Thursday, June 14, 2007


Although I have seen movies aplenty lately (myriad Herzog docs and picks from the series at Film Forum; Mafioso), I have a dance piece I saw stuck in my head like a Kelly Clarkson song. "DANCE, Ms. Ignorant?" a reader might query, perhaps noting that I have never danced a step in my life. But one of my dearest friends, Ms. Ana K. (as featured previously on this website) is a brilliant and up-and-coming dancer/choreographer, and I accompanied her to see some of her friends and acquaintances perform at St. Mark's Church. It cost $5 and 2 cans of Goya beans, guys.
Most of the dance Ana and I have seen together has an oddly arch, removed tone--can dance have a tone?--that alienates a spectator coming from outside the choreographer's milieu. In the half-dozen or so shows I've attended over the past couple years, I have seen dancers recreating others' dance work to pay tribute or mock, polemicizing against former teachers, and, as another dancer did at this particular show, combining really clever kinds of movement with in-jokes and goofy props. This kind of dance has come to remind me of the "j/k" you dash off in a g-chat conversation after tapping out what seemed to be a funny but which, you quickly realize, might prove offensive or embarrassing.
Much of the non-self-referential and quirky dance I have seen has, indeed, been embarrassing: an older woman wrangling a lightbulb to the accompaniment of some "experimental" post-Bright Eyes duo had me biting my lip and picking my cuticles.
So, having endured that, and some stone-faced asynchronous side-to-side hopping, and a political piece involving a Stevie Wonder song and the setting up and dismemberment of a wall of cans, I had low expectations of the final piece, "Colt," at this show.
Two spotlights shone on the floor; a woman in a retro-looking party dress in one and a man in short-shorts and a retro-looking party top in the other, and an instrumental brass-funk piece played, and they danced in their respective spotlights. Just danced, is all: sometimes they moved in synch, sometimes just a little off each other, sometimes completely separately. Although they started off slowly and got more wild as the piece went on, it wasn't a strict dynamic progression. Their movement seemed as vernacular as choreographed dance might ever be; one wouldn't move as they did as a party, but enough workaday-dance-style made its way into the piece so that it became, if not naturalistic. . .joyful. Certain repeated arm-and-hip motions (do you call these "themes" in a dance?) came and went. I see what they say about "dancing about architecture" now; I wish I could convey the pleasure of watching really skilled dancers perform a piece like this, professionally yet exuberantly, sans forced self-consciousness. When the music ended, the two left the floor and a little girl came out and slowly and deliberately reiterated a few of the dancers' moves.
It was satisfying like a great painting or a short story with components that fit together organically. Unlike most dance pieces I've seen, a non-dancer spectator left thinking not "I bet that was fun for the people who were dancing," but "I am so glad those people let me watch them dance." And I have felt like this for a week.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

capsules/capital: an excursion into the heart of ignorance

A recent post on the Chicago Reader film blog (a worthy endeavor I should try to read more often) reminds me of an interest-slash-hobby I indulge all the time but seldom discuss: blurbs. Given a copy of, say, New York, I tend to devote as much time to poring over three-sentence descriptions of plays and gallery openings I have no desire to attend, steakhouses where I will never eat, or movies I don't like as I do to reading the actual articles, which are probably stupid or boring. Seeds of this definitively ignorant avocation lay fallow in LGI for ages: as a kid, I read--I say read, not skimmed nor rifled through nor admired product illustrations with longing or envy--every catalog that came to my house. I favored Harry and David and Levenger ("tools for the serious reader," natch). It was the prose that appealed (appeals), I guess, as I recall no yearnings for "Moose Munch" or teak lap-desks. Why? I have no idea. But I truly admire the diction of a good capsule review/catalog blurb (they're about the same--after all, as they appear in magazines, critics' capsules sell you their opinions): it should tread a line between the precise and the absurd that, limited as it is, leaves you utterly convinced.
Ex: Harry and David pears often "melt." Fruit does not melt, fools, but this verb concatenates pear->chocolate->woman, granting the item an infinite desirability and the word a (ridiculous) precision and appropriateness that sells me on both the awesomeness of $30 pears and this writer's craft.
Or, here is a mediocre movie blurb I wrote while in the employ of a now-defunct and unlamented DVD retail website: "What happens when you flush a baby alligator down the toilet? In this 1980 horror flick, it ingests hormones and starts eating the neighbors." Indeed, this approximates the plot of Alligator and tries to be cute, but lacks the terseness it'd need to be witty or, alternatively, an extra two or three words that would truly sell the '80s movie buff who, FOR SOME REASON, has not seen Alligator that he'd fucking better SEE ALLIGATOR.
Without overburdening you with examples, here's a third example of a more nuanced blurb, Time Out's review of some whatever Chinese restaurant that damns effectively with faint praise. That "pleasant," ouch.
So I suppose that it's something about a prose that eliminates ambiguity--this pear is good, that restaurant is whatever; you need to purchase the one and will do fine at the other. It is also a prose you cannot contest: you trust it to judge your pear or Chinese restaurant for you, you rely on it to condition your expectations. It tells you nothing it does not want to tell you and everything it believes you ought to know, pinpointing both the item and its market (a description of an '80s cult movie does not and will not resemble a description of an expensive fountain pen, which ought not to be that far removed from a capsule review of a show at the Whitney ). And hey, is this not the "affirmative demeanor" of the culture industry? It has seduced me and I have been seduced.
And I wonder where I can separate whatever it is late-capital has wrought on my psyche from any kind of deeper tendency I have to heart the tangible hard--I have always vaguely considered W.C. Williams' "no ideas but in things" a cliche to live by, can better summon to mind an upturned table or an image of a prison with a guard-tower at its center or a chess-playing automaton than describe a great bit of philosophical insight.
This means 2 things: you can now think about whether or not I mean "ignorant" ironically, and also that I plan to write future blogs more like capsule reviews or catalog copy. Unwaveringly precise, saleable: this is our new goal.