Let’s see, I’ve covered what I’m writing, how I’m writing it… when? – well, I guess that’s now. Which? (maybe that doesn’t really work here).
Who? (that’s me? Obviously. Yeah.)
So, why am I writing a ballet?
That is an excellent question.
I don’t remember.
I was originally inspired by the story of a girl I met who, in the spirit of the film “Footloose” went against her family’s wishes to pursue a professional dance career, studying full time and driving hours back and forth from training to jobs in shows. Upon the very day of her college graduation, right after her home-cooked graduation dinner, her father asked what she was thinking of doing, and she told him she’d like to get a job in a show, and he said, “Well, no, where are you gonna stay?” and she told him, “Well, I was looking at rooming with some friends up in LA for a while.” and he said, “No, I mean, where are you staying tonight?”
“I told you I would support you until you were 18, or if you chose to go to college until you graduated. Today you graduated.”
“I have to sleep somewhere else tonight?”
“You’re on your own. Leave your keys.”
So she left her childhood home and headed out into the world to make her own way, and she wasn’t really even mad at her folks about it, it was some strictly enforced tradition regarding self-sufficiency that I felt, as an outsider, hadn’t been adequately explained. So she couch surfed and kept at it and eventually ended up at the same job interview I was at, trying to be a tour guide at Universal Studios in the later ’80’s. We both got the job. There was a lot to memorize, so she came over to where I was staying to study and ended up telling me this story, which was very interesting.
Here was somebody who had grown up in a tv-sitcom household, complete with cul-de-sac, and she had it rougher than I did. I mean, I didn’t live at home after college, but I wasn’t banned from the property like a blacklisted drunk at a bar. I still had socks there, and comic books with full visitation rights. And this evening wasn’t supposed to turn all confessional, all I said was, “So, tell me about yourself!”
I did not have that interesting a story to reply with. I had driven across the country in a car whose carburetor I’d repaired with the pull tab from a can of ginger ale and found the open audition call in a newspaper my father was throwing away. I’d never really spoken to my father for more than 20 minutes before this visit, but he had offered a spare corner of his apartment for me to sleep in if I wanted to come to LA. My Mom thought it was important that I meet him for some reason, going so far as to call it a “good idea” to spend part of the summer there, so me and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang made the trip across the country. That was my story. It’s a lot more interesting, telling it now.
Anyway, we shared, ate some food, I played her some music I’d written and asked if I could write a ballet about her story. She said sure. I think she thought I was trying to go out with her, which I wasn’t, but then I did, but way before this piece was fully written. It don’t think even two of the movements were finished by the time we stopped dating. So all of this was the inspiration for the piece, but not the reason I’m writing it.
It’s hard to really remember back that far. Everyday every other day gets further away. And now my brain if full of things I don’t even want to know, like what a “dab” is and the name “Grogu”.
Somewhere between long term memory and short term memory are all the things I actually remember. Here’s a little memory game: what’s your cell phone number? Do you know it? Really? That’s pretty good. Second round: what’s the cell phone number of that person you call every single day…your spouse, sibling, best friend, parent. G’head…Aha. Well then, it’s not just me. But watch this: what was your phone number when you were a kid - the one for your whole house? Just say it, without thinking, right now.
Weird, right? I too used to be a little Filofax; now my memory’s just a folded up Post-it™, written on both sides in pencil so everything’s just a bit smudgy.
I don’t remember phone numbers anymore - like you (I’m assuming) I carry a magical little light box with me everywhere, and when I want to talk to people I lightly touch their name, or when my fingers are really tired from a hearty doomscroll I can just say their name into the air…
and suddenly, we’re connected.
So I don’t exercise my memory much, which is only a problem when I forget something, or rather when I later remember that I’ve forgotten something.
I’ve forgotten something.
Something extremely relevant to this series of columns.
If you’ve just joined us, welcome, this season has been about finishing a musical work I started over 30 years ago. It’s a ballet.
It’s, a ballet.
“So there’s dancing?”
Yes, excellent question: YES, there IS dancing, and here I am working so hard to render all the music so that you can hear it, but I forgot about the dancing.
I am NOT a choreographer, but I do have a vision of the work being performed, and there’s sadly no software in my computer that can show you that. As this dance has never happened, it’s not a proper memory, but I can remember the feeling of writing music for a dancer, for someone who would interpret it through motion: I wanted to see that, I wanted to see the music, that’s the ballet part, except when I did get a chance to give a cassette tape of an early version to the dancer I mentioned earlier her only comment was that it was “…kind of interesting”.
I’ll take that. Interest is better than scorn. But she wasn’t gonna choreograph it. So I did, and I have a full performance in my (capital I) Imagination.
The problem is that my head is over here and your head is way over there. Honestly, when I’m listening to the piece, this whole little movie is going on in my brain, and I can’t get it into yours.
But I can do this.
I can’t show you the dance, but I can tell you the story. It is nowhere near as fundamentally grim as its source material, but there is a general sense to things; learning and disappointment, courage and triumph. So next week, I will tell you this story, the same one I see in my head, in the hopes that when the music plays, it will flow into the air…
and suddenly, we’ll connect.