It's late and I just spent way too long looking for a youtube clip that would illustrate how I felt watching a dance show this evening. The clip I want doesn't seem to exist. It's a clip from a scene in Amadeus where the emperor comes to watch a rehearsal of The Marriage of Figaro. By his own edict, the music to the wedding dance has been removed, so he sits, increasingly befuddled, and watches beautiful dancers doing beautiful dance moves without any context. He tries to pretend he appreciates what's being presented to him for a while, until eventually he looks around and says, "What IS this?"
Don't get me wrong. The dancing I saw tonight itself was lovely. One dancer in particular was like some exquisitely muscled swan, and I could watch her make seemingly meaningful movements all over the stage all night, but I'd still ultimately feel frustrated that I couldn't ever figure out what that meaning actually was. The program used a lot of big words and made ambitious claims about the deep societal issues these dance pieces were addressing. But all I could see were beautiful bodies moving in an athletic and precise fashion to purposefully dissonant and jarring "music." I guess I didn't get it. Do I not get dance?? Or did I just not get that dance? Now I want to see more dance and find out. So maybe it did its job.
One day in, and I'm already being thrust outside of my comfort zone. This is why the Fringe is so enlivening. It leads you into the only dance show you've seen in at least a year, makes you feel like an inbred 18th century Austrian emperor, then plops you down at Bedlam, where you meet Ahmed Naumann.
Ahmed is directing That Sara Aziz! at The Playwrights' Center. I talked with him for quite a while on the Bedlam rooftop, and rediscovered yet another way the Fringe is broadening and exhilerating. When you dig past the top layer of "theater people" who live this way to some extent or another all year round, you find stories of remarkable courage and faith from people who don't have access to the resources, networks, and support systems that make putting a show up feasible for most of us full time theater folk. Ahmed has been a consumer of Twin Cities theater for years, but this is his first foray into producing and directing, because he happened to find a story that he felt needed to be told. He's an engineer, professor and dean from Pakistan, chagrined by what is happening culturally both in his homeland and among young Pakistanis here in America, so he's throwing his money, time, and passion behind this play he read that resonated with him and introduced him to characters he immediately recognized and wanted to see walk and talk. I for one can't wait to see it. Theater folk are full of creativity, humor, skill, zany stories, finely crafted scripts and well constructed characters, but nothing beats the raw urgency and truth in some of the pieces by folks who found themselves carried to the stage simply by the strength of a story, and there they are, left with no choice but to say it out loud now under spotlights. These are the thrilling leaps of faith that I want to support mind, body, and soul.
In the meantime, I want to figure out how I really feel about dance. Must see more dance. First, must sleep.