09 September 2007

this story begins in the middle

saturday night: marc bamuthi joseph

tore up the stage with his work-in-progress, the living word project: the break(s)

when I am visually overwhelmed by something, I tend to shut down. or shift into freestyle mode and string my words together in cryptic, uneven ways. a good example of this would be when I visited new york last year. all I managed to produce was a barrage of visual images and a series of non sequiturs describing random colorful scenes that impacted me in varying degrees of greatness. I am often struck dumb when someplace, something or someone sweeps me off my feet. it's as if the words I write might somehow cheapen the spectacular nature of the very thing I experienced. I'm left with no choice but to back off and let it come out however it needs to come out.

so, saturday night. we get to the theatre (me and my great friend amy, whom I danced with for years and years) and we sit down and I open up the program and read something that marc bamuthi joseph has written.

my goal is to embody theater's connection from shakespeare's quill to kool herc's turntables; from martha graham's cupped hand to nelson mandela's clenched fist: a new voice for a new politic.

well, all right then. all right. if you can serve that up then I will cry big fat sloppy tears of joy because that is what I am TALKING ABOUT.

my mind is currently a hot mess of images, words, stories and movement. good art will do that to you. I want to talk all about 1984 and queens, new york. shell toes versus tap shoes and how tokyo felt like times square times 11 plugged into a light socket. I want to talk about strange fruit, haiti and turntables. about how someone can become an MC without saying a word, about how babies come into the world and change our lives, but also about humility and the peculiar place that exists between high art and hip hop. more than anything, I want to talk about how I could have watched marc bamuthi joseph move forever and ever and ever, amen. the next best thing to electricity, the very definition of what it means to be simultaneouly grounded and weightless. old school meets old school: traces of classic modern mixed with the golden age flavor of hip hop. I know I've said it here before but when the dancing is that good, it's like the best ride at the carnival. I'm yanked out of my body to another place and I am as close to flying as someone who is sitting in a stiff chair in a dark theater can be.

I guess what it really comes down to is this: the performance, it profoundly moved me.

it is with great sadness that I say the following. there's not too much in the world that is the performing arts machine that does that for me anymore. I've seen too much, been on stage/back stage/in class/in rehearsal/in the audience for the better part of my 36 years. I've spent large chunks of time dissecting dance from every possible vantage point, tearing it apart and putting it back together. and I'm thankful for that, don't regret even a second of it but sometimes I forget. I forget what it feels like to get lost in a great performance. saturday night was the first night in a really very incredibly long time that I didn't look down at my watch and wonder when the piece was going to be over. I think it was doris humphrey that said that most dances are too long. I'm a firm believer in that. except when it's really, really good and you never want it to end. when it's so good you just want to have a cry over it. so good that you didn't spend the last half hour of the performance wondering what the dancers had for lunch or if they all hang out together when they're not rehearsing. so good that you leave the theater hovering and buzzing in a post-performance cloud of sweetness and light and want to think about it, talk about it, write about it. so good that you give up your chance to see another great dance company that you really REALLY really wanted to see-- just so your husband can go see what you just saw, just so you'll have one other person to talk it over with.

greatest sentence of saturday night's performance, so good I had to scribble it down on the back of my hand in the dark of the theater, lest I forget:

I am riding the lightning of my writing

indeed, I am riding the lightning of my writing. even if no one else is. even though I sort of feel like deleting this whole thing and starting over again. but when I am overwhelmed like this I just have to let it come out how it needs to come out. if you made it this far through the post, through my swooning and singing and rambling-- thank you. and marc bamuthi joseph, wherever you are, you turned me inside out and upside down saturday night-- thank you.

(if he comes to your city, folks-- don't miss it. and all you portlanders out there, the TBA festival is still going on. still time to catch something that might turn you inside out and upside down before it's all over)


  1. I often feel just this way when I see anything inspiring be it a painting or live act. I get all caught up and lose all verbal capacity. Sometimes I have to remind myself to use my words and even then it never comes out as eloquent as this post. :)

  2. I'm so glad that you didn't delete this. I only wish I had read it sooner so that I would have been able to catch the performance myself - it sounds overwhelmingly amazing. Random strings of words, references that span all sorts of times and places - they exude the energy and intensity that this show obviously embodied. I'm glad that something in the field of dance, which is so near and dear to you but which hasn't quite been delivering recently, was able to affect you like this.

  3. I am so thrilled that you sacrificed your time for me to see this performance, Andrea. I know that we've talked about Bamuthi's show over and over since last night, but just a little recognition your way, a big THANK YOU for letting me know just how important it was for me to see it. I am head over heels thankful for this act, babe. I loved it. Loved it loved it loved it.

    If anyone has the chance, please, by all means, GO SEE THIS MAN. When you can put together old school hip hop with Prince lyrics with Da Vinci Code and Mona Lisa references all the while moving like butter -- put all of this into one piece, and do it SO WELL, then no one should miss out on it. It's that good.

  4. This is incredible. And I know just what you mean about not much setting your pants on fire anymore. I may be a performing artist but I am *always* checking my watch, and I hate that feeling.

    I will keep my eye out for this dude.

  5. i love how i can feel through your words just how much this performance moved you.

    with my background in theater, i so relate to how it can be hard to find a performance that can actually capture me, as you describe. but when something does, it is truly magical.

    the magic and the beauty and the movement are so alive in your words.

  6. oh that feeling. oh that feeling. oh that feeling!!

  7. andrea.

    thank you for the "raw"ness of this post, and for letting us in to your passion. it inspires me to let words flow freely... and to be open to falling in love all over again!

  8. this is such a beautiful post.

    thrilled, happy stream-of-consciousness you :)

    I've bookmarked his upcoming performances in the Bay Area and will do everything I can to get there!

    Thank you, You.

  9. I, for one, love it when you're reduced to crypto-gushing! I can tell that it was an amazing experience, even (especially?) refracted through your lens.

  10. i am so burned out going to concerts that i can completely relate to what you describe. i would love so much to go to an arts event that moved me like this.

  11. I love this. I get you. I could read this again and agian because I don't know how many times I have breathed a sigh of relief and delight at having experienced something that swept me away versus just being "alright". You are amazing. Such delicious writing that makes me want to read this over and over again...

  12. marc bamuthi comes to san francisco in june of 2008, but i am going to wait patiently because i can't wait to be turned inside out and upside down...