After a long weekend, we are finally at the end of our journey through Primitive Mysteries. What an adventure! We rehearsed in the studio for only three weeks before going into tech, dress, and then the actual run of the show, but it seems like Mysteries has consumed our semester.
Last Saturday afternoon, SMU dance students found themselves inside the Hope auditorium. Instead of being onstage, however, we sat in the audience along with the public to listen to a panel discussion on Graham’s Primitive Mysteries. The panel was made up of Historian Shelley Berg, our Division Chair and former member of the Graham Company Myra Woodruff, former pianist for the Graham Company Greg Presley, and noted dance critics Clive Barnes and Mindy Aloff. Because of Yuriko’s injury, the notator for the piece, Sandra Aberkalns, gladly sat in.
Before the panel began, I was acting as an usher to the public and was introduced to Mr. Barnes’ wife, Valerie Taylor, who used to dance with the Royal Ballet. She asked me what I thought I might learn from this discussion. I answered that I honestly didn’t think that there was much more to learn, having been immersed in the piece for so long.
I was wrong! As the panel shared their recollections of their first impressions upon seeing the piece or rehearsing it, along with their opinions on what reconstructing Martha’s work meant, I began to see the importance of our roles as dancers in this work.
Ending the Mystery dancers’ experience, we had a three-hour filming session on Monday documenting the entire piece. It was quite the test of will. It is one thing to perform a piece once in front of an audience, or even to do it twice in a row in the studio. But to repeat the same movement many times over after a long week of calling on those muscles, made me wonder how much more my body could take. I’m so proud of the cast, though; everyone kept their spirits up and cheered each other on as the directors worked to make sure that not one person was off. At the end of the filming, it was as if everyone could breathe again. We were given a break from our dance technique classes the next day.
Maintaining her elegance and dignity despite suffering from a slipped disk in her back, Yuriko made her last visit to Meadows to see our performance on Saturday night. As soon as we got offstage, we ran to the dressing room to visit with her. She left us with many words of wisdom and inspiration. She had felt that this was our “most giving” performance of the piece and thanked us as though we had danced just for her. The truth is, we performed that way because of her. As we lined up to hug the teary-eyed teacher, I realized how much she had influenced us. She had touched each of the cast members in a way that made us feel as though she had become a part of the Meadows dance family. As we said our goodbyes, pianist Greg Presley commented, “You know, you all are like dancer grandchildren now.”
We will always know what we have accomplished, based on the improvement that we apparently showed and definitely felt. It has been an experience of a lifetime for all of the Mystery dancers, one that will be taken with us throughout our artistic careers.