On each Thursday in March we will be diving into weekly spotlights of the iconic artists part of our 2015 Season at The Joyce Theater. Throwback your Thursdays with us to learn where the season’s artists were in 1968, the year Merce Cunningham premiered his iconic work, RainForest.
I am perched at the edge of a diving board over the chlorinated water of a pool in a motel courtyard somewhere in Rock Mount, North Carolina, on a yearly migration from New Jersey to Florida. I am giddy with the promise of flight, and only vaguely cognizant of the assurance of a safe landing into the arms of my father, treading water below. I am young and still unable to swim, but equally unable to resist the drunken rush of hurtling through space and into his safe strong arms. (He lost his wedding band while catching me that day.) This is the game we play more than any other. Me perched somewhere, the top of a staircase, the edge of the couch the diving board of a pool, makeshift schools for flight that cultivate a deep appetite for a life of plunging into empty space, the irresistible, the unknown.
Summers include the obligatory long drive from Jersey to Florida, packed into the weeklong vacation my father gets at the end of August. His family lives in Tampa, so we caravan with the Senecas (Aunt Norma, Uncle Mike and Michele and Joanne), arriving in Tampa for a bout of communal life with my paternal grandparents, Millie and Muzzio. We leave in the early Saturday morning hours and are there by Sunday night. The trip is fast and continuous, dotted with breaks for roadside food and a short motel nap somewhere at the midpoint. Perfect for my wanderlust.
And it’s on one of these endless sweltering, air-conditioning-less summer trips, hurtling along Highway 301S, past Pedro’s Place at South of the Border, where every hour is breakfast hour and no one ever sleeps, no matter what time we arrive to stock up on fireworks that are illegal up north, through muggy everglades and swamps, petrified forests and dark people hunched over cotton fields, it’s on one of these family trips that I sleep in the sweating back seat. And I dream, long and fitfully…
Running through warping landscapes with a foreign soundtrack from the radio that plays in the real world, interjecting something unusually classical for my family’s taste. And I dream of…ballet? A ballet, I think, it is, it must be. It comes in focus, up close and in progress, though I’ve never seen one, or had an interest in doing so. But there it is. I am as surprised as anyone, it’s as vivid and detailed as can be…stiff bouncing white tutus and striped tights, movements in rhythms that are exotic and sure: light-footed petit-allegro and switchblade cool jetés; duets surrounded by rings of dancers who circle in the opposing direction from the ring outside it. When I awaken in wonder, we’re still barreling forward through some fetid swamp deep in Georgia, I’m sweating, perplexed and oddly embarrassed. A ballet.
Excerpt from Stephen Petronio’s memoir, Confessions of a Motion Addict.
Tune in next Thursday for a 1968 spotlight on RainForest‘s choreographer, Merce Cunningham.