Dita Parker

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Flawed to perfection

I like mixing up things, things with a touch of anarchy and chaos in their positive connotation of creative destruction. I've been thinking about two performances I saw earlier this year. Some things hit you like a hammer, these two have been bubbling under on a slow simmer, tickling my mind, and I think I found the cure to that prickling sensation in the connection I made between them. 

I had the pleasure of watching and listening to my father-in-law rehearse with the philharmonic orchestra he plays with for a concert where movie scores were played to stills from those classic movies. It was an odd and compelling combination, the decades old films in suspended motion, the music coming live and raw, experienced together that one time only.

I recognized the tunes; I easily identified the male leads; but the silver screen sirens looked so much alike I couldn't recognize some of them. "She looks like so and so, who looks exactly like the actress in that other movie. They were probably operated on by the same plastic surgeon." They did that, a lot. The actresses on those stills were everything they were expected to be: luminous, ethereal, perfect.

They could have been the same woman wearing perhaps wigs of different colors, except they weren't and I knew it. Like the flawless flowers in The Little Prince, they were beautiful but empty of anything that would have distinguished them from one another, a touch of the real, something tangible to grasp. 

A woman synonymous with perfection was in town, prima ballerina Sylvie Guillem. It wasn't immaculate Sylvie as Giselle or Odette/Odile but Sylvie as Sylvie who stepped on stage to perform the contemporary Sacred Monsters with dancer and choreographer Akram Khan. Ballet and Indian Kathak in eclectic dialogue, opposites pushing and pulling. Phe-nom-e-nal.

Khan was interviewed by the local media. I caught him talking about how he realized early on he was nowhere near as flawless in his technique as most other dancers in his class. Then it hit him. They were perfect, yes, but they all performed alike. His imperfections made him stand out, made his dancing unique.

Khan is right. Flawless execution can't give you that. It can put you up there with the rest of the Sacred Monsters, the divas, the stars, but where there is perfection, there is nothing to hold onto or engage with. It shines right back at you, self-contained and glaring. Where do you go from there? How can you make your mark without marring all that excellence? 

Wouldn't that be the most rigid state and position imaginable, the most fragile one, always under threat and scrutiny? The performers may change but the perfect performance stays forever the same. Those make me want to claw at the pristine surface to see if it bleeds, if it's alive.

I'm not saying I don't admire the pinnacles of human achievement, but I'd rather take them with some air around them, with some room to move, with the promise of dialogue, of identification. As hard as it sometimes is to live with your imperfections and idiosyncrasies, they distinguish us from all others while uniting us in their universality. They don't have to be your shameful downfall; they could well be your strength and saving grace.

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