An Evening at the Industrial Ballet

I don't actually enjoy the ballet much. I went simply because two of my theatre students, Harriett Law and Julia, the aforementioned winner of the Science Fair, were both in this production- and only a week before our performance of Oliver! (Julia plays Mrs. Sowerberry, Bet, and a number of singing/dancing roles; Harriett is Oliver. It's a nearly all female cast.) I was however pleasantly suprised, for the entire evening was super keen. The ballet was pretty amazing, very professionally done. We kept on looking for the two students, and occasionally could spot them, for of course they were dressed to all look exactly alike, and we were pretty far in the back. And then the modern dance began, and that was just astounding. I can hardly believe that these students have learned all this, and can do such a good job at it. The whole evening was only high-school students or younger, but I thought I was watching a professional troupe.

Most of the time the women came out they were smileless, dancing in the center and then running to very set marks and freezing in place stage left and stage right, downstage, while other dances came and took their places Center Stage. Then they would switch off, milling all around together. Sometimes they looked like models doing their turns on the catwalk. Sometimes they turned and intertwined so quickly it was hard to follow.

And then the best part came, the modern dance. I would describe it as avante garde industrial. These women have such power! They could hold another woman on their back as they both walked across the stage looking like crabs. The 2nd half began with a large gaggle of women clothed in black, poorly lit, upstage. Directly in front of them were two women in blue, in one piece of cloth, connected as if a membrane were stretched over them. And then the three of them danced- the two women and the cloth, as if it were a third partner between them, stretching and shrinking, coming off and returning, at one time only on a hand of one partner, and the next moment covering them entirely.

This was followed by a very cool bit with large oil drums and what Harriett described as "biker outfits"- I'd say something more like tankinis with blade crash pads. The directors certainly knew what they were doing. I envied them the sure knowledge of their kids' abilities, as well of course the curtian they had that actually went up and down with just a pull of a string. These directors even had the artists sitting down at a table with their backs to the audience, playing musical chairs as they simply moved around the chairs to the music- and they made that look good!

The very last segment was superlative. Unfortunately, the only real improvement to the evening would have been if it hadn't started at 2100, and starting late at that, so by this time it was a bit past 2300 and I was tired, and struggling to stay awake after a long day of scheduling students for classes next year. This final segment had the curtian close and open again to reveal what looked like an entire set, built suddenly as if out of air (though I came to realize that it was the backstage with the rear curtain drawn back). It' s hard to describe this segment. There was so much going on you couldn't possibly follow everything- and the directors used this to their advantage. At one point there would be a lot of action upstage right, and women would move to in the other corner so they suddenly appeared where you least expected it. They were twining in and out of bars, dancing with a couch, and inching across the stage in reverse slow motion. They began with one woman spray painting an intricate image at the top of the set, up a set of stairs, while 3 other women spraypainted a chalk drawing you do for a dead body around three other artists. But these drawings were done vertically while the artists were frozen in place. Then with the music the three artists would run and change directions, joined by others in this dance.

The feeling of this 25 minute segment was decidedly religious. I felt like I was watching a post-modern ritual in the middle of an urban wasteland, where the women had taken over all aspects of religious cult. Every movement was purposeful, and symbolic, but of what, only the initiated could tell you. The dancers treated every step as holy, and their bodies as living extensions of an Inner Light, whose expression through their bodies was itself worship.

The final section was announced with the end of music, and a banging on metal pipes by one of the dancers. With that beat the rest of the dancers began to move backwards in time to their original positions. And slowly one ascended and began to erase the spraypaint at the top of the stairs, bit by bit, till at the end, all we saw was a smiley face, and the women frozen below.


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