I walked into the Southern Theater to see my one show of the day Gray Matter and had only a minute or two to get comfortable and read the program before the lights began to dim. In those fleeting moments I also looked around the space and wondered, Where did all the attractive young women come from?
Oh right, I’m at a dance show.
The audience is likely packed with fellow practitioners supporting their own. These are people who are required to be devoted to their physical bodies and their capacity to move them in intricate ways. These are people who have to look good in tights and leotards. These are people who make a meal out of celery and cigarettes.
So here’s my schlubby, middle-aged, theatre trained self giving you a quick opinion of what I saw. It was pretty darn good. I think.
The creator of the show has taken Rene Descartes meditations on consciousness (“I think therefore I am”) and current research on same and has made a dance. I am woefully unequipped to say what the dances and dancers had to do with these topics. What I can tell you is that thoughts kept popping up in my brain during the show, unbidden. For instance, Goddamn these people are in amazing shape. Soon to be followed by, Could I ever be in that good a shape? Then, Wow, some people just sweat more than others; are the sweatiest dancers working hardest?
I was again reminded that because of who I am and what I do, I am always looking for a story or some kind of comprehensible meaning in performance. And I love words. I love hearing them, speaking them, thinking about them, making jokes with them. Dance is a real uphill climb for me.
At one point I thought, I wish these dancers would say something. Not three minutes later I got my wish. Voice over began to play and the dancers read out some spoken bits. It must have been Descartes and some of that aforementioned research. I give the performers kudos for trying, but it didn’t add much and became a distraction. Much as it would if I started dancing in the middle of a play. Which I promise not to do unless I’m looking for an easy laugh from an uncomfortable audience.
The three women and three men who dance this show do an admirable job moving through the space and carving it up in attractive and unusual ways. There was great care and ability put into the work and for that it has my admiration. At the end of the show's 35 minutes, though, I was left with the bread crumb trail of my own inane thoughts and not much more. They dance, I think, and the gulf between body and mind, between performer and audience seems larger than ever.
The problem isn’t dance, the problem is my brain.