Monday, January 31, 2011

Dance with me

I have a subscription to the dance series at the Music Center in Los Angeles. Last Friday I attended a performance by the Brazilian company, Grupo Corpo. It was rather extraordinary. They manage to combine classical ballet with modern and traditional forms of Brazilian dance, in a synthesis that, at moments, is breathtaking in its virtuosity. Some of the moves which characterize their style I had never seen before, a sort of bossa nova-tango-rumba gliding bow-bend articulation of the body which is typically rounded in its execution and spiked with lifts that appear to defy both muscularity and gravity. I found it all fascinating and revealing.

Prior to that I had seen Corella Ballet Castilla y León, a youthful Spanish company, and they were superb. Their vigor, inventiveness and almost gleeful energy was infectious, and the audience, including my eight-year-old son, cheered them heartily. In a program that spanned a very traditional tutu-ruffled choreography of Bruch's Violin Concerto (one of my many guilty pleasures) to an electrifying Flamenco pas de deux, to a post-modern evocation of the French high speed train, they displayed the kind of courage, creativity and exuberance that only a troupe of young dancers is capable of.

Before them the Hubbard Street Dance Theater of Chicago brought a truly wonderful program of modern and interpretive dance to the Ahmanson Theater. One number in particular, which opened with an apparently endless line of dancers simply stepping one foot at a time to their right as they crossed the stage reminded me of a Samuel Beckett play, spare, eloquent, almost silent in its simplicity. After this they did a comic rendering of Ravel's Bolero, in which a female tries to crash a party to which she has not been invited. I would not have thought there was any life left in the Bolero, which was originally written as a dance piece, but Hubbard Street, by not taking it seriously, revived it to the delight of the audience.

Next comes the Nederlands Dans Theater, and after them the Alvin Ailey. I have never seen the Nederlands, though I hear they are very good, but I make a point of seeing Alvin Ailey every time they are in town. They always offer something new, as one year, for example, they interpreted Charlie Parker's enforced stay in the state mental institution at Camarillo, and they usually close with their venerable Revelations, which, though performed for some twenty years, is invariably as welcome as the Spring.

My point in mentioning all this is twofold. First, it seems to me that some of the most interesting and exciting work being done in the performing arts today is taking place in dance. And second, I want to urge everyone to support the dance, which is in danger of strangling to death in this country on shoestrings of budget. Dance is as ancient and omnipresent as the human race itself, perhaps the oldest art form of all. Every culture, every society, has danced; indeed, I daresay, whether we do so in public or not, every human being who ever lived has danced at some point in his life. Movement to music, or simply to rhythm, is a natural part of the human experience -- it is in our blood and bones, and there are moments in life, of exaltation, awe, abstraction or despair, when we can do nothing other than move to the ebb and flow of emotion, ideas and expectation.

And so, I ask all of you who are kind enough to read this blog, to attend dance, support dance, and get up off your duffs and dance. Our nation and our souls will be better for it.