Beauty, Interrupted

23 Sep

Last night, I was lucky enough to see “Mozart Dances”, performed by the Mark Morris Dance Group at Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley. I’ll have to admit that I know very little about dance as a whole and ballet in particular, but I’ve longed looked forward to seeing a performance choreographed by the famed Mark Morris. I’m not sure what is, but somehow in every writing class I’ve taken while I’ve lived in the East Bay, there are at least a couple dancers in each class, and they’ve all spoken highly of Mark Morris.

Each of the three dances were incredibly beautiful, filled with movement, emotion, and sometimes surprises. As Cecly Placenti writes in Ballet-Dance Magazine,

The dancing in “Mozart Dances” served as a visual accent to the concertos, the dancers falling across the stage in perfect harmony, trilling along like musical notes in space. In his simple yet pristine choreography, Morris establishes patterns and then breaks them in surprising ways. Like in Mozart’s music, where what you think are repeats are actually slight differentiations in chords, the choreography works out a theme with slight variations, sections moving into the next with satisfying cohesion.

There were numerous other reviews written specifically about their Berkeley performance, lin the Chronicle and the Mercury so I won’t drag on too much here. But I do have to at least mention my favorite part of the whole performance, which came during the middle of the second piece, “Double.”

The men danced in a large circle, and then in small circles, and then moved fluidly back and forth from small to large to small circles. Then, one by one, they began breaking from the circle and running away, the rest of the men following them, soon returning to reform the circle. Steven Winn, in the Chronicle, describes this as a “whirling centrifugal force and even a deft sight gag, when a dancer’s body becomes a swinging door for entrances and exits.”

The circle regroups, but soon “a seventh male dancer (a tremulous Noah Vinson) enters the circle and is held there, protected by the hovering throng around him. The circle expands, breaks apart into smaller parts and pairs. Vinson is released, restored by the community to join this widening gyre. Eventually, in a startling visitation from the wings, the female dancers make their first appearance in the piece, refashioning the circle in a blur of soft, rustling gowns and feathery steps.”

I cannot completely explain why this sequence moved me so much, but I literally felt tears forming in my eyes as I watched the struggle turn into graceful movement, as the women fluttered across the stage, spinning their long white skirts around themselves and the men.

It was by far the most beautiful and intense dance I’ve ever seen.

The night would have been perfect, a great example of what East Bay culture has to offer. But it was unfortunately interrupted by a conversation I overheard, waiting in line for the bathroom during intermission…

One woman began, “That was lovely. It was so amazing to see a man submit to the floor and how the others moved towards him and helped him up.”

Her friend responded, “Well that’s how gay men really act.”

Another friend retorted, “No. They usually act out in very macho ways towards each other.”

“Oh, that’s interesting,” the first woman replied.

It was incredible to me that these middle-aged, heterosexual women had…

1. Oversimplified such a complex set of dances that pushed boundaries of gender and sexuality to a point that (to me) they didn’t matter anymore.

2. Oversimplified and stereotyped gay men to a point that their behavior could only be explained as submissive or macho.

After the intermission, I went on to enjoy the incredible third dance piece, but I couldn’t help remembering their conversation throughout the night. These are supposed to be the “liberal” women of Berkeley (or maybe Oakland), who likely support all sorts of rights for gays, including marriage. Yet they still don’t get that sexuality is just sexuality and doesn’t necessarily define all aspects of a person’s behavior.

And art should sometime just be enjoyed for its beauty, instead of over-analyzed in an attempt to find a political statement buried within.

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