THE THEATRE AND THE DANCE.
All the world’s a stage …
Because Greek tragedy and comedy
originated with a chorus that danced
and sang at the Theatre of Dionysus,
a reading of the Orestia, Oedipus, Medea,
or a modern on-stage re-enactment,
can’t recapture the power of those early
dramatisations of human foolishness,
acts of adultery, ambition, anger and
the gods interference in these affairs,
leading on to disaster or, at least,
satirical jokes, – performances by a chorus
of young men trained for military service,
singing and dancing at maximum intensity,
bet they had the Athenian audience
sitting on the edge of their seats.
She wasn’t going to
put up with it, and her
a mere girl, defying
the State, Euripides
possibly the first debate
on separation of Church
TAKE OFF THAT MASK!
Masks, like the spots and stripes of
tigers or leopards lurking in undergrowth
may be a cover up for sinister intent,
for a Macbeth, say, who smiles and smiles,
yet may, behind that smiling mask, be
a damned villain waiting for nightfall
to carry out an undercover
nefarious (or murderous) event.
Just as likely though, wearing a mask
may be concealment for a shrinking self
the donning of a protective covering
like the turtle and the whelk, or as in classic
drama, putting on the mask of an Achilles,
now there’s a way for an un-heroic actor
to become a hero, just for one day.
CATALOGUE OF VILLAINS.
In the Bard’s pantheon of villainy
I suppose Macbeth and Richard the third
run neck and neck. Same motive
prompted each, naked ambition
requiring the violent removal of king
and kinsman, double default in the
overturning of the heavenly order,
an order intended for duplication
here on Earth. ‘Fair became foul,’
indeed, and ‘foul fair, for this
nefarious and duplicitous pair.
Macbeth’s crimes, from murder of king/cousin
then chain reaction on to assassination of
a trusted friend, regressing from bad to worse
with the slaughter of Macduff’s innocent wife and
children, even Lady Macbeth couldn’t come at this.
Richard destroys brother/king, does this make it worse?
Little princes, trusting nephews, murdered in the tower,
does it make it less heinous that Richard is crippled?
Perhaps his hunch back set him apart,
froze human sympathy from his heart,
the heart has its reasons, perhaps?
Then there’s Iago, I’m placing him in the pantheon
though he didn’t actually murder anyone
until Act Five, and one of them was but a knave,
the other only a wife who wouldn’t back him in
his calumny. Do these count against the catalogue
of killings by the other villains? Maybe not if you
leave out Iago’s other malevolent actions at a distance,
his machinations to spread doubt and confusion in
Othello’s mind.That’s what Iago’s about, not ambition
but all embracing malice, spreading misery
and mayhem wherever he gets the chance.
It’s difficult, isn’t it, making these fine
distinctions regarding murder and mayhem?
Numbers’game? Maybe motivation ? So many
ways of assessing assassination in the canon.
Macbeth’s hot ambition, thinking he’d get away
with just one crime, he and Lady Macbeth
thinking they could handle the guilt. Richard,
pathologically icy, forget guilt, had his reasons
via dissembling nature, read his opening speech.
With Iago, it was malice, that’s it, pervasive
malice against the world and everybody in it, acts
of malfeasance for kicks, helping him wile away
the weary hours …tomorrow and tomorrow and …
There’s a play that makes me laugh, written down
under – that’s Australia, name of ‘Miss Tanaka,’
a kind of musicale, kabuki, drama mix set in Broome.
Opens with a witty meeting, beneath a tropic moon,
between the Jewish manager of a pearl shell business,
he’s newly arrived from Europe, nineteen thirty-nine,
and the son of an old pearl diver crippled by the bends.
From the start there’s misunderstanding but underneath,
a subtle understanding, between the two young men.
“Charles – Charles Alanquon Rubin Mott –
The Mott family? The Anglo-Oriental Pearl-Shell Company?”
“Kaz -u – hi – ko.”
“No speaka da English?”
“It’s my name.”
“A thousand pardons.But you’re – ?”
And when the Japanese father, Mr Tanaka, pursued
for gambling debts promises his several debtors
each the hand in marriage of his beautiful niece,
supposedly arrived from overseas, the son’s obliged to
take on the role of Miss Tanaka, try to solve the mess.
You can guess the rest – everyone falls in love with the
oh – so enigmatic and attractive Miss Tanaka including –
you guessed it, the Jewish manager – witty conversations
between the two, as before, but now compounded by
Miss Tanaka’s flirtatious charm, all this taking place
against a background of kabuki staged-fights by suitors
and a cherry blossom dance, that climax in
a proposal of marriage and an almost-acceptance,
so Shakespearean, and you could say, bitter-sweet,
all this just as a predicted violent typhoon hits Broome,
… and I won’t tell you the rest …
The tempest (?) – reality or apparition(?)
All within a play of course, nice play
on how we human actors create our
own living dramas that clash with,
or sometimes catch an intimation of,
a mysterious reality out-there, perhaps.
Why the play’s very theme’s ‘deception.’
The very events we witness here on
Prospero’s island – used to be Caliban’s
but now it’s not – we view because of it.
Everyone’s landed on the island because
of a take-over deal between Antonio,
Prospero’s brother, and Alonso, king
of Naples, that robbed Prospero of
his dukedom in Milan, Alonso and
Antonio now brought to shore and
judgement by a seeming tempest, dire
spectacle of storm and shipwreck that
Prospero has ordered with his magic.
The play’s the thing, of course, to catch
the conscience of the king and perhaps
of Antonio, planned by that master
manipulator, Prospero, and ministered
by his airy servant Ariel. Nothing
but transmogrified scenarios from
beginning to end, masques, and music
that sends the actors into dreaming sleeps
like tricksy Ariel’s song to Ferdinand:
Full fathoms five thy father lies …
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Magic’s in the air and in the language too
that resonates with strange conjunctions
like ‘sea-change’ and ‘sea-swallowing’
and ‘heart-sorrow’ and ‘spell-stopped.’
Not that the actors need much confusing
when you see how easily they deceive them-selves.
Do Gonzalo and Antonio describe the same island?
One describes a place advantageous to life,
the other ‘as’twere perfumed by a fen.’
Then there are the case studies of confused identity,
Stephano mistaking Caliban for a moon-calf,
Caliban thinking Stephano fell from heaven,
Miranda seeing Alonso and Antonio for the first time,
marvelling at beauteous man-kind and exclaiming:
‘O brave new world that has such people in it.’
And just to confuse the audience, consider the
final scenario where Prospero addresses us
across the stage proscenium, breaking the magic,
you’d say, except that he’s asking us to release him
and his acting crew, asking us to breath air into the
sails of his craft and send him on his way back to Milan.
What are we supposed to do? Any wonder that
the audience departs the play still held in a kind
of waking dream.
Neolithic tribes began it to invoke fertility,
stave off famine. Egyptians on the Nile
continued mimicking the sun in a ritual dance.
Visigoths and Greeks and Gauls also did it,
sliding in a circle round some focal symbol,
maybe fire, or idol, or tree, or may-pole,
while chilly Lithuanians and Letts up north,
likely imbued it with a bit more energy,
Meanwhile down south, leaping high as the corn,
tribal Africans surpassed them all by their riotous,
mimetic and ecstatic variation.
Scent of tea roses wafting
in the air, coupes of sparkling
champagne at the bar, art deco
lighting creating a golden
atmosphere for the tea dance.
Tinkling piano, ‘I’ve got you
under my skin,’ couples gliding
across a parquetry floor,
doing their best to emulate
Ginger and Fred’s perfect
Dancing the tango, slow uncoiling,
moving to the pulsing, breathing music
in unison with his black eyed partner
all gravitas and grace. On the dance floor
he’s a god.
The last tango, it’s over, he hurries home,
needs a clean shirt, tango shoes
polished to the utmost gloss …
and he’s out of there
in a rush.
O THE DANCE.
‘Technique,’ Fokine said,
‘is mere means to expression,’
if you don’t know that …
Height of the cold war, I remember
in one of those bleak news reels
my father used to watch on T.V,
in the middle of filming troop movements
and views of subdued people in grey
industrial towns, the camera moves in
to focus on soldiers, a smiling Cossack.
Suddenly he’s down on his haunches,
in a puddle, does the famous
Cossack improbable movements, defiant
dance against the elements, O Kalinka,
– and everyone’s entranced.
The Final Act in classic drama
is when the hero gets the girl,
(in comedy) or at least attains
some understanding, (in tragedy)
while in both, (comedy and
tragedy) the villain gets his or her
come-uppance. Whereas in real life,
lacking an author’s direction, a finale
likely ends in a less-ordered, well,
messy really, (non)-resolution.