Perhaps most parents don’t take their four year olds to see modern dance. There certainly weren’t any other kids present. A teenage boy lurking with his dad in the back, but nobody remotely pint-sized other than Beangirl.
My father-in-law works in video, among other things. He records weddings, concerts, all sorts of local arts events. It seems that the video man gets free tickets from time to time for his dear ones. Not a bad bonus, I’d say. So, when he was heading down to the theatre one night a while back in Nanaimo, we tagged along. I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect.
When we arrived at the theatre, Beangirl was – of course – on her very best behaviour. We made our way to our seats, and there were plenty of interesting things to look at on the stage: the lights, some costumes, and, uniquely, a lime, a tomato and a honeydew melon.
The show was called Beside Each Other. It was performed to music from Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow and Battle of the Nudes. The blurb goes like this:
Beside Each Other is a contemporary dance performance that captures the intimacy of this work with a series of portraits of two lovers shifting through wonderment, war, heartache and estrangement into enduring love.
At the end, Beangirl summed it up as two people trying to hug and it’s difficult. Preach it, sister.
It was fantastic. The show was a preview performance, so it had that rough rehearsal feel to it from time to time, but the energy was spot-on. Of course, the music was good, and the dancers spoke poetry to each other, sharing Gord’s words back and forth like candy. Sure, it was a bit sexy in parts, but that wasn’t an issue. Perhaps if Beangirl been a bit older. As it was, she saw love and struggle and longing and beauty and play, and, because she knows these things in her life, it made sense. I guess the same can be said for any of us, really. That’s what art is.
But the most beautiful part of the whole experience for me was being there with my girl. She was tired – the show didn’t start until after her bedtime – so she put her head down in my lap shortly after the house lights went down. I could feel her watching with her whole body. When the dancers lifted their arms, she lifted her arms, too. She held my hands and wanted me to hold onto her, just like the dancers held each other. Watching dance with her was dancing itself.
This is one of the blessings of parenthood – the physicality of our children. Their needs and their joys, their exhaustion and their delight can overwhelm us. They can be so demanding. But they also remind that we are incarnate, too.
Marilynne Robinson writes about this physicality in Gilead, a novel about passing faith and forgiveness down through the generations. In her story, John Ames is a third-generation minister writing to his young son. He tries to describe his own life and work in ways that will be meaningful to his son as he matures. One of the reflections he shares is about the profound satisfaction he found in performing baptisms and serving the Lord’s Supper. These acts are described as physical participations in sacredness. Robinson writes: “there is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that.”
I love that idea that our actions can acknowledge sacredness. What we do with our hands matters.
At the end of the show, the dancers shared a picnic. They found a knife, cut up the melon and handed it out to the audience. The sweet smell of fruit filled the room. We had been watching a story; now we got to participate in it, too. And sweet rewards for well behaved four year olds, to boot.
I don’t know that I’d recommend taking little kids to see modern dance. It’s got an awful lot of potential pitfalls (and maybe one day I’ll write here about the time we took her to see experimental Shakespeare in New York…) I’m not prescribing great parenting strategies, here. Just describing a moment in our life together when I glimpsed a fraction more of the beautiful mystery that is being human – complicatedly physical and spiritual all at once.