Nov 7

"A woman in a black leotard, her dark hair pulled back, was dancing a subdued dance in an interior space — her living room? There were some peculiar paintings on the wall. One of them appeared to depict Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. The dancer wasn’t looking at the camera. Her eyes were turned down throughout her little choreography, which was also quite peculiar — not balletic, exactly, though oddly proper. She demi-pliéed in plunky time to Satie’s moderate little melody, alternately lifting her arms as if to mark the count. Her gestures became more and more idiosyncratic and mysterious, as though she were trying to communicate some information.

Perhaps I should pause to explain that I was at this conference to deliver a paper on semaphore mime in contemporary ballet choreography. I’m a former ballet dancer. I’m learning to say that. Like many male dancers, I started my training relatively late, and ours is not a line of work known for its longevity, so my stage career, such as it was, was pretty brief — and not particularly noteworthy. My longest gig was with the Royal Swedish Ballet in Stockholm. I came in under Nils Ake-Häggbom, and stuck around for as long as it seemed to make sense. I’m trying to transition into teaching, which is why I decided a few years ago to get a doctorate in performance studies, which is why I decided a few years ago to get a doctorate in performance studies, which led to the temporary and somewhat precarious post-doc I’ve already mentioned.

I was supposed to be revising my dissertation into a book. I had recently been granted a post-doctoral fellowship to support this project. The major revision I’d thus far accomplished was changing the title. The dissertation had been called Semaphoric Mime from the Ballet Blanc to William Forsythe: A Derridean Analysis. By “Derridean,” I meant to indicate that even when a dance appeared to be relaying a very clear message, it was always already saying something altogether different. I knew that title might be a bit off-putting to a general audience, so the book was going to be: I’m Trying To Reach You. This seemed to have more crossover potential, although the manuscript was probably a little over-specialized for the lay reader, and maybe a tad theoretical. I knew I had to take out some of the extended endnotes, which had nearly the same word count as the actual text, but so far I’d only managed to excise a few commas. I have a slightly pathological attachment to the idea of the “hors-texte.”  

So, it’s not exactly as though I believe in singular interpretations, like I could “get” this little Satie choreography if I only had a key. But the dance looked like a message in a bottle. It seemed to have some sort of secret code — the big mystery, of course, being what the hell it had to do with Michael Jackson.

Some of the references were pretty clear: the mudra-like hand gestures (“okay”), which morphed into antlers, and then something like a map of her ovaries; a little Charlie Chaplin walk, ending with a swat at her ankles; a delicate circling of her index finger over her head, as though it were a phonograph needle sounding the clunky little score. And then I saw it: looking down at her feet, she swiveled to the side, and discreetly moonwalked backwards across the floor.

It definitely wasn’t virtuosic, but it did have a hint of the uncanny, as the moonwalk invariably does.

The video ended with her head still down, arms open in a gesture of apparent offering. Then it faded to black. I hit “replay.” And then again. Maybe I’d just listened to “Billie Jean” and “Smooth Criminal” one too many times. It’s possible I’d lost all my critical faculties. But at that moment, all I wanted to do was hear this moderate little piano solo, and watch this moderate little chamber dance.

The video had been posted by somebody called “falserebelmoth.” It had only clocked 6 views, and several of those, as you can see, were mine. I scrolled down to the comments. There was only one, from somebody called “GoFreeVassals”: “Kind, icy, slim one … I am raw with lament.” That was odd. And yet accurate — as a description of the dancer, and also the response she was producing in me.

I was staring at this comment when I had the disconcerting sense that someone was looking over my shoulder.”

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  1. 52projects reblogged this from emilybooks
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  3. twodollarradio reblogged this from emilybooks and added:
    Check it out! Barbara Browning’s I’m Trying to Reach You is the November book club pick at Emily Books!
  4. emilygould reblogged this from emilybooks and added:
    A brief, enticing excerpt from I’m Trying To Reach You
  5. emilybooks posted this