Part of the Tribe

February 26, 2010

Being in
From the Horse’s Mouth
last night, I felt like I could taste the dance world in its glorious diversity. We hovered backstage before our entrances. There was Rajika Puri, outfitted in full Bharata Natyam regalia, and Arthur Aviles, swirling in his red velvet dress. Maureen Fleming, the American butoh artist, wore an outrageous tutu. Don Redlich clomped around in a hilariously macho Tin Man get up. And Martine van Hamel was trying out moves, as stunningly fluid as ever.


If you don’t know what
From the Horse’s Mouth
is, take a look at Deborah Jowitt’s feature in the February issue (at It’s a performance where you tell a story, do a phrase, and then you can choose to improvise while hearing other people’s stories. I was in the first Horse’s Mouth 12 years ago. This one last night, and going on till Sunday, celebrates the 92nd Street Y’s 75-year old dance program, and takes place in Buttenwieser Hall at the Y.


From offstage we heard each other’s stories over the backstage monitor. Francesca Harper told about how Alvin Ailey, who had known her since she was 3, steered her toward ballet—a generation after her mother was told there were no black ballet dancers. Janis Brenner recounted a humiliating audition to be a Munchkin. Christine Dakin recalled when Martha Graham loaned her a mink coat in order to make her look glamorous for a White House engagement. Arthur Aviles entertained the audience with his Spanglish version of
“Over the Rainbow.” The humor, whimsy, wisdom, and struggle to find one’s own voice—all that came through in the chosen tales. For me, the feeling of being surrounded by other dancers was, well, tribal. Even if it meant one person from each different tribe.


I was so disoriented in the run-through that I lost my place in the big zigzag (the lights were low) and fumbled around looking for an exit, which was clear across the stage. I gotta admit, I was happy to make that mistake
the performance.


I warmed up with the same exercises I used to use, but (as I’m sure you know) if you haven’t been doing it every day, you can’t get anywhere near that point of peak readiness. Still, I somehow corralled an adequate version of my former dancer self. And today I’m so wiped out from the little bit of dancing I did that I have renewed awe for dancers who go out there and give there all every evening.