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Rachel Levin
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Dance and the City - Movin' Out

by Rachel Levin
October 11, 2004
Los Angeles, CA

Dance and the City: Movin' Out

Rachel Levin
October 11, 2004

Taking oneself to the theatre can be a thrilling or lonely experience. Most theatergoers come as couples or part of a group, a shared experience that allows them to hold hands in the romantic moments or engage in heated discussion of the performance afterwards. Being alone among the lovey-dovey couples and groups of seniors can sometimes heighten one's sense of singledom.

But going alone can sometimes be rewarding, too. Just like taking in a matinee movie, a solo trip to the theater can be a sort of a date for you and your inner artist. You can see exactly what you want, and you don't have to worry about whether or not your partner likes what he sees.

"Movin' Out," the Tony-award-winning dance show choreographed by Twyla Tharp and set to the songbook of Billy Joel, was one of those shows where I thought it was safest to go alone. I wasn't sure I could convince a prospective date that interpretive modern dance to "Uptown Girl" would be up his alley. So, I decided to make it a dance date with myself.

I bought the cheapest seat in the house—literally the last row of the balcony and the last row of the theatre. As I entered the door to my section, the usher handed me my playbill and then automatically presented me with a second.

"Don't you need two?" she asked, holding the other in midair, assuming that I was half of a whole.

"No, just one," I said, proud of my courage to enjoy the show solo.

I turned off my cell phone just before the curtain went up, and remembered that my date from last weekend still hadn't called me yet, even though he promised he would. Frowning at the uncomfortable prospect of being on the hook waiting for his call, I comforted myself that I'd forget about it, at least for a couple of hours.

If the usher's faux pas didn't leave me yearning for a sweetheart, then the opening numbers of the show certainly did. "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," and "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" captured the movement of 1965 America, when cars and rock 'n' roll still reigned among the bobbysoxers. With boys dressed in jeans and leather jackets and girls dressed in capris and cheerleading uniforms, the dancers twisted and twirled together around a convertible car that was driven onstage. This was a time of young marriage, the kind where you fall in love in high school and get hitched with your prom date. I felt nostalgic for young love and a time when relationships didn't feel as complicated. But in the context of the show, it was also a time when the specter of escalating war in Vietnam loomed, and Tharp slips in military-like movements among the swing and sock hop.

On the eve of war, the dances of love were particularly poignant. James and Judy (Charlie Hodges and Julieta Gros) melted together in a ballet piece set to "Just the Way You Are." Tony and Brenda (Sam Franke and Holly Cruikshank) danced like a pair of magnets to "This Night." The passion among these characters was convincing, and it reminded me that—be it lust, love, anger, or exaltation—dance ultimately translates into emotion written on the body. When I yearn for a man who can dance with me, I realized, what I really mean is that I want someone who feels that passionate about me and isn't afraid to express it.

The show's transition from love to war hit a bit too close to home during this time of sustained conflict in Iraq. We don't often consider military movement as dance—it is too entrenched in the ideology of utility to be associated with art. But in Tharp's interpretation, military motion is dance, from the exactness of bodies marching in a line juxtaposed to uncontrollable bodies reeling from the injuries of war. This tension between control and the total lack of it is not so dissimilar from those same tensions in ballet. Judy's ballet dance of anger to "The Stranger"—for which Judy was clad in a tattered black leotard and widow's veil—speaks to this link between military and ballet movement that Tharp presents: both can be artful expressions of pain and rage.

On a smaller scale, my own pain and rage rose to the surface at intermission, when I compulsively checked my messages to see if my date had called. No messages. Not a one. And no single men in the lobby to entertain me, either. But there was nothing to be done; restraint for my feelings of anxiousness would just have to do.

When the curtain rose again after intermission, the show delivered us to the 1970s and the popular bodily expressions of the times: sex clubs, strip clubs, bondage clubs, and disco clubs—the very opposite of restraint. The antithesis of military and ballet movement, these carnal gestures represented a release after sustained discipline. In this portion of the show, dance was a thinly veiled metaphor for sex, not love.

But true to the themes of Joel's "River of Dreams" and "Keepin' the Faith," the show's conclusion brought us back once again to the promise that love can indeed conquer all. The couples are reunited, and new love blossoms. Tharp's pop and hip-hop moves, reminiscent of the 1980s, herald times of new prosperity. The show closes in a New York state of mind.

I felt hopeful again as I made my way out of the theater. The dancing had been so superb that it filled me with energy and vicarious exhilaration. I passed the merchandise stand and lamented that there is no way to purchase dance as a souvenir. You can take the soundtrack home, but dance is ephemeral.

I checked my messages one final time, but still no call as promised from my date. I reflected on how the game of dating gets less and less tolerable to me each year that passes. As we get older, aren't our courting rituals supposed to become more mature and civilized, moving up from the late-night-drunken booty call to the polite, phone-call-as-promised? Compared to a broken promise, maybe a booty call isn't so bad. At least it's honest.

I know I've got to keep the faith, but if this is moving up, then I'm…

…movin' out.

Movin' Out runs until October 31, 2004 at
Pantages Theater
6233 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 468-1700

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