Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Dance is a Poem

So I went to watch my daughter perform with her dance company. On the train there I thought about how many times I have seen her is a dance performance. For more than a decade I have watched her go from looking like a frothy little cake decoration twirling slowly, uncertainly, on the stage during her dance school’s end-of-year performance, to being an athletic and self-assured young woman driving herself to deliver as perfect a performance as possible, and it has been delightful to watch the transformation.

But truth be told, I have not always enjoyed every show. I have, of course, been completely enthralled every time my daughter’s on stage, but over the years she has been part of dance recitals that went on for upward of three hours and ran to some thirty or forty numbers. Getting all the children from the dance studio involved in the performances sometimes required great creativity on the part of the dance instructors and the director. I can remember, for instance, on one occasion being amazed to discover that “The Little Mermaid” had performances by children in traditional Tyrolean peasant clothing, Spanish tap dancers, and chimney sweeps – I don’t recall reading that in the original. Still, every child had several parts, and all the parents got to reflect how much more talented their child was than all the rest.

Over the years the themes of the performances matured along with the dancers. Through high school and into university the performances also became shorter and more sophisticated, and they have now become something to which I look forward, rather like I might look forward to an entertaining evening at the theatre.

But this year there was something very different. This year I found myself caught up in the performances like I have not been before. The infamous 1st World War era dancer and courtesan, Mata Hari, is quoted as having said that “The dance is a poem of which each movement is a word.” At this performance, I felt the truth of that on a visceral, rather than just cognitive, level. The combination of the music the group had selected, as interpreted by, and put to, dance, was extraordinarily powerful. Effective, compelling, poignant and cathartic, the performances drove home all the emotions they explored with a force that was almost physical. It was an extraordinary, transforming, experience.

I must have seen almost a hundred dance performances over the past 13 or 14 years. But this was the first time I began to understand what dance can really communicate.
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