Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dance of the Children

This weekend, Dear Husband and I performed together. He is the accompanist for an adult choir in our community. When I traveled with them to Central Europe two years ago, the director asked me to choreograph and perform a dance to Eliza Gilkeyson's "Requiem" for the 2005 tsunami victims in Indonesia. I later reprised that piece for their fall concert. Earlier this fall, she introduced me to Kurt Bestor's "Prayer for the Children" and asked me to do interpret it in movement for this year's fall concert in honor of America's veterans. In fact, The Chorale was so kind as to dedicate this piece to me "in gratitude and friendship...for bringing the beauty of dance to the music of The Chorale. Thank you for your grace and lyrically sensitive interpretation of this poignant song." This is how it begins:
Can you hear the prayer of the children?
On bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room.
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry,
Turning heavenward toward the light.

Crying, Who will help me
To see the morning light-of one more day?
But if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take.
It would be easy to pantomime most of the words, but I felt that would trivialize it. Instead, I made a word document of the lyrics and highlighted a few phrases to anchor my interpretation, like "prayer" and "tears to cry." The sun and its light is another repeating motif. I created more and less stylized gestures to fit these phrases. Then I strung movements in between them that expressed the mood of the lines, which was a combination of sadness, hope, and--in the most difficult part--anger and violence.

"Prayer of the Children" was an interesting selection to include on the program, which otherwise consisted of crowd-pleasers like "The Last Full Measure of Devotion" and "Proud to Serve." Kurt Bestor explains on his blog about how he came write this little piece about the unrest after Tito died in Yugoslavia--and how it became a staple of youth choirs in the 1990s during the violent breakup of that country. The penultimate line, "Can you hear the prayer of the children?" is sung in Croatian.

Between some of the songs on the program, the maestra read remembrances from Americans who fought during World War II. She connected "Prayer" with the rest of the program by reading a poem written by a boy who died in the Shoah (or Holocaust).
A little garden,
fragrant and full of roses.
The path the little boy trudges
is exceedingly narrow.

A small boy,
tender like a budding blossom,
but when the blossoms bloom,
the little boy will be no more.
Franta (Frantisek) Bass was born in Brno on September 4, 1930; deported to the Terezin concentration camp on December 2, 1941; and died in Auschwitz on October 28, 1944. He was only fourteen years old when he was murdered. She had discovered his poem when we visited the museum at Terezin two years ago.

For the performance, I eschewed my usual white leotard and flowing skirt in favor of my paternal grandfather's Bohemian blouse with beautiful embroidery and cut-out lace, his wide, black and red sash, and simple black dance pants. A friend put my hair in french braids. I figured this costume was suitably "Eastern European" and besides, my grandfather is a WWI Marine veteran.

The week before the concert I spent several hours finishing the choreography and polishing the presentation. Unfortunately, I seem to have peaked too early: I think the best rendition I gave was the night of the dress rehearsal, when I danced for the choir. (So they could satisfy their curiosity first, and then pay attention to the director like they're supposed to.) When we did it a second time, with them singing and me dancing, I injured my foot coming out of a split leap awkwardly. I applied iced and ibuprofen immediately and went to the student health center the next morning--aka the morning of the concert--where an exam and xrays confirmed I had not broken a toe. The doctor did not want me to dance at all, but I couldn't bear the thought of not going through with it, so I let him "buddy tape" my toes, replaced the split leaps with grapevine steps, and danced anyway. I am not entirely happy with the way it went, but many audience members told me afterwards that it was beautiful. After all, they do not know what the choreography should have looked like (in my head), so I guess what happened was a good enough representation of the horrors of war and national chauvinism, which is not all glory and honor and valor, but also little children orphaned, injured, and killed, like little Franta.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments let me know that I am not just releasing these thoughts into the Ether...