Tuesday, August 19, 2014

DUSK DANCES or How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It's coming up to mid-August.  The summer is precariously close to over.

I spent a good chunk of  June, July and early August, rehearsing, and then, dancing, in a piece called INCANDESCENT, choreographed by Kate Franklin and Meredith Thompson.  The work was part of DUSK DANCES, an annual outdoor performance of contemporary dance, now completing its 20th year.  The Toronto leg of the provincial tour, took place in Withrow Park, from August 4-10th.

I was part of a group of about 40 people. Five professional dancers:  Danielle Baskerville, Tyler Gledhill, Molly Johnson, Pugla Muchochoma and Meredith Thompson, were joined onstage, by a crew of enthusiastic non-professionals:  young dancers in training, a few of their parents, some former dancers, a gymnastics teacher, a couple of actors, some retired professionals, and mostly just regular folks, ranging in age from nine to about 79. Together, we committed to spend one night a week and then, ten pretty intense days, teching and performing a show that involved a big dance corps and a community choir.  Our crew only performed in Toronto, although the piece has been staged by other groups, in Vancouver, Peterborough and Haliburton, in other years.

I began my career in the theatre in a similar enterprise. My hometown of Winnipeg has a terrific outdoor musical theatre, Rainbow Stage.  The leads are generally professional actors, and it is a full up professional, unionized theatre.  The chorus is mostly comprised of actors and dancers in training, and a bunch of dedicated amateurs.  Winnipeg is full of well-trained choral singers, music teachers, ballet and modern dance students, who moonlight in musicals and opera choruses.  The results are generally pretty good.

Those summers spent singing, and dancing in the park, the friendships I made, and the lessons I learned about being a performer, drew me to try and spend my adult life in the performing arts.

There are few feelings to compare with the joy of performing for an audience, when it is going well.

I've been way-laid, and sidetracked a few times, but performing remains one of my happy places, and dancing in the chorus of  INCANDESCENT last week, again reminded me of the fun of being in the chorus of a big show, free of the worries of producing or taking the lead, just being there for the joy of dancing with, and for other people.

One of the reasons I decided to participate in DUSK DANCES, was to challenge myself to learn choreography, something I haven't had to do, without singing at the same time, in many, many years.

The nine-year olds can learn anything in a hurry, it seemed.  Me, not so much! My middle-aged brain and body got a decent work-out from the process of memorizing those dance sequences, not just with my brain, but with, and in, my body.  Believe me, repetition IS good. Finally getting it down cold, felt like a real accomplishment.

As I looked around the bar at our closing night party, I thought about all the other closing nights I've attended, and how I cherish the sense of community and camaraderie, among those who share a love of dance and theatre. There had been great pre-show conversations, pub nights, a pot-luck picnic, daily emails, a pre-show happy dance with sparklers, and daily quotes of inspiration, pre-performance, from Meredith and Kate. Old friends came to see me dance.  There were lots of post-show hugs. The after-glow from all that shared joy onstage, and off, kept me warm on the late-night bike rides home.

That week dancing in the park felt blessed. We got good press!  The predicted rain held off.  My first great niece arrived safely into the world on the Wednesday, a moment of great joy.  On the last night, a full moon rose high above us, when we carried our candle-lit jars into the field to begin the dance, one last time.

INCANDESCENT needs to take place at twilight.  We lost two minutes of light each evening.  In a week, it would have been be too dark to perform the piece at 9:15 PM.

Time and live performance are both exquisitely, and achingly ephemeral. I keep my programs. My opening night card from Meredith and Kate is still on my dresser. This time, I even bought a t-shirt.

Really, what I have to keep from all my years of performing, are the memories of the happiness I've felt when doing it, and the memories of the happiness I shared with others, who were present for those moments, either onstage, or backstage with me, or in the house.  Whether I'm in the audience, or on the stage, I leave the theatre, holding only a few pieces of paper, my memories and my thoughts.

Our revels now have ended. As the end of summer, 2014 draws to a close, the memories I have of my warm nights spent dusk dancing in Withrow Park, are cherished, and will be for years to come.