Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Let go

The subject is dancing. Movement and rhythm, choreography, suggestion, in other words all the elements that Western theatre rarely takes into account in its relentless quest for realism.

First, a few words about Noir. Months later, I am still surprised that people understood the purpose of all the dancing in Noir’s preshow only at the end of the play. The preshow, completely devoid of audible dialogue, established relationships between the characters through choreography. The people in Night’s head – his imaginary sound guy and charwoman and, later, the girls from the audience – formed relationships through dance, came close and separated, changed partners often, invaded Night’s space, teased him with their presence, disturbed the objects on his desk, exposed his vulnerability, made him suffer. By the time the play began 30 minutes later, the characters (and the actors) felt connected, the audience understood it was part of a continuous show, a show that had begun before they entered the space of the performance and was to go on long after, the world of Noir was already established. 

At the end of the play Angelica, the Angel of Death, danced slowly on her way out, taking her victim by the hand, making the girl move with the melody, leaving Night behind to contemplate his perfect solitude in the company of an exquisite soundtrack. Described like this, the end of Noir sounds cold. It wasn’t. Having experienced human contact (conversation, company) for the first time in years, Night’s perfect isolation at the end is a life sentence. He lives it because it is his life, because he has no other choice, because it is his duty to stay alive.

This is the connection between Noir and Glissando, between Night and Chehov (yes: I'm still spelling it my way), between the world of the Steppenwolf and that of the playwright forced to work alone in the middle of a crowd consisting of his cast, his crew, his family, his friends, his fans – all clamoring to hear the new play, to see it produced, to watch it unfold and take over their lives like a deadly and beautiful disease.

Because of this connection, dancing plays a huge part in Glissando. I need it there, I need to show that the most intimate connections are not established through dialogue but through movement, through the distance or the proximity between the actors’ bodies, through gestures that reinvent the language of passion, indifference or hatred, particularly when these emotions (is indifference an emotion?) are suppressed, as things of an internal nature often are in Chehov’s plays where unspeakable things unspoken scream louder than any words.

At the end of Noir the public made a connection between the dance in the preshow and Death’s seductive, rhythmic movements at the end. Relations formed, and then were broken, only to form again “on the other side.” And the spectators thought, this is how it all ends, all the hopes and efforts, and ambitious dreams, and small misunderstandings, and grand love affairs: all it takes is a wrong turn, an unpredictable gesture, and Death comes calling, and takes your hand, and forces you into a rhythm from which there is no escape and no return. So dance. Let go. Close your eyes and move with the music. Let go. 

That’s what Chehov’s people do: they let go. It isn’t freedom but abandon, a kind of quiet desperation (“this is your life; you have to live it now”) which dance captures perfectly. Think, for instance, of the deliberate, passionate rhythm of the tango; the mellifluous, continuous movement of the waltz, the intimate tension of the slow dance. I want it all, and I want it to signify, and I want the playwright to dance with the three sisters as if they were one body, and I want all the complex, impossible relationships that develop between him and his characters, between him and his actresses to be captured in those movements. I love choreography. I love the absence of dialogue. I love that it gives me the power to turn something ordinary (an argument between husband and wife; a sexual encounter between strangers) into a surprising interlude. A new language for the stage emerges out of the movement of bodies in a particular space. It is that simple: the space of the stage, a few silhouettes, and the distance or the closeness between them. How difficult it is to let go. How nerve-wracking.

For the first time, we have a choreographer. Young, kind, patient (in other words, the opposite of me). She works like me, though, in narrower and narrower circles, sketching the movements, the entire scene, then working on details, more and more focused. Where I frown and worry, she compliments. In a little over an hour, the cast is dancing – four bodies working as two – letting go, having fun. Will I ever learn to be this relaxed? Probably not. But it feels great to work with someone who is…

There is much work to be done and months go by like days, and I say, we have a year before the show, but that’s no longer true, and I know that I’ll blink one day, and it will be May, and we’ve met only three times so far. I panic. But then I remember Chehov and his female characters moving with deliberate precision in the quiet of the room; I remember how amazed I was at the ease with which the actors (my actors) took to choreographed movement; I remember how much I love the process, and Chehov, and his unhappy, resigned, and delicate people. And that’s when I close my eyes and let go.