Monday, June 18, 2007

High art and cheap thrills

Saturday evening I went to my eternal favorite theater, On the Boards, to get my annual Northwest New Works Festival fix. I chose the studio theater showings because the second of the four performances was a dance piece by Paige Barnes and The Grizzlies. A bazillion years ago, I studied at the U with Paige, and I always enjoy seeing what my very talented classmates are doing post-college. And because it's always a good exercise in self-loathing to view the dance pieces of those who are doing with their lives what I wish I'd done with mine.

I was running late as usual, and snuck into the theater right before the lights went down, with just enough time to squeeze myself into a lone seat near someone who smelled obnoxiously of day-old whiskey. Having had a meager dose of whiskey myself the night before, I panicked for a moment wondering if it could be me. But then the woman next to me offered a mint to her friend sweetly saying, "Honey, I can smell your hangover," and I relaxed in my seat confident that the only obnoxious scents wafting off me were the fumes of my fresh dye job mixed with my orange blossom perfume.

The first piece, and my favorite, was a lecture-opera by Liminal Performance Group called "The Theory of Love." When the first person, behind a podium, began speaking, I immediately thought "Wow. That guy has a GREAT speaking voice." Which is kind of an odd thought, but a good one, since the "lecture" part of "lecture-opera" means exactly what it says. The two be-podiumed performers spoke and sang a 20-minute lecture on the scientific theories of love, while film and photographs served as visual aides on the back wall. It was an oddly soothing sensory overload, and definitely the best lecture I've ever sat through. I can only imagine the grades I would have received had my very German statistics professor taken this approach in his lectures.

With the second piece came Paige and her Grizzlies (three dudes with full beards) performing "Stenophobia." The four of them danced a brief prelude and then Paige and one Grizzly were left to perform the remainder of the piece. Not long into the duet, Grizzly stripped down to his tighty whiteys. My full attention turned to him, and I watched him dance in awe - not in a lusty sort of way, but in a the-body-is-an-amazing-machine sort of way. With some lust thrown in on the side. Soon enough, Paige had stripped down to her own tighty whiteys and a flesh colored bra top. And then, as I knew they would, they both stripped off their final layers of clothing to perform the last half of the duet in the nude and (mostly) in the dark, with some really cool and bizarre animation projected on and around them.

Now. Coming from the dance world, I am used to a lot of nudity. There's a lot of changing in the studio before class for lack of nearby dressing rooms. There's a lot of rehearsing in next to nothing on hot summer days. There are a lot of quick costume changes back stage. What there isn't a lot of is time for modesty. On top of that, dancers tend to take a very objective, utilitarian view of their own bodies and, when in the zone, can completely detach any sort of sexuality from them. As such, when I was involved in the dance world as an active participant instead of a casual observer, I hardly noticed when the clothes came off. Instead, I noted it for the expression of vulnerability or intimacy or whatever it was intended to be. (Unless there was a pole involved, in which case I was observing an entirely different kind of dance and none of my previous statements apply.) And, in fact, this is not the first time I've had the privilege of watching Paige dance in her birthday suit. But that was then and this is now, and I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't crane my neck to catch a glimpse of the Grizzly's willy in the darkness.

The remaining two pieces included only a pie eating contest, karaoke, and brief female nudity ("Repeat After Me" performed by Hand2Mouth Theatre) and fake blood, feathers, and spirit flags for the audience ("Main Event" performed by Helsinki Syndrome) and so are hardly worth mentioning.

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