Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Forgetting Myself in Theaters

I had several ideas for a topic over the last few days, but this morning, sitting at the Blue Planet Cafe with my writing buddies, none of them come to mind. This is a frequent turn of events in my life. I can't remember why I walked into the kitchen, I can't recall what I needed now that I am at Randalls, and, sometimes, I forget to meet friends with whom I've made plans.

For me this is not an age thing, although I usually blame it on a "senior moment." The truth is that I have been memory-impaired since I became ill with lupus. I have had twenty-two years to adjust to this impairment. The adjustment is not going well.

 Saturday, Michael and I had a lovely adventure downtown, attending the musical The Toxic Avenger at the Alley and the movie Pina at the new Sundance Theater. After the play, I saw a woman whom I recognized as someone in WiVLA, an organization I have belonged to for over ten years. She spotted me and engaged me in a cheerful conversation about mutual friends and WiVLA events, and she introduced me to her friend.

Michael stood nearby, but I turned my back on him and acted as if I had never seen him before. The reason for this rude behavior? I had no idea what the woman's name was and I did not want to have to introduce them. I guess I need a sign, like deaf people sometimes carry, announcing my impairment.

"I am memory-deaf. I cannot remember people, places, and things that ordinary people spit out like watermelon seeds. Please know that it is not personal and alleviate my total embarrassment by telling me your name when you say hello."

I do remember the play and the movie. Toxic Avenger underwhelmed me, although I laughed at many of the funny bits. The thing is, I kind of chuckled, and the rest of the audience, including Michael, guffawed. The humor was too broad for my tastes, too rooted in sexual innuendo. That is a lie; there was no innuendo. The musical employed flagrantly overt sexual humor throughout.

 Funny: a blind librarian shelving books without knowing what they were or noticing if they stayed on the shelf. Not really funny, the line, "If blind people don't love ugly people, who will?" Funny, the same actors playing multiple roles. Not really funny, broadly stereotyped roles that play off base characterizations. Funny, the actor playing the Mayor and the hero's Mother having a scene in which her two characters confront each other loudly and publicly. Not funny, the characterization of the middle-aged Mayor as a nymphomaniac who trades in sex to achieves her nefarious ends.

Enough of that. I did not really like TA. Perhaps my sense of humor is more refined than other people's are. Perhaps I have an underdeveloped sense of humor. Perhaps the loud music and deafening sound effects battered me too much. I don't know the answer. I just know that I did not find the entertainment at the Alley to be terribly entertaining.

I did enjoy every moment of Pina, though, a documentary movie memorializing the work of the late dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch. It is, brilliantly, a 3-D film. There may not be a better reason to make a 3-D movie than to portray dance. Instead of ghosts or goblins flying out of the screen at me, dancers flew, their fluid, lithe movements seeming to be hardly an arm's reach away from me. Beyond the artistry of the filmmaking, there is the artistry of the choreography and of the dancers.

One piece that affected me deeply is a dance in a cafe, staged with many empty tables and even more empty chairs. The dancers perform with their eyes closed, their safety in the hands of one man who darts here and there flinging chairs and tables out of their way to avert disaster. Of course, every fling has the potential to endanger another dancer, so that his actions are frantic and frenetic at the same time.

Another deeply affecting dance, which appeared and reappeared several times in the movie, anchoring it for me, involved little more than hand movements performed by dancers in a long, snaking, conga line. The movements originated in a performance by Pina in which she poetically describes each of the four seasons and illustrates the descriptions with appropriate hand motions.

Pina repeats these motions until they become a kind of shorthand for the seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall. In the performance, the dancers weave their way across stages and hillsides like a strand of golden thread woven through cotton fabric. The simplicity of their movements is spellbinding and emotionally complex.

Other memorable performances included one in which the stage was covered in rich, loamy dirt and another one where water rained down the dancers and gathered in pools where they danced with it. Another staggeringly emotional dance features a tethered dancer in a poured concrete room trying to dance her way out of confinement. Yet another featured a dancer on the floor moving away from a woman who steadily and unemotionally shoveled dirt on her. Talk about making a statement.

If you have not seen The Toxic Avenger, you are out of luck (or in luck, your choice) because tonight is the last performance in Houston. If you have not seen Pina, you are definitely in luck. It just opened last week and should be around for a while. Don't delay, though, because Houston is not particularly kind to art movies and it might disappear on you like a dancer going over the horizon.

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