Monday, January 3, 2011

A Champagne Toast

Isadora Duncan loved champagne. In her autobiography My Life, Duncan claims her mother’s pregnant diet of “iced oysters and iced champagne” fueled Duncan’s dancing in embryo. Duncan later chastises Prohibition-Era Americans for their sobriety, declaring, “American is the land where they drink lemonade. And how can one dance on lemonade?” (ed. Franklin Rosemont, Isadora Speaks).

From Duncan's dance "Champagne"
Although Duncan was known to take a glass of champagne to calm her pre-performance nerves, the nod to champagne-inspired dancing is a metaphor for the ecstatic dance experience induced by the dancing itself. In the Noyes Rhythm tradition, they dub this experience a “dry jag,” and Duncan called it “the Dionysian ecstasy which carries all away” (Duncan, The Art of the Dance).

The short Duncan choreography “Champagne,” set to a Franz Schubert waltz, features a simple-but-not-easy dancing moment combining quick footwork with an upper-body Dionysian. (For those of you who haven’t studied Duncan dance, the Dionysian is a technical element in which the heart is thrust skyward against the oppositional, downward movement of the arms—picture an old-school wine opener drawing the cork up as the levers move down). Executing this moment in the dance feels like a release of energy upward—a metaphor in movement for the miniscule champagne bubbles racing their way to the top of the glass!

My first experience tasting good champagne was many years ago when I was a server for a summer at Café Luxembourg in New York. (Duncan would have loved their Three Graces’ inspired promotional image). That was my first upscale dining service experience, and as a twenty-year-old native Southerner, I wasn’t so sophisticated as to have grown up with a distinguished palate for fine wines. In fact, that was the summer Nora Ephron asked me if we had any decaffeinated tea and I told her that I wasn’t sure, but we did have herbal! (Thankfully, she kindly responded that most herbals were decaf and didn’t give me a hard time). But, that summer we had a tasting to better sell our vintages of Veuve Clicquot, and, yes, I will never forget that sip of La Grande Dame.

I definitely enjoy, but rarely drink, champagne (although I did envy my friend Julie’s glass of Prosecco post-Black Swan the other night at the café bar in Austin’s downtown Driskill Hotel—and, yes, Black Swan is worth seeing (a dark and fascinating exploration of ballet magnified by the grotesque)). Yet, in honor of the 2011 New Year, and the annual occasion when most of us delve a bit into the bubbly, I want to offer a toast. So, Austinites (and beyond), a toast for the New Year…

May 2011 bring you the opportunity to experience ecstasy and joy through the dance—whether alone in your room, with a group at a class or in a club, or clad in a tunic and a scarf, a la Isadora!

And, if you’re hankering for a Duncan dance workshop and are anywhere close to Houston, join me on Sunday January 16th from 2-5pm at Nia Moves for an afternoon workshop sponsored by Divergence Vocal Theater.