A Scene from the Dance
It was only as the lights dimmed in the theatre that my mother realized that there wasn’t a single person in the audience under eighteen besides my twelve-year-old brother and I. As the crowd made the expectant hush noise of the fluttering of playbills being put on the floor and the gentle squeaking of legs being rearranged in seats, she glanced at the playbill again. In small print at the bottom of the page it said, “May not be suitable for persons under age eighteen. Parental guidance strongly suggested.”It was my mother’s idea that my siblings and I needed more cultural experiences with her in our young lives. Our father took us out to theatre all the time, and mom decided that she wanted us to associate her with the arts too. So she bought a subscription of three tickets for three different dance performances at the Kennedy Center. The first dance we had attended had been too thoroughly modern for us, with dancers expressing the nature of mountain with abstract fluid poses. My brother James had fallen asleep and I had projected unasked for narrative into the motions (the mountain was missing its lover the sea and its brother, the sky). Thus, we children had approached this second foray into watching a dance performance with a little trepidation.
Its funny sounding name didn’t help either- ‘Vienna: Lusthaus
’, written by Charles Mee
.A review of the dance
noted that “Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited) evokes the corruption and excess of pre-World War I Vienna through hypnotic dance, haunting music, electrifying drama, and images inspired by the paintings of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt.” What did all that mean anyway? Mom told us ‘lusthaus’ was German, but she didn’t know what it meant either.We all found out pretty quickly what that word meant, or at least connoted.
Part dance, part stream of conscious Freudian dialogue, the dancers gave speeches, snippets that had been taken by Mee and rewritten and pulled until they were something quite different. The speeches were about lust, and sex, violence and death, the nature of the taboo, and the hypocrisy and stifling nature of society. And the dances… well. Many (most) of the dancers appeared completely naked on stage at one point or another. Two women sat on pristine white towels, slowly scrunching the towels forward and closer to one another until they could touch and begin to initiate something that was quite suggestive of orgasm.
Two men, one of which was supposed to be Freud, the other of which was dressed as a solider, stood on stage as fake snow fell and talked about the stages of rigor mortis.
How does a drowned body look?
Discoloration over the face, neck, upper chest. Because the body floats
downward in the water, usually.
What colors does a body pass through after death?
Light pink, red, light blue, dark blue, purple-red.
A woman reminisced about how she fondled a horse in India.
One of Many Homo-erotic Tableaus
“I was in India several thousand years ago fondling a horse.
A blondhaired boy was on the horse. We were strangers. I was touching
the horse, and then I was touching him, and others were watching us.
And then he came down from the horse and kissed my quim.
Oh . . .
I thought . . .
Oh . . .
He is French, because . . .
because he . . .
because he knew how much I loved to have him . . .
kiss my quim.
And I was very glad. And so we danced.
And I saw that he was very strong, and hard as a rock.
His penis was small, but very firm and round and powerful, and I loved
And I was ready to have him come inside me.
But he didn’t.
I thought: perhaps this is the way it is in India.
Penetration is not important.
And I felt like a barbarian, expecting entry when he had something more
civilized in mind.”
After the first act, and the lights came up for intermission, many old women in furs and jewels gave my mother The Look. My mother in turn looked down at my brother and me and asked us quietly how we felt.“They are naked, mom!” James stated the obvious. “And the women keep on touching each other. It’s okay though, a little boring. Can we go to a movie instead next time?” Amazingly, James wasn’t particularly interested or fussed about the nudity.Mom turned to me. I bit my lip and said all the gravitas a 14-year-old can muster, “It is really beautiful, mom, the dancers are so graceful. Thank you for taking us.” My mom visibly relaxed and I could tell she was no longer envisioning statements in court, my father using the fact that my mom took us to a naked dance to try to gain sole custody and have her taken away as a Bad Mother (not that he ever would, of course).
We even stayed for the second act.
Looking back at the experience, I am really glad I went. It did shock my puritanical 14 year old self to see naked men and women dancing, but in a healthy way. And now, almost a decade later, I respect Mee’s vision and his entire (re)making project, the premise of which is “There is no such thing as an original play.”