Thursday, June 01, 2006

Charleston, Post 7 - Bill T. Jones Dance Ensemble

This morning, after rehearsal, I finally got to one of the chamber music concerts. We heard Kodaly and Korngold, and it was amazing. I was especially impressed by the violinist Chee-Yun - she was an extraordinarily engaging performer, although everyone was great.

This evening was a difficult decision, since it was the only day I could see both Mahler's 5th and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance company. I decided to go for the Bill T. Jones Blind Date, since, as many people said, I will probably get the chance to hear some Mahler in the future. While I'm not sorry I did, this is mainly because I would have been eternally wondering what I had missed.

First of all, we saw Mike Daisey outside the performance. This is the monologist that I loved so much at last year's Spoleto, and unfortunately will not get to see this year, since I'm performing every night he's performing. Secondly, he was wearing my Schrödinger's Cat shirt! Everyone in the choir who saw him said, "Hey, he's wearing your shirt! Go talk to him!" I felt kind of star-struck, but after some of the other choir members went over and told him they knew someone with his shirt, I kind of had to go over and introduce myself. He was really nice, and we had a brief geek-bonding moment. I'm now even more disappointed I can't go to any of his performances.

Anyways, then came the dance performance. It was kind of interesting, but I have to say that on the whole, I wouldn't recommend it. The performance involved lots of multi-media - lots of screens with different things on them, and two live singers, and some of the dancers speaking or singing, and words scrolling down or pictures phasing in and out of each other. The movement itself was great - it had a distinctive style, and was beautiful to watch, and the dancers were enormously accomplished. There were some very effective moments, such as when individual dancers told stories on the video, while at the same time they were dancing in real time.

However, it was very political, and the politics was not very well done. I was continually wondering, "What is the point of this? What is your message?" And while I do tend to want lots of explanation and clear-cut communication in my performances, I really feel that my confusion and impatience were a failing of the performance rather than a manifestation of my preferences. I got that war is bad; there was also the message that people who join the military are "sitting ducks" who just do what they're told and don't know what they're getting into; there was also a very ill-defined message that religion can lead to war, and some other negative messages concerning religion, although I'm not sure what they were. There was a rather mocking section where statistics about terrorist attacks and natural disasters were recited, interspersed with "Praise the Lord!" and "Hallelujah!" and the whole effect was sarcastic, and sort of mean-spirited without any point. There was an interesting point at the beginning about the ways in which the pure love of country that is patriotism can be manipulated into a tool of war, but that idea wasn't developed later on. All in all, the whole point of the piece was political, but not specific, or complex, or well-thought-out. I agree that the war in Iraq is not a good thing, but I didn't agree with some of the other messages - I thought they were disrespectful, especially the religious stuff. And at the same time as not agreeing with all of the message, I also didn't agree with how it was presented. Also, after a while, not knowing exactly what the piece was trying to say got old. If I don't get your message, that doesn't necessarily mean it's really deep - it might just be badly assembled, or not make sense to begin with. However, it certainly led to a lot of dialogue within the choir - people had a variety of reactions, and did a good deal of talking about them.

The most dramatic bit happened at the end, after the bows, while the lights were coming up. As the applause was becoming scattered, and people were leaving, somebody in the balcony shouted out, "Boo!" Bill T. Jones immediately bounced out on stage, and yelled, "Who said that! Who said that!" I will now relay an approximate transcription of the interchange (which I believe was not planted, but in fact spontaneous, and with an actual audience member):

Bill T.: Who said that? Come down here, out of the dark!
Booer: I don't want to!
Bill T.: What's your problem? Use words! What are you booing?
Booer: I thought it was a cliche, badly disguised as third-rate art.
Bill T.: I think you're wrong! I think your gut disagrees with my message, and that's what you're responding to!
Booer: Well, you're right. That's it. I do disagree with your message!
Bill T.: Well, if you don't criticize my art, I won't criticize your politics!

(It was actually longer than that, with a bit more hot air, and more wordy, but I'm pretty sure the booer's criticism and Bill T.'s last line are accurate.)

I mean, what the hell? First of all, of course people can criticize your art! Secondly, you are criticizing the guy's politics, starting with the fact that you just put on a performance with a very strong (if vague) political point-of-view that was critical of some other political points of view. It just seemed hypocritical in the extreme, and put the whole performance in a different light. However, it sure was dramatic and exciting!

It was an interesting experience, so I'm glad I went - but I'm also glad it was free!

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