He looks perplexed.
Meandering up the center aisle, a little boy appears far more bewitched by his fellow audience members than the dancers on the stage behind him. He wanders in my direction, his micro-legs struggling to keep up with his roving curiosity,. Though I’m technically supposed to be watching the show being performed in front of me on these hallowed grounds — Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts, often referred to as the Mecca of Dance by those who’d know — this child’s miniature roadshow momentarily captures my attention. His eyes wide with wonder, he approaches every adult he passes, briefly staring at each’s gigantic figure before moving to the next. When he reaches me, our gazes meet.
I smile. He maintains fixed on my visage, still not bothering to cease his forward motion. I make a funny face.
I strike another goofy pose.
Finally, he also smiles.
For a few seconds, we connect.
And then, he continues on his way while I return to the show, not thinking much of the brief ordeal at the time.
This fleeting yet joyful interaction pops back into my mind later in the night inside the Ted Shawn Theatre for the evening’s primary program: choreographer Jessica Lang’s 6-dance contribution to the Pillow’s 2017 festival. For the opening minutes of “Lyric Pieces” — the first dance on the bill — my kneejerk response mirrors my lifelong relationship to the art form: distant, confused appreciation. As a schlubby fatass obsessively committed to connecting to the world by cognitively understanding its underlying nuances, I’ve always found chiseled bodies engaging in ravishingly fluid movements that I could never process on an intellectual level to be impenetrably foreign, not to mention unrelatable.
All that changed with an infantile gesture.
In the midst of Lang’s gorgeous company of eight elegantly sweeping and swooshing across the blue-backed stage, one of the dancers (Jammie Walker) somehow ends up flat on his ass. Instead of transitioning into yet another otherworldly physical feat that would undoubtedly land me in a hospital if I ever try it, he instead quite simply and slowly waves his arms and legs in the air like a baby. Is he swimming in a blue ocean? Or flying through a blue sky? Regardless of the intended meaning, there’s a profound sense of universal lightness to the action that cuts through the stuffy air of elitist professionalism often associated with ballet. I want to laugh, but surely that’d be an inappropriate reaction among this sophisticated audience.
And yet, they beat me to it. As I hear many of them audibly giggle along with my psyche, I feel myself loosening up. I flash back to the child, unconcerned with conforming to what’s expected of normative audience behavior. He may not fully comprehend what he sees — nor even focus on what he’s “supposed to” — but his untainted perspective clearly facilitates unadulterated awe, progressing from one moment to the next without caring to compile them into any sort of ordered structure. Leaving behind that burden of analytical judgement allows for finding the pleasure in the pedestrian.
And to my surprise, the rest of the crowd follows suit. We gasp at the childlike functional un-fixedness of the unfurled accordion-esque black paper that’s rearranged to evoke a range of imaginative architectural structures. We derive palpable glee from the dancers playing peekaboo inside, outside, and around these toddler-friendly building blocks. In “Glow,” we’re dazzled by neon lights, shiny shoes, and shoes that shine from neon lights lining their soles. Even in the more mature territory of “Thousand Yard Stare” that explores PTSD, a game reminiscent of reverse leapfrog exemplifies the cathartic necessity of retaining remnants of a youthful demeanor.
In a seemingly senseless age that we’re desperately trying to make sense of, Jessica Lang’s choreographed conception of the world inspired me to transcend my dedication to seriousness to remember the importance of discovering the pure joviality of life’s dance, which is by no means limited to the confines of the theatre. Letting her work guide my mind to roam, the initially forgettable sight of a kid being a kid adopted the beauty of a choreographed dance. The simplicity of his movement that I previously wouldn’t have noticed, subsequently distilled through Lang’s artistic worldview, now fostered a newfound respect.
Dance doesn’t look so perplexing anymore.