Monday, September 19, 2011

Minsk Journal: West Side Story - "Cool" - a beginning

Monday, September 19th, 2011
Minsk, Belarus - 9:46pm

Random stat for the day: A gallon of gasoline contains 89 metric tons of phytoplankton. You're basically taking little bodies from the cretacious 100 million years ago and pumping them into your car.

By the way, I'm still waiting for the bozos who are theoretically assigned with putting the electric charger in my garage for my ordered but not delivered (cause I'd have no way to charge it) Nissan Leaf to actually return a call about rescheduling the appointment they missed so I can, you know, stop harvesting (or at least reduce the harvesting) of those little 100 million year old characters.

How exactly, do you wrap your head around 89 million metric tons of anything? Of course when you put that into the full tank of a Ford Taurus its actually almost 2 Billion of them, so go figure.

Guilty pleasure music note: Its not entirely clear to me why, after 30 years of dissing the Eagles I have suddenly gone very deeply retro and bought half their catalogue in the last 48 hours, but it probably has to do with extensive sleep deprivation. Gotta say, though, the bass line in "Outlaw Man" is completely insane.

OK -- day eight of the WSS marathon. Working three-a-day rehearsals now, starting at 10am and ending at 10pm with a couple of one hour breaks in between to try and kick this together. Jason and I are splitting duty so we can really get the material out of our heads and onto a seemingly endless stream of changing, but not interchangeable, bodies. The range of ability is a bit like comparing the air at sea level with that of the summit at Everest (though we're not referring to anyone as "the dead zone" at this point). But the constant is how insanely hard everyone is working. And the fact that, despite the fact that many of them have a pass on certain rehearsals because they are also, you know, in two or three shows which are also in performance at other times of the day, they show up anyway.

Honestly, my favorite are the people for the evening rehearsal who are actually ON STAGE during rehearsals who come in either before their stage time or in between or after in full costume. Hard to describe exactly the look of "Dance in the Gym" with a woman in an 18th century ball-gown and powdered wig, eyelashes that could catch a fly at 30 feet and those wide hip things they used to wear shouting "MAMBO" at the top of her lungs.

Only in the theater.

Truly, these people work so bloody hard its difficult to describe. They get one day off a week and they're there when I get in and they leave when I leave or, if they're in a production that night, way after, and we're talking 12 hour days that involve shows, rehearsals and all the stuff in between (you try putting on those costumes they run around in in period pieces and see if you can even imagine running into rehearsal with the craziness Jason is throwing at them -- great craziness, but craziness to be sure).

Today, rather than work with the full cast of "Cool" during the mid-day session I pulled my two favorite dancers into the studio and just said "lets forget everything that we think people can and can't do and make the dance we want. We'll adapt later." That in mind I think I really went out of my way to kill them -- pulling steps onto each beat in certain percussion lines and violating any sense of sanity about change of direction and things that went off the wrong foot because they made sense musically and had that innate relationship to the music they need for a dance as tortured as cool.

Beyond me how anyone makes music as brilliant as what Bernstein came up with for the entire show, much less "Cool." Seriously, how often do you actually get paid to use the best music in the world and make up a dance that pushes every limit you ever thought you had? Really?

(oh, and "Hotel California" is a pretty good way to accept permanent loss of hearing through a pair of "Beats Pro" by Dr Dre - and what's with the solo by Joe Walsh?)

Kate Jordan characterizes my infatuation with certain dancers as my "Little Adorations" (hence the name of the dance of the same name). I have one here and she's got that crazy ability to make you see movement that you'd never have gotten to on your own, but that pushes you endlessly farther than your own brain would have taken you. That's the wicked fascination with dance -- because the canvas is living and not in your control (whatever some choreographers might say). It lives beyond and above your own creative abilities and has this stunning, shocking way of making you see exactly the right step for something not because you made it, but because the person in front of you interpreting what she thought you asked for (and when neither of you speak the same language its really all body language anyway) saw and heard it in a way that was honest to her or him and that responded to the soundscape and it was just right.

Thank God for muses, I suppose.

"Cool" is such an icon its hard to describe. What Robbins made was perfect, and so I've actually forced myself not to watch that section of WSS. Its too easy to imitate it without trying, and in so doing make something that ends up being a dime-store copy, and that doesn't serve anyone. The music demands so much of the dancer that you want to find that for and with them without a Master in your head at the same time you're trying to discern what needs to be said. There's truth there as well in "Dance in the Gym" but there, in the "prologue" section, I chose to quote a step at the very beginning because it grounds the dance in the history. Its one step, and its been used endlessly in other places, but the quote was very much on purpose. And it just establishes the entire dance. Teaching them all swing was fun, except I almost knocked a girls teeth out in a spin she'd never seen before and opted to try to take her arm through her head as opposed to over it....not quite the "knocked her out" one seeks in those moments, but such is life...

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