How lucky am I? All this past week I have had the chance to work with these amazing dancers as they prepare for “Available Light”, a remounting of Lucinda Childs 1983 collaboration with composer John Adams and architect Frank Gehry. “Available Light” is a gorgeous dance, different from “Einstein on the Beach” pictured above, but equal in beauty and grace.
Dancers work incredibly hard. For long segments of rehearsal they have to be mentally focused and physically adept while repeating a leap, then a turn, then a dash. Until all 7 people on stage are leaping, turning and dashing in unison. Next come the lights and, again, leap, turn, and dash. Now the costumes and take it from the top! Watching such inexhaustible skill and grace is thrilling. I am wildly enthusiastic about supporting or helping these machines of flight! They are professionals for whom hard work is the unspoken code that makes their wear, exhaustion and stoic push to perfection possible.
I am with the dancers immediately after rehearsal, working on muscles in spasm, misaligned toes and compression in one or more joints. During the allotted 15 minute massage sessions, while they get hands-on work from me, they grit their teeth and swear that the sensations are “fine.” They consider the level of abuse they absorb to be one of the hallmarks of a professional dancer. I never work more aggressively than I do when I am with these Navy Seals of the art world. Any one of these dancers will, without a second thought, allow me to manipulate a toe swollen with pain until it is straight, cheerfully thank me and rush back onstage to map out the last leap, turn, dash again with delight.
Stress has a different taste in this environment. Here stress is respected as part of the learning process. Fatigue, lack of focus, and edginess aren’t seen as negative signs to these folks but, instead, recognized as signs to take action. A dancer might drink some water to fight fatigue; might stop and stretch to regain focus; might take a deep breath to combat edginess in order to be present, calm and ready to dance at the highest level. In the same way we must have our own toolbox full of techniques for recognizing and dealing with our own stress.
Check in with your relationship to stress, look through your anti-stress toolbox ready discard old tools that don’t work and eager to look for some new tools. Ask yourself which three things make you feel better quickly. I know some that work for me: a particular shoe website, a funny friend to text, and a sun salutation that can trump any chaos. When I can view stress as a motivator, not a weakness, I know I am on my way to a solution that will lead me to feeling more myself. The dancers with whom I’ve worked this week live a life of rigor and self-care that can be an example to all of us. Let’s remember that each of the rest of us regular folk can learn to treat ourselves with care, too.
At MASS MoCA I’ve been introduced to many amazing people and, once again, I am humbled by a group of performers. I hope you have a chance to go to MASS MoCA to see “Available Light” this week. You’ll observe individuals whose dedication to dance shows in every gesture and look. Watching them reminds the soul of our human possibility and beauty. They are also very nice and eager to for you to witness their talent. Call now before this opportunity leaps away.