Tuesday, November 01, 2005

ben franklin, at least, would approve

Interpretive dancers, like librarians and rocket scientists and, I don’t know, maybe strippers, have one of those professions known mostly by its stereotypes. People use interpretive dance as a stand-in any time they want to reference something dull and pretentious or something improvised and opaque. I was guilty of interpretive dance humor at my last reading, when I said, “I have a cold, so if I lose my voice, I guess I’ll just start doing interpretive dance.”

But even though I’ve been to plenty of dance performances, even though I went to CalArts, I can’t say that I’ve ever actually seen interpretive dance in action. Or at least I couldn’t until Saturday night.

B and I, plus Jamie and Lee-Roy and Ryan (not Singapore Ryan; he’s still in Singapore), turned out for Beyond Baroque’s Constitution-themed evening to see Jen Benka read her truly beautiful-smart-sad-hopeful book, A Box of Longing with 50 Drawers, which features one poem for each word of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Even the “the’s” and the “a’s.” That’s dedication.

Jen had mined tiny words for their most intricate and infinite meanings, had thought long and hard about this whole America thing. Which seemed to be sort of the opposite of everyone else found their way onto BB’s bright black stage: one cynical, wingin’-it-on-the-witness-stand Constitutional lawyer and two real live interpretive dancers.

When the first dancer took the stage, I braced myself. I had no idea what to expect. Would there be music? Talking? A lot of grabbing motions in the air? The answers turned out to be no, yes and yes. At first it was hard not to laugh, which had little to do with the performance and much to do with the silence in the room and the fact that, oh my god, I’m actually witnessing interpretive dance about the Constitution.

And yet it became kind of interesting, especially in the grand interpretive finale, when another dancer joined the first on stage. The new, strong young woman carried the slighter, older woman around on her hip, pressed her hands to the other woman’s hands, said, “Simone, you’re strong!” One myth that shattered for me is that interpretive dance is deadly serious. The younger woman would say things like, “I wonder if I can hold my leg up in the air for the rest of the performance?” There was some silly self-awareness, and they seemed to grant the audience permission to laugh.

And they talked about the Constitution, a little bit. The younger woman named some framers. The older woman said something about the Magna Carta. But ultimately I’m a worker bee artist, and while I’m blown away by the guts and talent that improvisation requires, I’m most impressed by art that takes years of research or thousands of little painted dots.

I concluded my literary weekend Sunday at the new Workspace in Silver Lake, where Tony Abatemarco read some crowd-pleasing Buckowski, and Terry Wolverton, dressed all in lime green, read poems praising shadows and spoons and lipstick. Proof that hard work can provide a lot of fun.

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