Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dance as the Story, the Story as Dance.

The theater was like one of those old Chicago theaters. As soon as you got there you were surrounded by concrete and stone and a wonder of those architects from the 1920’s. What must they have thought when they sketched those beautiful monsters? Buildings with solid feet and deep foundations, buildings meant to stand as long as the Parthenon, buildings designed to age and become timeless. There was something living inside these stones, a story about the sheer audacity of man to build in defiance of nature, of time, of people. A structure that would not be swayed or buried or lost in time. Perhaps a story of hubris lay in the stones as well. There was something about the cavernousness nature of Chicago, the streets a valley between mountains sculpted and crafted by men and women with unique and unusual visions.

It is a strange and beautiful city.

This was a strange and beautiful theater. Inside, the Auditorium Theater, was also spacious and lush, with marble and art deco sculptures lining the walls, creamy silk curtains hanging and swinging about around you, so that you felt that you had walked from the strong concrete and stone into a lush harem designed to be sumptuous and comfortable.

I met Faust outside and dragged him in with me. I was already swept up in the crowd, the music, and the nightand the wine I had with dinner didn’t hurt. I thought to have one more glass of wine, and even bought one, but sadly the theater did not serve great wine. (A shame for such ritual hedonism as the theater is that they couldn't afford a sommelier to help them choose a bottle that went well with the theater.) The glass I bought got left on a table. I procured water instead, and then worked my way with my date toward my box seats.

Truly, I was excited about the box seats. Perhaps a bit wrong, perhaps one too many viewings of French period movies and Dangerous Liaisons, or maybe one too many books about the intrigue that was offered in those box seats. The price was reasonable and this was my first time to see a traditional ballet live. While I love Hubbard, it is not classical ballet, and I do enjoy all forms of dance. However, for all my time going to theaters to see things, I had yet to see actual classical dance in the theater. While I think Swan Lake is pretty, it seems like it is always playing at "That is not that damn ballet I want to see." I want to see something beautiful, classical, and lovely, with a story I care about. Romeo and Juliet was a perfect choice.

The box had four comfy chairs, and much to my surprise no one else joined us in the box, so we had two overstuffed and lush comfy chairs all to ourselves, with a very good view of the stage. Next to us in the box ahead was a family of four with two little girls, who both found me fascinating. I smiled at them and they smiled back.

“Is this your first ballet?” I quietly whispered to one of the girls. She gave me a wide-eyed nod in answer. I smiled again and whispered quietly, “Mine too.”

“Are you excited?” I asked Faust.

“Yes, I think so, I…don’t know quite what to expect.”

“I thought you liked the ballet?”

“I think I do; I’ve never seen it live before.”

Well that made two of us. And almost like a snap, the lights fell away and there was nothing but darkness and the light on the stage. The strings in the orchestra pit played one last settling note, and after that the conductor whipped them in to the first jaunty measures of Prokofiev, and then dancers took the stage.

Even though it was traditional, their costuming was reminiscent of the 1930s and clearly the stage designer had decided to set this particular showing during the more modern era. The updated costuming did not distract from the dance though, and the troupe was masterful. Romeo was tall and lithe and moved across the stage with a cocky sort of grace that you would expect from the brash hero, but Mercutio. There was a dancer who will haunt my dreams. His entire body vibrated with merriment and mirth. His actions, his movements everyone were light and comical; you could almost see with each spin and turn him saying with his body “No insult intended, of course,” and hear phantom whispers of the laugh that would follow. Gods, he was perfect.

Capulet’s theme took over the stage. Dark and powerful, the patriarch of House Capulet was almost half a head taller than dear Romeo, a giant of a man, with features that were as Italian as the country the play was set in. He movements were like that of a lion and he prowled the stage with such fearsome grace I would have swooned straight out of my box and dropped to the floor below. Tybalt as he entered was also a good embodiment of who he was: short, overconfident as if trying to compensate, every muscle loaded and ready to spring, every action a reaction, without control, as if he had no control. Mercutio played him beautifully.

And then finally, there was Juliet. She looked as light as air on the stage, surrounded by the giants of men, even though not all were nearly as tall as either Capulet or Romeo, but still, she was engulfed by them. Timid and shy, but at the same time curious, her dance across the stage was perfectly balanced, her body moving with music in a way that conveyed both lack of experience and extreme curiosity about life. She was the purest vision of innocence; her love at first sight was almost like an attack on her muscles, bringing about both power, conviction, and pure confusion all at once.

Aside from some weird use of film, the production was absolutely splendid. Faust turned out to be a good date, enjoying the music and the dance quietly from his seat just behind me, and when the dancers reached the final act in the tombs I felt that it had all ended too soon, even though it had been two hours of nothing but storytelling through body movement.

So lovely, every inch of it. My next dance will be Hubbard Street again, but I do look forward to sneaking in more of this while I can.

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