Thursday, February 1, 2018

Moving Up a Level

It’s been seven years since I started this exercise in writing ridiculousness, and for the past four, I’ve used this time of year to heap piles of compliments on Danceworks at the end of Moving Company season.

Why stop a good thing?

For the new- Moving Company is the performance troupe from Danceworks in Denville that gives their time and abilities to bring the art of dance (and a bit of the art of sing) to local rest homes, rehab centers and the like.

As Anabelle is in high school now…

Which is terrifying...  

She’s in the Senior Company group. My niece Aurora is still in the Junior Company, and I’m sure her sister and brother will eventually follow since our whole family thinks Danceworks is outstanding. It was awesome to watch my daughter transition into, and excel at, the mentor role for the younger dancers that previous Senior Company members provided for her.  Not to mention seeing her maturing into a fantastic dancer and performer along with her peers

The fact that there is a Junior and Senior Company is something that greatly enhances the shows. One reason is because it adds variety and content. The more important reason is that once the dancers reach the Senior Company, their skills, confidence and presence have been honed in four years of Junior Company performances.  The cool aspect of that growing experience with the passage of time  is this year the Senior Company is made up of almost all of the Junior Company dancers from when Anabelle began.  That means the eighth grade kids who had solo spots back then are now graduating seniors.

Which is also terrifying.

Yes, the shows could be built around only the top tier dancers and singers, but this method enhances the entire presentation over the years, because the only way to get experience performing is to perform.

In case I haven’t mentioned it enough, Miss Chris (director/owner of Danceworks and creative force behind the Moving Company) knows what she’s doing.

Miss Chris also does an infinite amount of stuff to plan and coordinate these shows. Because of that workload I got a different perspective this year.  She had mentioned to my sister (who works the desk and is a Company Mom during show season, because my entire family thinks Danceworks is outstanding) that it would be helpful to have someone to run the music and allow her to interact more directly with the dancers backstage. 

Or in whatever hallway, side room, broom closet, etc. gets assigned to be backstage.

My sister told her I used to do the music for my friends’ (and my own) Juggling Shows.  Since I’m at all the performances anyway, we talked it over and figured I could probably handle it.

I neglected to factor in that those Juggling Shows were mostly in the ancient misty past and I was working primarily with cassettes and eventually CDs.  When Miss Chris showed me the tiny pink iPod, small enough that swallowing it was a legitimate danger, we entered into a whole new kind of terrifying.

Juggling and its interaction with music are inherently goofy (at least where my friends and I are involved) meaning a gaff with the sound could easily work into the show by making fun of myself, whether I was on stage or not.  The fear of messing up the far less doofus oriented dancer’s accompaniment was ever present.

Just as ever present was a whole new set of amazement for Miss Chris, as I have no idea how she did what I took over along with the infinity minus one other tasks she continued to do.

Luckily the first couple of performances were outside with no vocal numbers, giving me transition time to figure things out.  The dancers didn't have to cope with the sub-arctic temperatures of last year, and the gale force winds added a level of dramaticalness to the lyrical costumes.

That dramaticalness was important given this year’s theme.  It was Broadway, and almost all the songs were from stage productions ranging from modern hits, back to an Irving Berlin number from 1915 The others contained sufficient Broadwayishness to carry a theatrical bent.

Miss Chris and her husband, Mr. Carl (Sure... let’s go with that) were excessively helpful all the way through the season. At the beginning it was mostly running over when issues would arise on equipment I was unfamiliar with. (It took three shows for me to figure out where the volume control on the surprisingly powerful little Bose speaker was. Yes, I’m an engineer, why do you ask?)

Later, the help more often took the form of signaling me from across the room if the music or microphone volume needed to be adjusted, especially during vocal performances. This was critical as I needed to lean into the tiny pink iPod, (and therefore the surprisingly powerful little Bose speaker) at the start and end of the songs to see the controls.  After having the opening notes of “Circle of Life” and “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” hit me square in the face and bounce my brain off the back of my skull regularly, my ability to determine subtle differences in sound levels was sketchier than usual.  I was appreciative of the feedback, since I found getting the volume right for the singers the most panic inducing. 

I mean, I did panic about the dancers’ numbers too- but most of the time they were out there in groups, and could easily have teamed up and bludgeoned me to death with tap shoes in their own defense if I messed up.

The vocalists were alone with no one to lean on, executing a talent I barely comprehend. Other years, I thought it was cool seeing their confidence grow show to show.  This time I could quantify it for the younger singers, since I needed to make their accompaniment louder and louder as the weeks went by and more confidence and power went into their voices. The Senior Company singers had reached the level of total, audience grabbing, room filling showstoppers by this point, and it was awesome remembering seeing them take the same path of growth in years gone by. Because the only way to get performance experience is to perform. (He repeated.)

Speaking of messing up: I do owe the tap group an apology as it took a while to finally figure out how loud “In the Money” had to be for them to hear it over the sound of their shoes on the wooden “coins” they danced on.  I finally realized the volume had to be four to five steps above where the bass reverberated through every joint in my body.

Also, at one point during a number, at a venue with a history of cursed background accompaniment, the music cut out completely.  Luckily, there were eye witnesses to let me know that the time it was off while I checked and adjusted connections and volume was way under a minute…as opposed to the three weeks it felt like in my head.  The Junior Company members showed their professionalism by continuing throughout the silence, and being right on beat once the fool with the tiny pink iPod got the music back on.

Solving that unaided finally gave me some confidence that I had a bit of a clue what I was doing.  Of course, that meant the next week featured one show in a place with its own audio system, and another with a tiny, odd shaped performing space where I had to be further from the speaker and adjust the volume with the tiny pink iPod itself, which has the control sensitivity of standard hotel shower temperatures.  Plus, the places of two of the vocal numbers were swapped after Miss Chris had set up the electronic play list.

On the positive side, my cardiologist doesn’t need to schedule me for a stress test this year.

My  main new perspective came from being placed much closer to, and often next to or behind the performances than when I was a spectator.  It also meant I’m going to miss watching the seniors dance even more than other years.  

No, it’s just allergies…
shut up.

I have always been impressed at how well the dancers adjust their routines to the limited and unusual spaces they perform in. What I was unaware of, and what became obvious when I could see their motions and expressions up close, is how much of the adjustment wasn’t planned backstage, but was done on the fly during the show.

There is a subtle difference between the practiced theatrical smile of a routine, and the knowing grin of, “I just prevented a collision with my friend that would have knocked us both out the window.”

Yet whatever was in their way: 
walls, columns, rehab equipment, blinding sunlight reflected off their own sequins, furniture, speakers, uncovered sockets, an immobile audience, or - in some of the smallest venues- me, 
they adjusted. 

In the places I couldn’t hide behind a bar or table, I was either behind, right next to, or in the extreme cases, ON the “stage.” Being in full view of the audience, I needed to address a personal issue right away.  I’ve been cursed with “resting grouchy old man face” since my teenage years.  Therefore I had to remember to keep my expression aligned with my enjoyment of the performance while fretting over the music starts and finishes.

Shockingly, I was not the strangest large furred mammal encounter the dancers needed to avoid.  The tiny space mentioned above, which was deeper than it was wide, already forced some highly creative last minute choreography adjustments. During the second number the laid back but large “house dog” of the Rest Home strolled nonchalantly between the dancers.  He did not, however, point his toes correctly.

Later in the show, another adjustment led to a lyrical dancer nearly standing on top of me.  That caused me to move myself more out of the way while setting the volume, changing the song order and holding the cable so the power didn't cut out. (The choreography was unquestionably better on stage, but there was some going on in the hall too.  Good thing I'm a juggler.)

I can’t help overstating ("We know!" I hear you cry.)  that the only way to get performance experience is to perform. And watching them close up all get progressively better with each outing was truly impressive.

As I learned in the place with its own sound system, the choreography does make more sense from the front, but what I saw from the back and side was cooler.  No matter where I was located, when any of the routines meant dancers were facing me, it felt like I was watching the performance from the proper location.   They could have done these shows “in the round” without being told beforehand and everyone, no matter where they sat, would have felt like the show was specifically aimed at them.

I usually refrain from noting individual names, but since:
A) She’s a senior
B) It was insane and I’ve never seen anything like it

I need to mention Sam’s self-choreographed, combined sign language-solo dance thing was hypnotizing. I’d get caught up in watching it almost every show and then freak out because I only remembered at the last second that I needed to pause the music when she finished. (That probably happened a couple of times at the end of the Chicago number too.  Guess I'm a sucker for good storytelling in any medium.)  

It never happened when my daughter was performing. Not because I wasn't captivated by what an amazing and talented young woman she’s becoming, but because the fear of divine wrath like retribution at home since I live with that amazing and talented young woman was strong enough to keep me focused.

One disadvantage of the viewpoint I had was sometimes I had an obstructed view of parts of the show.  I guess I’ve been watching these for a while now, because I could identify which dancer I was seeing by how the random arm or leg that appeared between the flag and curtain or whatever was moving. This is another reflection on the awesomeness of Danceworks focusing more on the art of dance than required uniformity, and allowing individuality to flourish.  Then again, by this point I could usually guess which of the incredible teachers choreographed the routine based solely how the dancers walked into the performance area.

On the other hand, a huge advantage of my new viewpoint was I could directly see the faces of the audiences the dancers traveled to entertain.  The joy and enthusiasm was heart warming and wonderful to behold.  The crowds, who were far from the most animated or mobile individuals, would clap, sing and otherwise move along.  The grateful happiness was almost tangible.

Heck, considering most of the people watching the shows were wheelchair bound, the partial standing ovations they got regularly was a testament to how much the Moving Company meant to them.

Note- One of these places messed up the name on the schedule and advertised, “Dance Force.” 
I am totally stealing that for a superhero team name.

I thought I was done with major surprises where Danceworks is concerned.

Naturally, choreographing a top hat and tails number complete with kick line En Pointe rather than tap or jazz was mindbogglingly impressive both in concept and execution. But after seeing Miss Chris stage Led Zeppelin and Pirate themed ballet numbers, it wasn’t much of a stretch.

The Broadway theme meant the numbers were even catchier than the terminally stuck in your head selections normally used by the Moving Company.  The theatricality of the songs was also another opportunity for Miss Chris and her staff to demonstrate one of the main reasons we chose her school, which was also not a surprise.

Despite the fact that for jazz, theater and vaudeville influenced tap dances there are legally required amounts of shimmy and strut involved, the routines always remained way over on the completely tasteful and sassy yet classy side of the line. 

A surprise did, once more, come from the level of goofiness these dedicated young women possess, normally concealed under their highly skilled and polished dance exteriors.  I’d known about this somewhat from seeing them outside of class, in occasional pun wars and things, when picking up Anabelle.  And in one instance a completely composed and graceful young adult ballerina came out of the studio, and instantly looked like a happy five year old when she discovered the sound a squeaky floor board made as she bounced up and down on it.

Yet, until I was attempting to hide behind a small Bose speaker right next to the performance, I had no idea of the hidden levels of silly that sneak out on stage.  I always made sure to avoid eye contact with any performer right next to me (especially relatives) to prevent inadvertently making them laugh. 

This comes from a lifetime of being inadvertently laughed at by women of all ages.

I’m not sure I needed to bother.  Whenever two dancers made eye contact there were exchanges of expressions designed to crack each other up.  In most cases these were extremely subtle.

However, there were exceptions.  During the tap number in one show, a young woman known for maintaining a professional and poised demeanor whenever on stage, turned her back to the audience as part of the routine, and without breaking the choreography shot a look at her friend that was a dead ringer for one of Monsieur Milo Perrier’s funniest faces from Murder by Death.

There was one more surprise surpassing that.

Due to the “what happens at the after party stays at the after party” attempts of all the dancers trying numbers they didn’t do in the show, I’d have felt intrusive staying after I dropped Anabelle off.  I have noticed that this exercise has often inspired dancers to try a new type of routine the following year.  Once more, Miss Chris knows what she’s doing.

When I picked my daughter up, I got a truly fantastic surprise.

A bouquet of flowers and a thank you card signed by the whole troupe!
How awesome is that?!?!?

I felt honored to be allowed to help them bring so much joy to so many, and they were thanking me!

Honestly, I felt even more honored that Miss Chris trusted my buffoon like self not to mess up a show that she and her dancers had clearly poured their heart and soul into.

I was a little confused at first since the card was addressed to Mr. McGinley. The only two people who ever called me that are my primary doctor and my high school Trig teacher.  We never did the Mr. /Mrs. thing Up the Lake, or with family and friends. All the kids around my condo called me “Mr. Juggler Man.”

In any case, it totally blew me away, since I’d decided to volunteer to do it again next year well before I knew about the flowers, and before I was listed as "Company Dad" in the wrap up e-mail.  


Reclaimed costume sequin thank you for Miss Chris by my niece, Aurora.


Mom said...

Just to affirm your statement that "my entire family thinks Danceworks is outstanding" I'd like to add how true that is. Just watching my Granddaughters and now my Grandson grow in poise and confidence is a tribute to Miss Chris and her staff. They all take their dancing seriously and enjoy it immensely. It is a testament at how wonderful Danceworks is.

Jeffrey, you captured everything great about Danceworks, the shows and the students. Love, Mom

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx so much for the compliment and confirmation. I know it’s important is you decide to comment. .

And thanx for basically being responsible for finding Danceworks, in its previous incarnation, that led to us signing Anabelle up st this one.