I'm thinking of taking tango lessons. I passed a school on some side street in New York and imagined myself locked in step with my wife, reigniting our passions for each other. Why the sudden urge to dance again? Something that I'd abandoned so many years ago, something that I did just about every weekend in clubs like Danceteria or Area. Got me thinking about the world of dance in general.
Dance is unjustly ignored by most mainstream media outlets unless one counts Dancing with the Stars as a viable art form pushing the envelope of creativity. Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, and Alvin Ailey are the more mainstream dance troupes that continue to garner some second-tier cultural recognition outside of New York.
Award-winning choreography Julie Taymor certainly elevated this art form on Broadway and for middle Americans visiting New York with The Lion King. Of course, Broadway continues to feature some of the finest dancers in the land in countless musicals. But what about the fringe? What about the small regional outlets?
The Joyce Theater in Chelsea has championed the artistic merits of cutting-edge modern dance and ballet for years. And P.S. 122 and the Kitchen both constantly push the converging envelopes of dance, movement, and performance art. But what about other cities in America or the rest of the world?
Recently I witnessed the kinetic heat of Oni Dance, an extraordinary and critically lauded L.A.-based company fronted by their very talented artistic director Maria Gillespie (image above), at Soho Joyce and was blown away by their inventiveness, physical stamina, memory, and idiosyncratic energy. It was an exhilarating performance by Ms. Gillespie and her five sexually and emotionally charged comrades. They literally threw themselves into each performance piece. And given the proximity of the audience to the boundary-less stage, you could hear their heavy breathing and pumping hearts. Featured dancer Noellie Bordelet was particularly noteworthy. It was impossible to ignore this native Parisian even when she was just standing in the shadows or curled up on the floor while another dancer soloed.
Oni Dance reawakened my sluggish soul towards not only attending more dance performances but participating in some form of movement. I connected with them. And like any art form, the success of dance to reach an audience, large or small, requires a primal connection, one that allows an audience to feel the dancers and the dance. Otherwise, you might as well be watching lawn bowling. Dancers, whether modern or ballet, and like gymnasts, are extraordinary athletes who execute extraordinary moves mere mortals can only marvel at.
Connecting on such a molecular level is intoxicating; like tapping into long forgotten and unused DNA strands. Feeling that core of movement, from the hips. Or as David Byrne so astutely observed so many years ago in "Burning Down House"... "the world moves on a woman's hips." Yes, and from every other fiber in her being when set free in space. And that is what dance is for me. Set me free, set my body and soul free.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs, recently contributed to Chris Butler's The Devil's Glitch project (the longest song in the world), and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!