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Things I Learned Last Week. Why Bother?

Things I Learned Last Week. Why Bother?
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on September 19, 2011

©Christine Jowers, The Dance Enthusiast, for The Dance Enthusiast - Sept 19, 2011

Christine Jowers, Photo @Jordan Matter

 It seems The New York Times delivery people are trying to “sex up” their routes by placing the “soft” arts, science and cooking segments in the front of the “hard” regular news section when they deposit the paper at your door. (Yes, I still read the actual paper.)

Maybe they think all the depressing bits about market swings, Europe crashing, bombing and war are too much for people to handle before coffee. Maybe they heard that “no one reads the paper anymore” so they want to encourage us to get back to it by starting the day off with a flashy picture.

On Monday, the flashy picture was of Swan Lake, the New York City Ballet season opener. Ashley Bouder seemed pure innocence in pale white and Ask la Cour, or at least his costume, was menacing in gilt blood-orange. Of course, I picked up the paper immediately. (Those Times delivery people know something about human nature—or chromatics.)

In the same paper an article about Mikhail Baryshnikov, who is acting in Paris in a play called, In Paris, struck me. He mentioned that the first time that he was in that city, in 1978, he was booed by the audience.  It was a Roland Petit ballet and though Baryshnikov thought it to be one of the choreographer’s best works, the audience didn’t agree. His current production, in which he is acting not dancing, didn’t elicit rave reviews from the Parisian critics or the audience, but at least he didn’t get booed. This, he heard, is a good thing. The play is a streamlined unemotionally presented love story involving two Russian immigrants.  Baryshnikov said he had some difficulty with the choices of the director but he wouldn’t try to change a thing because “…if you commit, you should be a good foot soldier. This is not the place to be a general.”  By the way, he is an investor in the show. He and a Russian friend from New York put in 250,000.00 dollars each, money he knows won’t see again.

Instantly, I was reminded of a trip to Paris during which time I attended a Paris Opera Ballet performance. The program was a remembrance and celebration of the magic that was Vaslav Nijinsky and included his most famous ballets: Le Spectre de la Rose, L'après-midi d'un faune, and Petrouchka. Le Spectre...the first dance of the night, didn’t bowl me over, however; I thought the dancer was an amazing jumper.  Nijinsky was reputed for his ability to hang in mid-air during a leap, so this artist seemed perfect for his role.  I had to show my appreciation in applause. The woman next to me just sat there. It wasn’t as if she hated what she saw, it seemed she didn’t care commit her energy to responding. I believe she was knitting, and I thought, “How rude, that dancer is working so hard for you and you can’t be bothered.”  Years later I wonder about my reaction. I am not a fan of a passive audience, yet, there was a woman comfortable enough to sit in the opulent Palais Garnier, under a canopy of Marc Chagall’s angels, and knit, living alongside the ballet. Perhaps she felt no need to effuse because this was her home, and part of her everyday life. Perhaps she would have booed if she hated it. At least she didn’t boo. She did show up. (I still think it was rude. Chalk it up to cultural differences.)

Why do we do what we do?  Why deliver the paper when newsprint is fading? Why appear in shows you pay for yourself when you aren’t even applauded? Why be a foot soldier for a director whose work you question? Why dance? Why write about it? Why show up? Why bother?
Last weekend, I attended an eye opening Film +Video Show & Tell at the Center for Remembering and Sharing right here at 123 4th Avenue, in New York City (not as fancy as the Palais Garnier, but in my neighborhood, my home.) The subject matter was dancing with animals, or as one of the featured artist’s pointed out “dancing with other animals.” Even though I wasn’t in horse country with JoAnna Mendl Shaw and The Equus Projects, or twirling in an ocean with Chisa Hidaka alongside a friendly dolphin pod, I felt a bit freer and happier to realize how connected we are to the creatures on the planet. That the explorations of dancers could transport me to a greater appreciation this fact made me smile. Hidaka, a soft spoken but passionate improviser, committed to dance, science and dolphins, introduced her presentation with a quote by Jacques Cousteau which, for this week, inspires me to continue working and temporarily satisfies as a reply to the “Why bother?” question. We bother because, as Costeau said,  “People protect what they love.” 


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