“All I ever needed, was the music, and the mirror. And the chance, to dance, for you…”
Having spent most of my dance career behind the curtain, the time has come again for me to ask myself, “Can I do this?”. While acting, singing and dancing are almost a natural gift of mine and I love being on stage despite my wretched stage fright, I always manage to be captivating in one way or another (modestly speaking). It is no wonder then that I endured the harrowing process of an audition, almost 4 years since I’ve done any hardcore dancing for someone else. It was daunting and rewarding.
For the past month or so, a director for S.O.U.L. theater productions has been trying to contact me. I was slow on the uptake of getting back to him because it was for a dance performance and I don’t consider myself a dancer. He found my resumé on http://www.backstage.com and was inquiring to see if I was interested in auditioning for his upcoming production of “The Resurrection”. I winced a little at first, for my interest in juxtaposing religion and dance together on stage is far from my taste unless of course it is done in an avant garde or satirical way. It wasn’t too long before I couldn’t resist the temptation (get it?) because he found my work number (thanks Google) and I hastened to return his call, planning to humbly decline the offer despite my empathy for the inability to acquire male dancers.
Cut to this past Saturday. I was lazing around on the couch catching up with my shows, preparing myself for a Valentine’s Day Dance Party that was taking place in Old City later in the evening. The director called me and told me about the show and we talked about how hard it is to find good talent with a Y chromosome to perform dance without being a total narcissistic, egotistical commodity. He expressed to me the need to find a really good dude to play the role of Jesus and immediately I thought of Tyler Perry and all of my mother’s velvet paintings of hot, black Jesus adorning her walls. You know the ones, where this scruffy, dark skinned, sexy guy in sandals and old school Jerusalem clothing is sporting a six pack all the while being the son of Christ and all? Those.
I reluctantly agreed to hear more about the specifics of the production when it hit me, the audition, rehearsals and show were to take place in Baltimore. I have a “friend” in Baltimore. I said, “Sure.”
The director explained to me that I would be reimbursed for my travel and that it was a paid position and if I didn’t get the part of our Lord and savior, I would definitely fit somewhere within the ensemble. I thought this was a bit premature and explained that I was a little rusty, having been a choreographer who basically marks much of the choreography I compose and leave it to the dancers to heed to my commands in French and the language of dance (i.e. Bah dah dah dom AND down up, 6, 7, 8). He reassured me that much of the work was technique based and that I would be fine. Also he explained that much of the cast was made up of dance teachers and choreographers and that they too mentioned the same trepidations and were doing just fine.
Eventually I relented and told him that I would get back to him about the audition that was happening the next day. The urgency in his voice brought a tad of compassion to my heart, but I was truly more concerned about seeing if my “friend” was available for me to come visit rather than the director’s search for the perfect Jesus.
Finally, after what seemed like a million eons, my “friend” got back to me and thus gave me the go to make the sojourn to Baltimore. I packed up my dance gear and I was ret-ta-go.
Me being me, I arrived just in time for the train after a pleasant taxi ride over to the station while playing eye sex in the rear view mirror with the inexplicably nice and handsome cabbie. “I’m going to hell for this,” I thought to myself as I pondered my disinterest in being cast in the production and my ulterior motives besides. I arrived in Baltimore in about an hour and I realized I left my dance belt at home. This is of import to note because the director was very adamant about the dancers wearing one. I giggled to myself thinking of certain scenes from “Wet, Hot, American Summer”. The director was very serious and professional, which I admired, but telling me to wear form fitting, black clothing and a dance belt was a little redundant.
I called my “friend” and asked for directions to his place. He lives not far from the train station and the weather was so beautiful out that I wanted to walk around. Plus I needed to find a store that sold men’s underwear so I could find something appropriate to wear under my tights, plus it was my first time in Baltimore on my own, so I wanted to have a lay of the land.
It was weird being back in my home state. While Baltimore is considered a metropolitan area, it still has its southern sensibilities. I was exasperated by the frequent hello’s and good morning’s from the locals. Immediately I started to miss my gritty city. Walking around I was nonplussed by the way the city looked. There was the necessary mix of old and new, but I couldn’t quite grasp the local color of the town. All the bars and restaurants had references to animals in one way or another and there were scattered boutique clothing stores for women and for some reason there was no shortage of Subway sandwich shops. There were no corner stores, no liquor stores, nothing remarkably retail about the place. I didn’t find a place to buy underwear, and my “friend” couldn’t think of somewhere to go either.
So I arrived at the residence of my “friend” and the following four hours were something of a marvel to me, but I won’t go into that. During my time there a la Pretty Woman, I found myself starting to get nervous and excited about the audition. I put on my tights and leotard and the feeling was back. I wanted to dance. I needed to dance.
The urgency of my participation revolved around the fact that on that day (Sunday, Valentine’s Day), it would be the first orientation and rehearsal for the production of the show. For my audition I would be learning the choreography and I guess he would decide if I didn’t suck or not. I was running a bit late due to unforeseen circumstances, but made it just in time to not be the last one there (did I mention that it was a mutli-cultural production?).
When I arrived, my cheeks were sore. I couldn’t stop smiling and nothing could bother me. It was no surprise when I met the director, he has a big personality and was really sweet and chatty as shit. I immediately felt comfortable.
In the past, I have kind of hated dancers. They tend to be prissy and prima donna about everything, but these dancers were different. Of course I noticed that a majority of them were relatively younger than me and there was an even balance of males and females, with just a few more females. All the men were “people of color” and the sisters outweighed the white girls. I’m just saying.
We were all stretching and warming up and I was filled with a desire to get going. The director went through the contract and had us introduce ourselves to each other and then we had a warm up. It was nice getting in touch with my body but immediately I knew that I was inferior to these bitches. When we did the across the floor movements, their jetes were remarkably more extended than mine, and their leaps were higher and stronger. Still I tried, and I was up to the challenge.
The director returned and started teaching us the choreography. I was sweating profusely and breathing heavily (despite the fact that I hadn’t had a cigarette all day) and was starting to remove layers of clothing. I felt good. So the first part of the combination, the director, sweet guy, goes through the steps verbally and says “And walk walk walk walk, turn, tendu, step step. Prep and double pirouette and DOWN TO A SPLIT and lean forward.” I was fucking flabbergasted.
I haven’t done a full on split since I was about 15 and was doing gymnastics regularly. And that was on the left leg. The choreography called for the right side. Of course most of the dancers slipped right down to the floor like butter, in the perfect execution of said split, and while I slowly but surely eased down to the floor in a half-split, hurdle position like James Brown, my crotch on fire, I thought to myself, “Really?”. I persevered.
The rest of the choreography was intense and surprisingly I kept up with it only missing a step or two here and there. One of the most difficult parts of being a choreographer in a dance piece is that you have a totally different mentality than that of a dancer. You are thinking of composition and structure of dance, not necessarily feeling the movement and trying to put it into the perspective of executing it. Plus all the dancers were brilliant and I was obsessed with watching how they moved, wondering what kinds of choreography I would love to put on their bodies. The best part is in between takes when you notice a dancer stretching in a certain way or toying around with a jump as they stare at their reflection in a mirror. Those moments to me are very inspirational and always expound my own ideas about the crafting of movement.
The more I danced with these talented lads, I felt inferior in a lot of ways and superior in many other ways. I felt like I was an inspiration. Here I was, not 20 something anymore, still able to do battements and layouts and triple turns and arabeques in all different positions. Sure, I had to try harder and push harder, but I’ve still “got it”, and that is something that every dancer hopes to achieve: longevity. Because the body doesn’t give you a choice. The older your instrument gets, the harder it is to play.
I wanted to be Jesus.
Because of the debacle with the split, I knew that I was going to not be in that number that we learned if I was cast. But as we went along, and I was starting to get into the gospel music with my Star of David blazing around my neck, I kept thinking that I was the most striking out of the group and had the demeanor to play the role really well (did I just type that out loud?). Also, because of my varied abilities and skill level, it would be most beneficial to have me be a soloist, I’m no good in an ensemble anyway.
The main roles were being casted during rehearsals, so I don’t know who he has chosen for what. He asked me how it was going during our break time and I told him how out of practice I was and he told me it didn’t look like it. Per usual, I was having no trouble at all with the more gymnastic stuff, that others were struggling with, and the more balletic stuff I had problems with while everyone else did it with ease.
By the end of the rehearsal I was artistically refreshed and I wanted to play the character. I wanted to be G-d. It’s so appropriate, really (modestly speaking). I spoke with the director after the show while I was on the train, sore in more places that I could name and for more than one reason. He went on a long tangent about how impressed he was that I kept up with my body and still had it in me to role with the puppies, being the big dog that I am now. He knew that I was holding back, and I explained that I was psyching myself out a little bit, but he hoped that I would continue on with him on this and future projects and that he was happy to have met me. I smiled in spite of myself, in appreciation for him recognizing me as a good dancer, something I have always struggled with and doubted because most of my training is from books and videos. On the way home, I looked down on my digital camera and stared at my “friend” for a good long while, and I would have thanked G-d for the experience had I been more pious like I used to be. Instead, I scream his name in other ways nowadays. Amen.