Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Body and Brain Rhumba

The People's Snob doesn't appreciate good dancing. That is to say, I don't know the difference between good dancing and bad dancing. If the dancers wobble a little when they land, is that bad? What if I don't care? If a dance includes someone dramatically prostrating herself on the stage, is that good? Or bad? What if that particular move drives me bonkers? Would you believe this is not the last of the rhetorical questions this post will pose?

Of course, I do appreciate free dancing, so I was happy to go see a performance of "Son Corazon" by the Latin Ballet at Dogwood Dell last weekend.

I have a memory of seeing a Latin Ballet performance at the Children's Museum of Richmond, where the small space intensified the energy of the dancers and turned the experience of watching into something almost participatory. The large stage and amphitheater of the Dell diluted this feeling, but probably made for a technically better performance.

"Son Corazon" purports to be an "emotional and uplifting journey through dance based on the real stories of Cubans living in the United States," and had we picked up one of the printed programs, we might have followed the journey. (Also, we didn't stay for whole performance, as the young one was so tired that we left at intermission.)

As it was, it simply looked liked beautiful dances based on African and Spanish traditions, with fabulous costumes and a few hats.

Several of the dances included narration, some of which was in Spanish only, and some of which was also translated into English. This didn't strike me as dramatically necessary because it wasn't of a storytelling nature. (Maybe the second half included stories.)

So this performance made me uncomfortable in the same way that I usually feel uncomfortable at dance performances: I don't understand this hybrid of movement and narration, of body and brain. Why must a dance mean something?

Take away the program, the narration, the costumes. What's left is the dance. Movement alone tells the story of any conflict, love, and loss. If I had not known in advance that this performance was called "Son Corazon," that it had something to do with Cuba, would I have enjoyed it more, not struggling to create a historical narrative?

I know that throughout the ages, dance has been used as a means of storytelling, of perserving a people's history. But I don't want to have to try to understand a story; I want it either told to me or not. Am I too uptight--should I let the performance mean halfway?

I think that answer is yes, but I think a better way of asking myself the question is to say, "What can I do to help myself combine the intellectual understanding of a story with the physical understanding of dance, so that both halfway meanings make something whole?" And I suppose the answer to that is to go to more dance performances.

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