Monday, March 31, 2008

Meaning and Movement(s)

By Paul Gordon Emerson

There's a classic moment in "A Chorus Line" that stalks most choreographers. Its the one where Morales is trying to fight her way through an acting class where the instructor is all about what it feels like to be anything but human. "I feel the wind, I feel the snow." Morales felt.... "Nothing."

Its tough enough to get into the soul of a character with only human attributes. Getting into the soul of other living things, things for which we can have no direct sense of what it is "to be that thing" is more than hard. Its dangerous. How do you know if a) you're on the right track and b) that you're not making a total fool of yourself in the process.

The answer is you don't. And, in the end, if you trust the choreographer, and trust the intention, then those things aren't the point. Internally, for yourself, the point is the journey. Externally, for the audience, the point is to transport, to transfer, to translate. That takes courage coupled with talent. Pointed feet and nice turns won't get you there.

But there are keys, and when those keys are available the journey and the translation can go places you never imagined. And when the subject is global warming, and the triggers are in the devastation of the environment, the willingness to ask what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a chain saw is vital.

We respond to things to which we can relate. Its the source of empathy, and empathy is a source of action. We empathize by being willing to open ourselves to someone, or something, else's pain and situation. We call a failure to do so "dehumanizing." And in dehumanizing each other we make atrocity possible. Is it so utterly different when it comes to the creatures with whom we share the planet? It sounds like tree-hugging at its most far left, but is it? How do we effect change if we don't similarly effect our own internal change in perceptions of the things around us?

In this case we are using movement to create a movement. Dance, as a moving art, empowered to aid a political, social, economic and, yes, environmental movement. The journey requires a dancer to open him or herself to that empathy for other life (and thus for all the lives we DO care about), and to find a way to get an audience inside it. The honesty of that experience is the catalyst for dialogue -- for conversation -- and that, in turn, is a vital first step towards change. Silence, like the silence of the jungles being swept clean in West Africa and the Amazon, is not tranquility. Its emptiness. Like Isabel's anguished, aching movement and the preternatural sounds emanating from her dancers, silence is not an option in this pursuit. Neither is preaching. The point, both for the dancer trying to tackle the movement challenge before him or her and for the society we are talking with, noise -- comfortable and not -- is everything.

It's Isabel's revolution, made possible through the tiny, exquisite wind brought on by a million butterflies who each can do little but taken together can change everything.

No comments: