playful and sometimes they are passionate.  These relationships are surrounded by insecurities illustrated by the voices.  When the woman wraps up the man and puts him under the bed I drew parallels to heartbreak and embarrassment which results from an abrupt end to a relationship.  The woman wants to hide the one who broke her heart, push him under the bed and out of her mind.  She is ashamed, insecure  and hurt.  Then another man enters her life and the cycle begins again. 

For the second dance the stage had nothing but a chair on it as the second dance began.  A man with glasses, a book and a box of raisins walks onto the stage and sits in the chair.  As he begins to read, another man and a woman dart on and off of the side of the stage.  They seem happy to me.  They move so fast on and off stage that initially I don’t know what to make of them.  However they soon stop and the man in the chair is left alone.  He stands, removes his glasses and coat, and begins to dance, very differently from the previous couple.   This man’s dance feels desperate and lonely.  He keeps turning around as if looking for something or someone.  His movements are rash and urgent.  Several times he falls to the ground.  The lights go off and when they come on again the woman is laying center stage at the base of the chair.  She was weak.  She keeps trying to climb onto the chair but again and again she falls.  The first man now walks onto stage.  He helps her balance on the chair.  Every time she starts to fall, he steadies her.  After this point the dancers move more gracefully across the stage.  Some of their movements are synchronized.  They repeat the gesture of catching each other as they are about to fall to the ground.  This made me think of friendship.  When I read the program’s description of this performance it said simply “A legacy of memories, stories and songs become a dreamlike kaleidoscope as this eclectic trio of performers creates flashes of life.”  This broad yet sparse description leaves the dance performance up to interpretation.  I enjoyed this because I was able to create my own analysis of the dance number.  I believe that as the man sits and begins to read, his mind wanders, and brief memories of this man and woman dart through his mind.  When he removes his glasses and coat it symbolizes that he has he has entered into the memory and that the events from this point on are from an earlier time.  During his initial individual dance, he is in a state of agonizing loneliness.  When he witnesses the woman in her weakened state, he helps her stand and regain her strength.  Whenever she comes close to falling, he steadies her.  After this act of kindness and friendship, the dancers move gracefully and in time with one another.  This signifies their successful, happy and fulfilling relationship.  Each of them protects the other from falling which demonstrates the support they give each other when times are hard.  I found this particular dance touching and inspiring. 

After an intermission I entered the theatre again to watch the third and final dance number.  The stage was completely empty this time.  Five dancers entered; three women and two men.  They each introduced themselves in their native languages by giving the audience their name and nationality.  Then, one at a time, they express their insecurities about their race and heritage by imitating popular stereotypes through movement.  One portion of this performance that I remember most graphically was a black woman from London performing an interpretive dance while a recording of a computerized voice dictated her insecurities.  ‘People always ask me where I am from because they assume that because of my black skin I am not a Londoner.’ The voice reveals that because of constant judging and categorizing her, she feels hurt, exasperated and out of place.  As this voice is speaking, the woman dances.  Her dance has many jerky movements.  She pounds the ground and moves her body as if it is being pushed.  Her breathing is in gasps.  I believe this illustrates her inner conflict surrounding her race and national identity.  She is constantly being pushed into categories and pounded into stereotypes.  Her heavy breathing conveys her exhaustion resulting from society’s constant need to define her. 

As the dancers bowed and left the stage my mind was racing.  I thought about what I had just observed and was astounded by how easily I could relate to all of these dance performances on such a personal level.  Many different components contributed to the emotions that I experienced during that evening such as the venue, the audience and the dancers themselves.  I was proud that I could make sense of a modern dance show because normally I find them impossible to understand.  Because I could successfully interpret these dances, I was able to gain a wider understanding of Modern Dance and enjoy a more personal encounter with this exciting art form.

 

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