Sunday, May 01, 2011

Happy May Day

Never before in American history has so much of the nation's wealth been in the hands of so few people. The trouble with the economy - the reason that consumer confidence remains low, retail sales are still anemic, and unemployment stays high - is that the middle class has no purchasing power left to stimulate sales. While there is still a robust market for luxury supplies for the very, very wealthy, that market isn't nearly large enough to re-open the factories, call back workers, and lift up the economy.

Meanwhile, some politicians are claiming that the problem is debt and taxes, and if they could only cut benefits to the needy and decrease the taxes on the wealthy, somehow that will turn things around. These proposals, of course, are ludicrous, and represent nothing short of a full-fledged class war by the wealthy, who want still more, on the middle class, many of whom can't even afford some of the most basic necessities (e.g., decent housing, health care) as it is. It's amazing that the masses haven't yet risen up in revolt.

So on this May Day, let us remember the struggles of revolutionaries past. Let us today embrace the non-violence of Ghandi, the compassion of Chavez, and the steadfastness of King. This is not a call to arms, but instead to the polls. Vote, educate, and get involved - your assistance is needed now more than ever.

It feels good to get that off my chest. Happy May Day, comrades.

I spent my May Day in a decidedly non-revolutionary way, however. I was invited to The Goat Farm, an art colony in an old industrial complex on the west side of town just a couple miles from my home, to see an afternoon performance by the gloATL dance troupe.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't understand modern dance, or classical dance for that matter. So while I can appreciate watching the dancers move through the performance space, I have no idea what they're doing or how to articulate anything about the dance itself. But not unlike a great many other things, I won't let my ignorance stop me from trying.

gloATL appeared to be a fairly large troupe of about a dozen female dancers and two or three males. The women, dressed in red, did most of the dancing, while the males, dressed in black, were on stage only briefly and generally in supporting roles. The music ranged from light classical to avant-garde musique concrète, from folk to funk.

What was most appealing to me, though, was the way they incorporated the space into the performance. The building, dubbed Goodson Yard (although it will always be Building 3 to me), is almost 150 years old. The facility once manufactured cotton gins after the Civil War, and the developers left the original brick facades and structural beams in place. The performance did not attempt to hide the industrial nature of the building but instead embellished it, with the dancers occasionally leaving the stage and dancing behind the audience in odd little corners of the building.

In addition to engaging the building, the troupe also engaged the audience. In addition to the nooks and crannies of the building, the dancers also performed up and down the aisles. At one point, the music stopped and a lone dancer in center stage requested everyone in the audience to get up and take a seat on the other side of the space. At another point, two dancers walked along the front row with a large microphone in hand, placing it right up in the face of each person sitting there (no one ad lib'ed a line or so much as a single burp). In one of the most dramatic moments, the dancers invited people onto the stage with them and improvised several moves, including leading them all up to a screen reading, "This changes everything."

In a rather humorous part of the performance, the dancers mimicked old-time minstrel dance moves to the classic song "Mr. Bojangles." This was followed by Sharon Jones' funky rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Was Made For You and Me," during which, for some reason, most of the dancers took off their tops, standing at attention as if saluting a flag. They re-dressed before dancing again, except for one lone dancer who stood at attention throughout the song until the rest of the troupe collapsed with her into a huddle on the floor. Later, they lifted her up and carried her around with the microphone, although by that point, the score had changed and there were no vocals to the music.

As I said, I don't pretend to understand dance and probably wouldn't have gone had I not been invited - but that didn't stop me from appreciating - and enjoying - the sheer artistry, creativity, and inventiveness of the performance. I understand that this was the final Atlanta performance of Chapter III of an evolving piece called This Is A World, which will be performed in New York later this month, followed by a collaboration with the Atlanta Symphony and the Alliance Theater for an interpretation of Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead, a work for younger audiences.

So, my comrades, on this May Day, was it bourgeois to attend a dance performance, having artists perform for my viewing enjoyment, or was it a revolutionary act in support of the avant garde?

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