On Friday, I went to see a dance performance at BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is a theater, event space, and movie theater that always runs cool shows). A week or so ago I entered a facebook contest that gave me membership to BAM for a year and also free tickets to Friday's show. I was excited, mostly about the free membership, but also because I would never buy tickets to see a modern dance performance on my own. It's not that I don't like dance, it's just one of those things, like monster truck rallies and comic conventions, that isn't on my radar. Here is the sum total of what I knew about the show going in: it was a series of excerpts choreographed by Tony award-winning Garth Fagan (who did the Lion King, which I still haven't gotten around to seeing). I didn't even remember the name of the show when I got to will call to get my tickets (in my defense: the show is called Lighthouse/Lightning Rod and Griot New York). I hesitate to call this a review then because it's clearly the rambling opinions of someone who knows very little about the medium. Nevertheless, my thoughts:
I can appreciate dancing on an aesthetic level and find I'm usually just amazed at how these people have the same technical body parts that I have but that they are able to do so many more things with them. Their athleticism and ability is astounding. From a purely visual level, I thought the show was wonderful. The dancers all had such an incredible energy. I enjoyed the more fast-paced energetic ensemble dances the most, but there were a handful of excerpts that were slow moving pairs contorting and entwining themselves in interesting ways that were also very impressive.
The staging was very minimalist except for one element. For each excerpt there was a different large prop on stage. These ranged from a large barbed wire, huge chain, tiki head on its side, inflatable balloon space ship thing, and (given what I now know is the show's name this one was the least obtuse beyond the slavery imagery ones) two lightning bolts during the finale. Some of the props added something to the scene, but very rarely were they used or acknowledged as part of the dance. And for many of them I wasn't sure what they had to do with the dance at all. Which comes to my larger problem with understanding modern dance (much like modern art in general and specifically performance art): I seldom look for the meaning in it. When staring at a Jackson Pollock painting the people around me, and the MOMA seems to support this claim, are clearly seeing something I am not. It's like a magic eye where everyone else is seeing some cool hologram and I'm still just staring a paint splatters. Or maybe it's that I'm just too lazy to look for the meaning and I would prefer to just enjoy things for their surface beauty (which is yet another good reason I didn't pursue graduate school in English...). Often when I judge modern art of any kind it's on the misplaced rubric of: "I can do that" or "I can't do that." If I see a red square painted on a blue square my first thought is that I could do that easily and so it's not impressive, completely ignoring any deeper meaning that the artist intended and the thought that went into it first.
Either way, I'm willing to accept that for the initiated, a giant fly swatter positioned on stage left symbolizes something highly relevant that would allow the dance to appreciated on another level. And for my part, I appreciated the workmanship.
|A scene from Lighthouse/Lightning Rod. I cannot do that.|
Hopefully, this membership to BAM will cause me to check out their shows more often and become more informed in my study of the arts. Will keep you posted on that front.