Saturday, October 31, 2009

The young girl and the apple

I love the conundrums of titles for dances. Should they mean something or not? "What's in a name" and all that. Good titles are like clues to a choreographer's intent, and great titles are like double entendres -- they give you not just one, but multiple clues to the idea of a dance, and take you places you would not otherwise necessarily be able to get just by watching.

For the concert just completed at the John F. Kennedy Center the best example -- witty, imaginative and insightful -- is Rachel Erdos's "Alma."

Some words -- or some phonetic constructions -- just flow, having that way of working that cuts across many languages, and so play across meaning. Coming from a part of the world where so many languages live side-by-side, and where they have influenced each other for thousands of years of exchange, occupation, and the simple co-mingling of culture, they adopt multiple meanings. "Alma" is a great case-in-point.

In Turkish and Hungarian "alma" means "apple." Should the dance be performed in those countries, then the title is, literally "apple." The fact that the stage is littered with apples, and where they are, as one critic said today "the third cast member of a duet," consumed, placed, tossed, makes the meaning obvious on a superficial level, but belies the many subtleties of their use.

The fun lies, for me, in this -- in hebrew "Alma" means "young girl" and therein rests the elegance of "Alma." All the twists and turns of knowledge that come with the symbolic meaning of the apple in liturgical context ties into the idea of the innocence of a young. Lots of possibilities, but you have to know all the variants of the sound that makes up the different words, and the different meanings of the word in the different languages. If you're taking in the dance in Israel, or know hebrew but not Turkic or Hungarian meanings, its about a young girl. If you're taking it in where the meaning is "apple" then its apparently obvious -- except its not. But if you know both, then you get another side. And "Erdos" is Hungarian in origin. So you have an English-Israeli choreographer of Hungarian descent (and the obvious consequences of being descended from European Jews) who knows the word in both Hungarian and Hebrew. The etymology is as much about the choreographer as about the meaning of the word and the dance. Were she not of the lineage she is, the word might not have come to mind for her, and the dance as well might either not have come to being or have taken different meaning.

Its a case where the pictures of the dance might be worth a thousand words, but the word itself is worth an elegant dance.

The images are from "Alma." Its danced by Jason Garcia Ignacio and Giselle Alvarez (and I took them)...

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