Friday, September 23, 2011

Minsk Journal: Voices in the Hallway

Minsk, Belarus
September 24, 2011

Just before 1am on Saturday (Friday night) and the bag is packed and the batteries charged on the traveling equivalent of the Apple Store (the iPhone, the iPad, the iPod and the laptop are all fired up). Anastasia, the Director of "West Side Story" asked me at dinner if I worked for Apple. Would that I'd had the brains to have faith in their stock the way I've had faith in their product over these decades. Money wouldn't be an issue EVER.The last two days, in the push to finish "Cool" I wound up being responsible, directly or indirectly, for sprained ankles on my two principal dancers and the people who have to convey all the material to the rest of the cast.

That's one of those firsts we never aspire to. The first sprain was a result of ignoring the critical adage of rehearsal: don't overwork exhausted dancers. For Mouse (my nickname for Anastasia the dancer [as opposed to Anastasia the Director] ) I'd been working with her for almost 11 hours (with lunch and dinner breaks, but still....) by the time she pulled herself up off the floor to learn one last thing. A mistake I would never make under less demanding circumstances and, circumstances be damned, won't make again. We'd been through an insane amount of material, including learning, on pointe, the first half of "Entangled," which is a dance I made for Liz and Jerome almost two years ago now in DC. All it takes is a wrong landing.....
The second was one of those things that happens in tough material being demonstrated as well as danced. But it ended the chance of finishing "Cool." And, really, that's OK. We got through an astonishing amount of material, Jason and I, in two weeks. The challenge now, from great distance, is to stay connected to it somehow to keep it fresh and alive. Odds are I'll be back here in November for the premiere of "Entangled," to clean and complete the missing parts of "West Side" and very possibly to build something new for some of the really gifted dancers here, which would be a preamble to a program we've been invited to create in June 2012.

Of all the magical things one seeks in our company its collaboration, and now that collaboration comes from the Director of the Musical Theater at which we've been working to create an evening-length concert of all live music with their orchestra to be presented on an outdoor stage and then toured around the country. Can't ever, ever ask for something more enchanting than that....But we're at the end of this second part of a three-part journey with West Side that continues for two weeks in April. When Jason and I are back the show will be largely mounted, the dialogue learned and the songs readied. It will be something to see...The postscript of the day is actually its centerpiece. Its the why of the title.At the end of the rehearsal day for the full cast today three of the dancers we'd spent these weeks with came to Jason and to me and asked if they could "borrow us" for a few minutes. They had that wonderful crazy glint in their eyes and there was only one answer to the question before turning to "Cool" (and that second sprained ankle).

There wasn't much space to find, and time was short. Around the corner we went, in between the two studios, next to the various coat and costume racks, in the strange dim light that signifies an unimportant corridor and a transitory space. If it had been previously significant for any reason the reason was that it had the most insane echo and so conversations in it were a bit like the old "Get Smart" Cone of Silence.But that changed the moment that one of the three women before Jason and I began to sing.

Eyes closed, hand just slightly raised as she took in the idea of what she sought in a note, breath low yet full, a sound grew from her which stopped all the breath I had. Gentle, assured, graceful and utterly committed to the moment she took a journey that lifted you from time. And then there were two voices. And then three. And in the space of a few minutes the world simply became perfect. The hallway, a space of annoyance instants before, became one of conspirator, grabbing onto their song and inhaling it and then echoing it back out in pitch perfect reverberation. If I have ever understood rapture it was in this moment. As they filled these spaces in Jason's and my hearts people walked back and forth from the two rooms. In most circumstances that would have upended a mood, a moment, a song. Not here. Nothing could have broken that bubble in which they embraced us. The harmonies, the polyphonies were so easy and so natural that the insane difficulty of them was invisible until, later, when walking down the street, you tried to keep that air in your lungs a moment longer.It was a gift, they said.

They'd learned it the night before and was their present to us for these past weeks. As someone who places the voice above all instruments -- and, in many ways, all other forms of artistry -- it was a gift beyond measure. Goosebumps would have trivialized it. It was beyond that if that makes any sense.These are the moments that happen only in the embrace of art. They are the simple, yet so utterly profound, moments of grace that give you the sense that you are somehow utterly, and undeservedly, blessed. If we have given Minsk anything, those three ladies gave back something that I will have just inside my skin far, far, far into the future.The Embassy car for the airport comes in two hours. A 5:30 departure for Frankfurt and a 9am connection to Madrid. A new journey begins, but the one ending here stays now, thanks to three voices in a hallway.....

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