Sunday, September 19, 2010

Among the Nymphs

This afternoon I journeyed to a forest to attend a free-form dance performance by college dance students. The performance was billed as a "site specific offering", an ungainly academic coinage denoting that dance segments were staged at different locations in the woods and that the choreography for a particular location was adapted to that location's trees, boulders, rock ledges, or meadows. I enjoyed both the dancing and the scenery.

Free-form dance - or "creative dance", as it is called at the college - hasn't changed much from the days of Isadora Duncan. It's still all about nature, emotion, and spontaneity. Today in the woods, the young female dancers portrayed a mystical union with Nature and generally comported themselves like nymphs. The dancing was graceful and expressive.

Some college boys may have attended with the hope of seeing hippie chicks frisk about in the woods or, hope of hopes, witnessing a full-blown bacchanalia. These fellows probably thought that the performance more resembled a slumber party, without pillow fights. However, they appeared to enjoy the dance segment featuring pairs of dancers rolling over each other in slow motion.

Three musicians provided an ethereal Celtic-flavored accompaniment. My younger son played the fiddle. His two friends played the cello and the harmonium.

To begin the performance, the audience was led from the parking lot along a forest trail. We passed over a bridge where a nymph was holding a smooth, flat stone in her hand. I failed to grasp the significance of this action.

The audience then went through some brush and debouched into a clearing. There we were treated to the sight of a nymph sitting high above us on a sawn off tree trunk. This serious and contemplative nymph reminded me of St. Simeon Stylites, the fifth-century Christian ascetic. (The comparison only works one way: nobody ever saw St. Simeon and was reminded of a nymph.)

Now the performance began in earnest. A bevy of nymphs were posed on the rock ledges up ahead. They seemed to be personifying the invertebrate branch of nature. One by one they eased themselves down to the ground. Their slow, sleepy motion reminded me of rubber chickens.

Now this action shifted to the top of a twelve-foot high boulder. An agitated nymph rolled and lunged near the boulder's edge. Behind her on the boulder, the fiddler (my younger son) provided a dire minor key accompaniment. Satyrs are often found with nymphs; but my son, though frequently satirical, is not a satyr.

The next dance segment featured nymphs rolling down hills. The sweet music of a harmonium (a sort of pump organ) was the accompaniment. It is a fine thing to see a harmonium player enjoying himself.

The next dance sequence was a striking tableau of nymphs cavorting at three elevations upon a tall rock face. All three musicians joined forces to create an appropriately grand sound.

Now and then a nymph would feel the need to portray an intimate bond with Mother Earth.

One nymph specialized in graceful hula-like arm motions. In antiquity, nymphs were often associated with trees. Why not palm trees?

Finally, after a dance segment in which the nymphs covered themselves with dirt and a dance segment in which the nymphs frantically raced from tree to tree, the curtain fell. Or rather, as there was no curtain in the forest, the nymphs themselves fell.

The performance was over. As I took the trail back to the parking lot, I reflected on all I had seen and heard and was pleased to have experienced such artistry. I was also pleased that I had not been accosted as a dirty old man for taking snapshots of the nubile young dancers.

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