I go to a lot of shows. Some nights it’s a job hazard and some nights a pleasure. It is especially delightful when a show inspires me.
Because when you work in entertainment for a living, going to a show can be like eating at the restaurant you cook at. You work with the ingredients so much that you can’t really taste the food anymore. But on nights when it’s so good you can still taste the food anyway, it’s astounding.
Lately I’ve found that it’s not the shows that try hard that are inspiring me. It’s the shows that are leaving space in the night for the audience to think and feel. The shows that focus on perfection of execution but that don’t try too hard to keep me occupied the whole time I am experiencing. The shows that give me a little credit for having a mind of my own, an imagination of my own.
Recently, Alvin Ailey’s show at the Wang (sorry I mean Citi Center), did just that. In each of the three segments, I found myself thinking, feeling.
Nothing was in a hurry.
Nothing was trying to make me laugh or cry or jump around.
The music became rhythm became movement became dancing became thoughts became dancing became movement became rhythm became music again.
And in between the movements, the thoughts that came in were surprising.
During the first segment, a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance, I found myself thinking about culture. About tribes. About our individual desire to belong to something important and meaningful. As the dance explored the humor and festive celebration of Harlem in that time, I couldn’t help thinking about other movements that have centralized on a neighborhood. The Castro for Gay People. The Village for Folksingers. New Orleans for Jazz. Hollywood for Film. Detroit for Motown. San Francisco for the Internet. Places that represent movements and historic periods of time. I came from a place like that, that meant something. Lexington Massachusetts – a place of Revolution. And I lived/worked in San Francisco during the Dotcom Boom/Bust. I think both coincidences have very much informed my opinion on things. Those thoughts led me to consider how important that is to me – to live in places and times that are memorable. Places and times of change. And it led me to consider what that next place should be. And it made me want to go there, and start that new movement, right away. A great performance can do that!
During the second segment, an exploration of the influences on modern dance in which the dancers showed how movement from African dance has migrated to current movements, I couldn’t help thinking about the beauty in collaboration. I thought about one of my former bosses at an ad agency, who was an Alvin Ailey dancer before working in advertising, and how much that must have informed his sense of what it means to be a team. How I had no idea that was what he was trying to do with my team. And now I know why he inspired me so much when we worked together. I thought about how rare it is to see true collaboration in the singer-songwriter world, and how important I think it is to find a way to fund and create safe space for that collaboration. How cool it would be if a music company could be created like a theater company. In which there certainly would be power dynamics and leads and choruses, but imagine if some of our country’s greatest songwriters were asked to work together in team collaboration for an extended period of time to create something instead of constantly duking it out one by one for individual “success.” I thought about orchestras and choruses, theater companies and dance companies. How hard it is for them to get funded and earn a living, but how transcendent the work is.
I’ve been focused lately on how great shows can change our lives, make us see things in ourselves we did not see before. A show is not just a sum of the songs and in between banter. Too often artists think of the in between as extra stuff they say. But the in between IS the show. The pacing of a show can have so much to do with how inspired an audience feels.