Modern Dance: Elvis or Johnny Cash

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I first became aware of modern dance companies by the publicity shots I’d see in newspapers. Women with their hands apart pointing to Casper the Ghost or other imaginary diety. Men, wearing only white gauze, cantering over another dancer in crouch pose eating a daisy. They had me.  And then when I started actually attending dance performances, it sealed the deal.

S called me up and said, “I’ve got a spare for tonight if you want to come to St Sauveur.”  

Angelique and I had only just recently been there, in the midst of a fight, a travel ministry of sorts, only to see Martha and Rufus Wainwright sitting nearby on the new fancy wooden stage to the left of the church.  They were there with Anna McGarrigle to allow the ville of Saint Sauveur to dedicate the stage to the late Kate McGarrigle.  It was the hottest day of the year, at about 97 degree in the key of F. Rufus wore what looked to be wool pants in winter white of all colors/colours, with big piano black stripes moving from his belt down to his cuffs. He was melting.  He looked very large, but only to match that stage with the huge beams of wood, the kind you see in new ski lodges.

“I’ll go,” I told S and then told Angelique who said, “Great. I’ve got to catch up on my shows on SyFy.”

I arrived to the Saint on time, driving slowly past middle to late aged tourists who wore summery clothing and jewels that sparkled. Everyone not spilling over the open windows at the numerous restos were on the sidewalks reading menus at the feet of many stairs.  I parked just past the dog food store and walked back to the grand chapiteau, wearing taupe linen shorts, my $1 gray V-neck shirt and my $8 navy cotton cable sweater. Before I left Angelique had said, “God you don’t know how to dress.”  She had pulled 2 rusty nails out of her elastic waistband shorts only 5 minutes earlier. Her black t-shirt was stained with the blood of a dozen spaghetti sauces.

I walked past the outdoor fireplaces to the tent and spotted S right away.  She was the writer who wore $8 clothing items, too.

The artistic director of the festival spotted S and chatted her up.  “Most people want to see classical dance so the challenge is finding the right mix of modern …”

A dance volunteer rang a bell. S caught up with me and we walked to the big tent and found our seats.  I told her Angelique would not be joining us because of xyz. She told me she was caught by the lack of real journalism getting paid for journalism. She used to get paid for her dance reviews, big time.  I said, “I’ve no idea what kind of show this is tonight.”

S said, before the lights went down, “It’s a kind of tribute to Elvis and Johnny Cash.” And then someone on stage talked about the Elvis bit being a portrait in dance. He went back and forth between English and French, but stayed mostly with the French, I noted.

And then 2 blonde women, young for the crowd, plopped down in seats next to me, smelling like eau de off, a designer bug spay that also fronted as a parfum. I started breathing through my mouth as the dancers made their way to the stage.

The Elvis dance.

It was too long. Too many dancers were on stage. The props kept giving me expectations that they could not live up to. There was some kind of art show on the back wall but I could barely see it. The dancers were doing things with their hands that annoyed me. Elvis clips of him talking were interesting for 4 seconds and then bored me. The songs were ok but what did they have to do with what was going on in front of me?  I sat on the edge of my seat so as to keep my butt from falling asleep.  The costumes made me blink a lot, especially the 2 women’s outfits in shades of blue.  I thought of the South Park episode showing a spoof of Cirque du Soleil performances for some reason. And then at the end with Elvis singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” which seemed like a cheap shot.

No one gave a confusing standing O like the crowd had done last year at the inexplicably terse and cacaphonous dance by someone else.  We all clapped and then lights up for a wee intermission.

S told me that, yes, Auto Driveaway was still in business.  And the best time to take the Canada train to Edmonton was winter because so picturesque, but then admitted that any time it went below 35 in the key of C, the train had to slow down and the toilets overflowed because everything froze.  “Noted,” I told her. Her son was fine, her daughter fine, and the ginger elf who I’d seen her with last time had screwed her out of some possessions.  “I’ll explain over coffee later,” she said as we prepared for the final dance performance to start.  “This is a different choreographer,” she whispered as the lights went down. “Thank god,” said I, noticing that the blondes had bugged off, and a handful of people had not returned to their seats.

And we both pepped up right away with energy and interest.  The Man in Black sang a cover of ‘In My Life’, and only 4 of the dancers, who might have been in the earlier work, mosied around on stage in their cow duds, 3 dudes, 1 dudette.  Their movements actually went with the music and then went off from the music in a way that I found pleasing. They split apart, they joined together in variations and combos that had me forgetting all about my derriere. The songs kept coming, all kind of surprising.  “I didn’t know he sang Gordon Lightfoot,” S confided.  “Jesus,” I said, keeping my eyes on the 4 dancers who spliced up the stage, left large parts of it blank and unused and then filled it up again.  Johnny Cash sang ‘Hurt’ and the dancers did a weird can-can.  They did weird square dancing that made me resent the square dancing lessons foisted upon me in junior high. If we had been able to dance like that, I thought, and then dropped my anger as the dancers moved in different configurations.  No shit, this was a different choreographer. No shit this was coming to the end and I wasn’t ready for them to finish.  They finished.  I stood up, my linen pants clinging to my left butt cheek in the dark.  Bravo, I yelled.  Bravo.  A handful of others did the same but the rest did not.  This surprised me.  But I didn’t have enough energy to rile them up, something I knew I had the power to do, but only when I was at my best.

S sighed, “He should have been the first performance so that everyone would’ve seen it.”

“God,” I yelled.

“These older European types want what they know, which is tutus and point shoes,” she said.

I wondered if Elvis and Johnny Cash were too American in North America.  Too english in francoville.  But then I remembered the new stage named for the town’s most famous anglo citizen and thought that this was the thing Canada and Quebec would always have to wrestle with.  French or English, more intense that the way people would ask me Beatles or Rolling Stones, Elvis or Johnny Cash.

After closing down the coffee shop round the corner, they closed at 11 in the summers, I left S to drive to Montreal to visit with her son before going back to Ottawa.  I drove slowly round the church, its bell tower bathed in colored lights.  I headed toward the sound of tam-tams somewhere in the center, only to see a restaurant still in full gear, with the drummers on stage.  Most of the shops were closed, but the town was lit up anyway, as if to say, We’re just taking a nap, back soon!

The dark highway beckoned, and awakened a feeling in me that I hadn’t felt in a while. I was not fatigued this time, and I drove in no particular hurry.

NOTE: EDITS with thanks to my Ain’t.

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