I attended a dance performance last Friday. Nothing particularly unusual about that. Our family has always enjoyed this medium and we try to attend a couple of performances each year.
I took one of the few remaining seats available and waited for the performance to begin, tucking the bouquet of flowers I had brought under my seat. I noticed a small film crew setting up on the opposite side of the room.
The choreographers came out to talk briefly about what we were about to see. This was a collaboration between the initiator of the project, and the residents of Woodland Pond, with one of them taking the lead in the organization of the project and event. The director explained that the performance was in four parts, and mirrored the stages that people passed through in their introduction, adjustment, acceptance and enjoyment of their time at Woodland Pond, a senior living facility. They believe in a movement called Creative Aging that focuses on the role of the arts in enhancing the quality of life for older adults.
Cue music…Jazz from Larry Adler and Ellis Larkins, and the performance begins with one woman in her wheelchair in the center of the space. Others join her, and sometimes in three groups of three, sometimes all together, they create gestures of welcome, then the approach/avoidance and fear of rejection that one experiences in a new place, followed by the relief of both understanding how it goes and finally the enjoyment of participation and connection with the place and each other. At this point one woman steps forward and sweeps around the U shaped audience scatting, “Shoo boo ba be ba! Doo n doo Wah! Ba bididi be be! Doo Doo Yeah! She exemplified her joy. This was my mom in her element, living her dream, choreographing and performing an original work.
The shapes the group created were varied; at times stretching upward, at others curved around each other, and sometimes linking through and touching hands. In all, three wheelchairs were woven into the piece and the median age of the dances was 85. The oldest dancer was 95, who also happened to be the only male.
Afterward they sat in a line and answered questions from the audience. Some were new to dance, others talked about the challenges they faced in learning the twelve minutes of choreography, the pain in their limbs and joints, and struggles with memory, to say nothing of the competition for practice time with doctor’s appointments and how they were feeling. As of the night before, they would have one less performer who was not feeling up to it.
The theme that traced through their comments and was demonstrated in their performance was their enthusiasm for the project, their new or deepened connection with one another and their desire to do something like it again. Their enthusiasm had caught hold in the audience who started asking how they could be involved, too. I was thrilled to be there, witness to their achievement and appreciating the thought, care and effort that had contributed to this much rehearsed creation.
I can still see them as they finished up, all standing sideways in a line, with their arms extending toward the audience as they shouted “YEAH!”