December 12,13, 2015
Listening and Watching
Ira Glass seems to be known by everyone who listens to his KALW program, “This American Life.” His fan club in California is enormous and many of them seemed to be in Zellerbach Auditorium on the UC Berkeley campus on December 12. They love his talk, his asides quips and the range of his storytelling, about life, death, including jokes and commentary.
The problem presented is, how to combine this with the work of two dancers, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass? Well, of course dance has been working with words for centuries (does Glass know this?) and for these three, the problem was how to balance three acts and dance in appropriate intervals between chats. For the most part, they all succeeded, though Glass can and does go on and on. But then, he joins the dance.
Act I consisted of Glass’ considerations on the hard, short life of the dancer. To illustrate this Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass repeated a short dance phrase traveling back and forth and back and forth across the stage, adding appropriate arm gestures and arabesques to illustrate. The two are about the same size and, dressed alike, the moved alike. Yes dance (as all other art forms) takes repetition, but is enlivened by some variation.
The most charming event of the evening was enacted by the performers to recall the days of junior high school dances. They decked the stage with balloons and lights, enlisting six audience members to be crowned as school royalty. Lots of stage effects, lots of poignant talk, too much like a kids’ show.
For this reviewer, the best piece of dance was a slow solo (not clear which dancer) concerning the loss of a friend. Glass’ narration was lost to me, but the dancer’s effective simple action, opening up and letting go, was dramatic and convincing.
Glass offered a long poetic spiel on the death of friends who were both poets. A dance depicted that also, but it was long into the program and didn’t ‘take,’ and wasn’t appropriate for this event.
But at the end, Glass donned a clownish costume and, with great bravura, joined the two as a central figure. That was the best illustration of getting into the act that these three brought to the stage.