Muted voices mixed with a comforting mustiness in the air, masking tape stretched across rows of chairs; I was finally back in a theater after fifteen months.
Over a year without lobby bells, waiting in long bathroom lines, and bumping into friends I seemed to only see at the ballet, being inside a theater made me nervous. Like Neverland, quarantine makes you forget and my basic theater etiquette was in a dusty file next to “how to send a fax”. I could not remember what to do with my program during the show (it got rolled into a telescope, then folded in half, until finally wedged under my thigh) and I checked that my phone was off about five times (more than the regular two). But then the lights dimmed, a hush fell over us, and the curtain suddenly looked more lusciously red than ever before.
The Joyce Theater is making their way back to life, back to before, with their recent run of Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness. One of many times The Joyce has shown her captivating work, this was the first time in many recent months an audience was in attendance.
Bumbling around like a Kindergartener on the first day of school, I was not quite sure where to stand or how to say hi to new people – hugs or handshakes or nods from a distance?
And unlike before, where I might avoid eye contact with people, I sought it out with a desperate plea: “talk to me about something”.
The Joyce graciously offered free water and champagne at each showing and luckily, the reduced capacity allowed for reasonable bathroom lines despite the 2-person maximum. If you can manage maneuvering around strangers and telling people what you have been up to for a year and a half (nothing) and can find your seat (requires knowledge of the alphabet and numbers), this is where the magic happens.
Because yes, it is lovely to meet a friend in the lobby but what I am really interested in is the magnetic space between stage and audience.
As the curtain rose, a plume of backstage air billowed into the audience, the ends of my hair fluttering ever so slightly. At first intake of the space, I was struck by the width of the stage. The dancer’s shadow stretched long into the wings, layered shades of blue and purple dancing with her. Cassandra Trenary was on that day for the thirty-five-minute solo to Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). Trenary is a force, showing a range of containment and enchanting wildness in a breathtaking performance.
The piece itself is exquisite (read my original review here) and I found myself enraptured by Fenley’s choreography again, the first time via screen a few months prior.
After watching many, many shows via video these past fifteen months, I have found it is only the most thoughtful and provoking pieces which can transcend through a screen. Fenley’s State of Darkness is one of those works. Requiring the dancer to become completely possessed by the movement, the intensity is without question, present and pressing but no device could match up to a live experience.
Technology played an integral part in keeping the arts relevant through an unprecedented time but while a stream can provide a macro representation of a show, the micro is where the live performance excels. A stream captures the movement occurring on stage but may miss out on the squeak of skin against Marley floor, a bead of sweat flying from a damp forehead, or the shallow breaths of a tired dancer between musical beats. The minuscule bits of a live performance build up and an invisible tension hums through the air as if a chemical reaction occurs between audience and performer. Trenary spoke of it in the post-performance Q&A:
“You just feel that you can’t explain it, that like rush of energy coming at you it feels like this force of eyeballs on you…and of course that energetic exchange that just can’t be replicated without anyone out there”.
We can get used to meeting strangers again or sitting with our knees pressed against the chair in front of us. Even standing in line for an eighteen-dollar glass of champagne seems doable. Although I am also sure someone will try to eat a hard candy or a phone will go off in the middle of a dramatic on-stage moment, we will reacclimate. Plus, I have plenty of pent of shushing ready to go.
Many magical shows streamed through my laptop; I support and applaud them all, but it is time to feel the buzz of a live performance. Allow the music to press gently against your chest, the nervous patter of your heart to swell, and drink it all in. It is time to remember.