The first time I presented a reading of The Actual Dance, it was in the living room of an apartment in New York hosted by a friend. In her nice sized living room were about 30 guests, including a professional dance company producer. I finished the reading and we opened the floor to reactions and feedback. An arm shot-up, the woman dance company producer, most anxious to talk said: “First, congratulations on the title. It is perfect and often the hardest thing to get right.”
Made be proud. It was just about six-years ago. Remember, this was my first play and I was nervous and worried that I was out of my league. Now in 2018 having returned from my most recent booking convention – the place where folks like me try to sell (persuade) theaters to book our show, I wonder if I got it right after all. You see, everyone in the theater biz, so to speak, who sees the title in print or hears me say it immediately tosses us into the “dance category.” “Oh, we don’t do dance.” They think the peformance is some sort of dance presentation – ballet, hip-hop, modern –or something like that.
Of course, if you have seen the play, you know that it is a staged theatrical presentation, a form of spoken word, one-man show. Yes, there is original music. It is however “directed” and there are no traditional dance moves by the actor. You can see the preview here. In this directed version of the play, the actual dance is a metaphor for the ritual of holding the one you love in your arms as they take their last breath. How do you do that, the show asks? And it answers, “The Actual Dance” – the ritual of coming to terms with this unbearable moment – is the “ultimate consummation of our love.” It sees this impossibly difficult act as one of great, but terrifying, intimate and beautiful moment.
When Susan and I got married in August of 1966, we promised to love and care for each other for so long as we shall live. We said, “I do”. The Actual Dance imagines the fulfillment of that promise. It is the “I did” moment. Maybe I should rename the show: “I Did.”
Yet, even from the beginning days of producing and directing the play, there have been moments or flashes of ideas of the show infused with actual dance movement. Hints of that idea are reflected in a pre-show video we created early on. Check that out here. (Those are actors by the way.)
Those thoughts have lingered for some time. And not because theater managers confuse us with a “dance show” – but because the power of the story and the ultimate journey needs to be expressed as powerfully and diversely as possible. So, Monday night, in New York City, The Actual Dance will premiere a new version of the show that is presented in both movement and word. It is choreographed and directed by an acclaimed choreographer Kimani Fowlin. It will be presented – in movement and voice – by Chuk Obasi whose considerably talents and credits allow him to embody for the audience both dance and voice.
The Actual Dance you see is more than a metaphor. It is a true story. A visit or vision if you will of another place in time and space that allows us to bear the unbearable. It is where we retreat to when we think we cannot bear the burden of holding in our arms the one person with whom we were meant to be. In the play there is a scene in which this is articulated this way:
“I am the other half of that which makes us complete. And when else in our lives is it more important to be whole than when our body is badly broken.”
I hope that many people will get to see this version of the story. It is even for me, the playwright, an awe-inspiring opportunity. You see, even though I personally could never have danced the way Chuk does, I can close my eyes now, having seen him in rehearsal, and imagine my own journey differently. And “The Ball Room which is described in detail in the show – and was in my head—now become both more real and more ethereal.
The gift that Chuk’s peformance gives is the permission for each of us to actualize The Dance – The Actual Dance in our head and in our body as we sit there and experience the possibility of our own experience. Indeed, the first lines of the show are:
There is a dance. A dance that one day, each-and-every one of us, will dance.
I think we will keep the title.
Please come see Chuk Monday night at United Solo, 9 p.m. Studio Theater in Theater Row. Click here for information and tickets. There are only a few tickets left. http://unitedsolo.org/us/theactualdance-2018/