Happy Holidays Readers! ! Here is our annual Musea Christmas Story. Take a rest from your busy schedule and find out about SENLIN, the greatest dancer in history. Musea hopes these holidays KEEP YOU DANCING till 2012 - Tom.
Senlin wrote in her diary " What WOULD happen? Later she wrote, "What WILL happen?"
We all know who SENLIN is... Strange of me to start off my short story with a first line so obvious. It's like saying we all know that 1+2=3. Why even state the equation? It's like taking a paragraph to describe doves as being white, or crows as being black; summer as being hot, winter as being full of chills. My critics are already sharpening their pencils to write lines like "He states the obvious to try to draw readers in - an amateur writer's trick." And I hear even my fondest reader say, "We breathe, Senlin dances, we know! Now start your story! "
I've written about her , the greatest of all our dancers, before. Most who do, start off with a general description - medium height, 5' 6", but lithe figure without being too thin, pale skin, natural red hair, and those soft green eyes. But that misses most of what makes her, her.
So many love her for so much more - her grace, her undefinable beauty with that great smile, her humility, her spirit of right, her fire, her depth. So few don't like her. What reason can they find? More defenders than critics! More admirers than scoffers. And each year the admirers increase in numbers as new young people join as fans, and older people are won over. Yes, I am one who knows her. And of course, I'm a fan and prejudiced towards her. But my praise is little exaggerated. Most who do know her feel the same awe, I can assure you!
My name is Manley. I composed for her my fourth musical play, titled "Senlin". She was very young then and just starting out, while I had had some recognition. My audio opera told of a day in a famous dancer's life - Senlin's life - with some autobiographical flashbacks thrown in to give background information. I was ahead of the curve on this one. She was just becoming the sensation on the concert dance floor that she is now.
Her fame came to her in a backwards sort of way. She was famous for her musical biography, before she was famous as the dancer the biography was about!
Senlin, the opera, caught on. People listening to it performed, wanted to then see her, and see her dance. See what all the fuss was about The recording sold millions across the world and was heard by many millions more on the internet.
She is now, after her short 2 decade career our first world star. She is not owned by any country. Her dancing crosses all language barriers - much like silent films did. She can speak English of course, but can converse in Spanish and French. Her hometown, Overland Park, Kansas - the same as mine - cherishes her and turned her childhood home into a museum last year. But most Americans claim her too. And after this international tour or that tour, most continents joined in. She became "Our Dancer" no matter where you were from.
I think her innovative idea of 'story dancing' was what lit the initial fire in all of us and allowed her to reach such heights. She saw modern dance as too jerky and too nebulous. She was quoted as saying "If modern dances can be ugly, then they can be beautiful too". And then she added, "And why is this dancing so nebulous and vague. The audience at these recitals, look confused, and bewildered. They seem to be saying to themselves "What does that movement mean? Is there supposed to be a story here? Why are they doing that?". I have seen those puzzled looks many times from the wings when I was starting out." We'll get back to the new dance style known as story dancing in a minute. But first more of her thoughts on famous dancers and dancing:
Dancer Anna Pavlova, was little known by the child and dance student Senlin. But in adult life, the idea of Pavlova's signature dance, "The Dying Swan", would be one of her greatest revelations. "If she can dance the dying swan, I can dance the rising Phoenix." And she would, making it her most notable dance. More on that later.
She admired Marie Taglioni, the first dancer to lift up on her toes and do pointe work. But Senlin loved to dance so much that she would not subject her feet to the pain and trauma that the ballet stars did. Instead of the toe stance, her main move was her incredible high leap. Somehow whenever she did it she seemed to perform an optical illusion, where it looked for all to see as if she was suspended in mid air. Somehow she 'held' her jump. Each time she would do it, like a catch phrase, the audience would hush, gasp, then applaud. Many waited an entire recital just to catch one of her jumps.
She adored Isadora Duncan as a child. Isadora was her idol. (hear the Isadora song in my play). She would read Duncan's autobiography, "My Life" over and over and each time swoon at the dreaminess of it all, as she clutched it to her budding chest. Then she would swear to the mirror, never to wear long neck scarves in remembrance!
She was fascinated by the Whirling Dervishes, where dancing went beyond self-expression to religious ecstasy.
She loved Samba because it was so sexy, but adored Flamenco even more. One of her first signature dances was her famous "Single" dance. Like a 45 record or single, she did two dances - a Flamenco and a Samba. The "A" Side or loud side, was her interpretation of 'Asturias', the Albeniz guitar classic piece. Senlin chose the version by the fiery, Filomena Moretti. The "B" Side or quite side, was her dance to the Samba 'Samba Saravah' by Francis Lai from the 'A Man And A Woman' Film Soundtrack. This couplet of dances alone would make most anyone's career!
But beyond the classical dance styles of both the West and the East, she adored just about any dance movement; whether she was good at it or not! She could NOT belly dance no matter how hard she tried, she looked clunky at tap, and though she loved square dancing, she couldn't get any innovative moves out of it. She called it a 'group dance that was locked in by the caller'. She loved the 70's dance craze of "the Bump" when she had a partner; the sexy movements of burlesque like Bettie Page had done in those short fetish films; and the go-go cage dancing of the 60's.
She was notable in how open she was to anything in the world of dance. But I think that what brought her to prominence, was not the dances of the past, they were just icing on her celebrity cake. No, it was her innovations in dance, and how she would integrate dance into other arts Here's an example I bet you remember.
Riding the coattails of the fame from the musical play Senlin, she was featured in a fashion show of the design collective known as HouseDallas. She was a surprise guest - that alone would insure some gasps. But the fun went further. It was the grand finale, the moment when the designers want to make the biggest impact on the audience. They usually design a wedding dress - it's a crowd pleaser. But not here. All rules were broken. Instead of a single model in a wedding gown coming down the runway, a curtain parted and there on stage were 9 models all in matching white jumpsuits, with white gloves holding hands. The image was nothing short of a line of life sized living paper dolls! Then the chain broke, Senlin flowed forward, and began doing some rhythmic patterns in center stage. The rest of the paper dolls fell in line behind her and mimicked her moves. Soon the audience were all applauding, yelling, and whistling as they figured out who she was, and what was going on on the stage in front of them. Senlin moved back and began to connect hands with one on each side. They then connected with others until the line of paper dolls was reformed. They all took a deep bow as paper dolls sometimes do, and the curtain fell. All within minutes - the dance of the 'Paper Dolls' finale dance, became the fashion story of that week and put HouseDallas on the map through a viral video.
Fans grew and grew and grew. They were everywhere. To help protect and insulate her there was an inner circle of about 150 who knew her personally - family, friends, people who worked with her, security, AND lovers. Yes, everyone wants to know about her love life. Truth be told it was not all that interesting. The early boyfriends came and went and were little more than a photo shoot. None were too serious. The tabloids were so bored they began to make up stuff - No, she did not take a joy ride on a flying saucer. No, she did not have a real bear as a pet! But Yes, she did ask her date that took her to an Ice Hockey game, 'Where are the couple skaters?'
Soon she gravitated more and more to her inner circle and found a steady secure lover in her accountant of all people. He, Blake Pearson was not notable or famous, but he did love and admire her. They were great friends too, and their relationship worked amazingly well under such scrutiny and light. The fans wanted more drama. But she wanted the security of a solid love!
Next in her career, came two notable dance films.
'Terpsichore', named after the Muse of dance, was an anthology film of numerous short dances, that each told a story. In other words, it's an anthology of story dances. I've mentioned her innovative story dance idea before. The idea was simple enough. Let dancing tell a story - preferably one with a good plot . And often a classic tale that most of the audience already knew. Terpsichore was a film of short dance stories. Dancing replaced dialogue. The acting was not in words but movement. One critic called it a 'silent film with music'. Another wag declared 'These stories 'kept Senlin on her toes.'
The better story dances have all the things an audience loves: a mix of theater, costume, characterization, plot, scenery, props, spectacle, special effects (but not fake dancing), themes, drama, comedy, action, and romance. Plus, dancers of all age groups, would dance these pantomime dances in solos or in group dances. Add to that great classical, jazz, or popular music, and voila - story dances.
In Terpsichore, Senlin danced three dances: 'Morning on the Beach'. (Music - Adagio for Guitar and Strings, by Albinoni). Story: A lone person brings her blanket out to a beach just before sunup. She does some stretching exercises. Sun rises and it is a glorious moment to be savored. She plays with the light by using her blanket as a bullfighters cape to draw the sun towards her. She dries off, and leaves the beach. "The Tightrope Walker". Senlin dances on a wire that seems suspended in air (she was really dancing on a yellow line on the green floor in the studio! ) She moves with abandon completely void of fear! . Her final dance, and the final one of the movie before the credits, was "The Zen Dance" (No music, just the wind murmuring) Senlin, in an outdoor setting, with no movement whatsoever, stands at ease with eyes closed. Snow begins to fall, and there slowly grows a smile on her lips! Somehow the last snow flake bounces off her nose! Freeze Frame! Ah perfection!
Her next project took the story dancing idea to new heights. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was a filmed version of Shakespeare's play as a Ballet. Instead of the Bard's dialogue, the troupe danced most of the story to the classic incidental music by Mendelssohn. Senlin was quoted as saying, "What I'm hoping to do is present a lively play, ballet, and pageant, with a quick 'talkie' first act to entice the audience, and set up the play; then a long ballet portion in the enchanted forest, with great dancing, wonderful fairy costumes, breathtaking backdrops, and moonlight cascading over all. Then things wind up with a little comedy play within a play, and a quick finale."
Both films were well received, and though they were independent film projects, they almost garnered studio film revenues! Her career was hot. She was asked to endorse a biography - "Too Soon." She was offered a perfume line. They suggested, 'Sweat'! "No, of course not." She was asked to be the model for her own toy fashion doll, with a dance wardrobe, and practice studio. She approved and it became a best seller.
Next she let her hair down with her "Dance Party!!" movie/documentary/concert film. The premise was straightforward , "Have a dance party and play records." That's how it came across to the audience, that was the byline to the movie too; though there was a lot more preparation than most would imagine. Senlin and a handful of her favorite dancers, auditioned hundreds to find amateurs who could do great popular dances. Then she rented the art gallery, '500X" in Deep Ellum, in Dallas, as the set. It was a 2-story, Co-op Art Gallery housed in an industrial brick building down by the old railroad tracks. It had great wood floors to dance on, big open windows, and a most dramatic staircase between the two levels, that Senlin passionately loved.
Senlin worked with the dancers. Each would have a signature song to show case their skill - either by themselves, in a group, or with Senlin. Each segment had its own special 'record'. They rehearsed 5 times a week, for 6 weeks, - took a few days off, then did a final version that was filmed. Senlin wanted a professional looking dance film, but one that was filmed live and all at once in one pass, so to speak. She hated dance films that were so edited they destroyed the integrity of the dance.. Her vision worked well. The dancers were in their top form. Things were lively and it was FUN!
Senlin's main dance segment was the 'Stairs Dance'. As a crowd of dancers finish their segment on the 2nd story, the camera catches Senlin watching on the outskirts of the group. Then it follows her as she pulls away and redoes the same dance, by herself, but coming down the stairs. It is as if she is reliving all the parts of the dance she just saw! Her record was "Lonely Woman" by Pat Metheny. And the sapphire blue night flowed in through the windows behind her ...
Dance party added a 3rd major film to Senlin's credit.
Next came 'Hum and Move'. Instead of a big production, this was a short video. Instead of blazing color, this was black and white. Instead of an exotic set, this was a blank dance studio. Senlin was surrounded by young girls. She was now Senlin the dance teacher. She tells the children that anyone can dance. Just begin to hum some music and move to it - 'hum and move'. She shows them how by singing a simple rambling melody while she gracefully moves. We are as entranced as the children. Then she calls for the children to try it. The simple film was an influential one and dance schools now added "Hum and Move' to their curriculum.
Oh Senlin, these days were so busy for you. Beyond work there was so much to do. She set up a foundation to support dance education in schools. She lobbied congress for a change in the NEA, National Endowments for Arts. Instead of grants to artists, she supported the government helping build art CENTERS, that allowed all arts to perform. She followed this up by ribbon cutting at five of these new art centers at, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and two at Chicago. She had her dream home built in Dallas, and then filmed her tour of the place. And through it all more fans, more fans, more...
Next came another dance 'single'. The "A" side was a dance called, "The Rising Phoenix - (The Firebird)". See note above. It was set to the music of "The Signal" by me. It would prove to be her most famous 2 minutes of dancing. You can hear the original music at http://musea.us/thelosttapes/the_signal.mp3 The bell tolls and the dance begins. We see Senlin enter as a Phoenix bird, in her most exotic, multi feathered plumage. She, dancing to the rhythms, gathers twigs for her final nest. It begins to burn, and flames cover her. We see her dying, and collapsing behind the flames. Then at 1:55 into the composition, we see her rise out of the ashes. She runs across the set, hits a hidden trampoline, and leaps up into the air, where she some how grabs hold of a handful of stars, before flying away with stardust flowing behind her. The few seconds from the leap on, amazed all audiences, and in some theaters they would - after catching their breaths - applaud the screen!
The"B" side was a dance called " The High As A Kite Dance" and it was just for fun - fun for the audience anyway. For Senlin it was one of her most physically challenging dances. She had to learn how to dance on stilts! The music was Fur Elise, by Beethoven. One guy clown on stilts is shyly swooning over a photo he's carrying. He shows us through his actions that its a picture of the girl clown he loves. The photo shows her with a silly grin, red nose, and a goofy hat. During the octave breaks in the music he gives butterfly kisses to the photo. Then the woman from the photo, Senlin in clown costume wanders in on stilts and wonders what he's hiding. He shyly shows her his photo of her and pantomimes his love for her and his fast beating heart. Then she shyly pulls out of her big coat her photo of him! Ahhhhh! Heart strings are strummed!
At this point in her career so much happens so quickly that I can only sketch the three most important events. First came her first, less than stellar, performance. Senlin wanted to do a tour and then a film of my 'Swanella and the Doll' ,the modern version of the classic ballet 'Coppelia'. She wanted to counter the critics who said that her films had too many studio tricks that couldn't be recreated on stage, and that it was time to get back to basics! She at first was going to play both leads, the live girl Swanella, and the toymaker's mechanical doll. Too much! She turned over the mechanical doll part to her understudy. The rehearsals were harder than other projects with delays and personal problems among the cast. The play/ballet opened on Broadway. The reviews were not glowing. Critics loved Senlin but said things like "She looked tired." "She's getting on in years." "She's lost her energy." "She's old for a dancer - even one so talented." The play fared even worse. "Stodgy, drags, ho-hum, not up to parr!" She went back to her drawing board. She cut the work down to one rehearsal and one performance a week. Then she cut the amount of time for most dances, beefed up the comedy scenes, speeded up the plot, and tightened the ending for more drama. This worked better. This was a keeper. The cast now was enthused again, and Senlin was happier and ready to take it on the road.
She toured South America, the crowds were unimaginable. She toured Australia, and was received like British Royalty. She toured Japan, and the polite response was still breathtaking in its intensity - and the 'Mechanical Doll' was a national hit there. "Now for 2 weeks rest and on to Europe a tougher test, and harsher critics."
Then the second important event happened - strangely enough in an elevator coming down from her lawyer's office. Senlin had come from a long, boring, business meeting. She and Barney, her grey haired accountant, were in the elevator when a young man came in. He recognized her - 'here was one of the world's greatest celebrities' - and pushed the elevator stop button. It cranked to a halt. Then he turned to her and said. "Now do your Elevator Dance!" Barney was outraged. "Are you crazy? Do you know who you are talking to?" But before he could finish the line, Senlin, with a fire in her eyes, took her clutch purse and begin swinging. She beat the guy on the head and shoulders , and back to his head, until he crouched down in a fetal position and pleaded, "OK OK!" Then he pushed the start button. The elevator doors opened at the next floor and he fled down the hall... The story leaked, he threatened a lawsuit, and the press went wild. News film showed a 6' man complaining that a small woman beat him up! It never made it to court. A female TV Judge was quoted as saying, "Anybody with a purse would have swung at your boorish behavior." Tabloids named it, "The Clutch of Doom!" The Smithsonian requested it for their museum. Her lawyer just said, "Senlin, you can't beat up people anymore!"
The third major event happened in London. Swanella was well received, and she had a few days off. One of her favorite boy dancers, Paulo wanted her to go to a special art exhibit where all the paintings were of her. (He had a ulterior motive for his boss). She protested, he insisted. She was tired. He said she needed some relaxing fun - and the art was 'inspirational'! "OK". She stopped working on her "Cyrano" story dance project, her next in line, dance film", and went with him. The exhibit was on the second floor of a beautiful old Victorian building with all the wonderful gingerbread adornments. The floors creaked as she moved from painting to painting. The crowd followed her as if she was a golfer in play! Most art was not good, but it was all sincere. Then she found one that struck her heart, it was all shades of blue with her caught in one of her leaps! She really wanted it for her own. She confided in her manager, sotto voce to buy it. "If it's less than $10,000, pay him that amount and don't take 'no' for an answer. If more, then pay it!" She was barely finished speaking when Paulo tugged at her arm, "Quick, COME TO THE WINDOW! Follow me. Do as you're told!" Then he laughed. She followed. Looking out the open window. Down below was a milling crowd. They did NOT cheer. Senlin thought that odd! Then one young man in the center , turned on some music, and began to dance. 'Quite nice, she thought. Then two girls next to him began to follow his lead, then four, 16, 50, 75+ were all dancing in unison - moonlit dancers in a sapphire blue night! Senlin smiled and clapped her hands. Many on the outskirts of the crowd that were not in on it, clapped in astonishment too. "Wonderful! Wonderful," said Senlin as she blew kisses to the crowd and they cheered back! "So Paulo that was your scheme. But what do you call that?" "That's a 'flash mob'.They infiltrate crowds and then do their theater! I was the only one who knew they would be here!" Senlin smiled and waved again.
The next day Senlin was all contented smiles from the night before. The chill of December was in the air. It seemed to stir the blood and blush the cheeks. She told everyone about the exhibit and the flash mob. Her wardrobe girl, Jansen, was fixing a costume and wondered "What if you did a flash mob Senlin?" "What do you mean?" Well I don't know exactly..." So Senlin was left hanging, thinking abut Jansen's comment.
Later Senlin was mentioning what Jansen had said, to the cast. "Perhaps you should make a story film out of a flash mob dance," said the stage manager. Rick, another dancer countered with, "But it wouldn't be a surprise. It would come across as too calculated and fake. The best flash mobs are instant theater out of nothing, in the strangest of places. But they are always real and instantaneous." One of the techies blurted out, "Why not do a flash dance for the world?". "What do you mean Howard?" "Go on the internet and join dancers from all across the world somehow." "How could you coordinate something like that? It would be almost impossible," said another. Then it was quiet for a bit. They all saw Senlin was thinking. "What about, not dance, but just everyone coming together on the net at the same moment...and share being together?" "But, isn't that what New Years Day is?" said another. Then Howard joined in again, "But that is a different moment in every time zone." The Stage Manager said, "Senlin with your fame, you have the ears of the world. You could bring the whole planet to the net all at once." Then dancer Yyvone said, "And everyone can think of the color blue, or chocolate!" Stage Manager, " or think "Merry Christmas!". "Or just think JOY!" said someone in the back."... [Or just think JOY!]
Senlin WOULD try it. She would call for a day, an hour, a minute, 7:00 PM here, when everyone in the world that could, would join together, on or offline, and just think "Peace, fun, excitement,... JOY!"
The announcement for A WORLD WIDE SHARED "JOY" MOMENT, went out to every corner. Senlin answered interviewers with, "I don't know what will happen. Who does. But I do know, at that moment, it won't be me that's dancing, but the world!" And the world heard and responded with millions planning to join in. Skeptics grumbled, "Show business, as usual." Others wanted to ride the coattails with their pet causes. Millions more told their friends. Most of the media seemed to see in it some holiday fun, and played it up. More millions pledged to try it. The hour approached. The word kept spreading. Now a billion people, a billion and a half, and counting.
Senlin invited everyone into the dance studio. They gathered round a giant TV computer screen on the wall. A camera on Senlin was broadcasting her and her friends live. There was food, wine and a giant clock. Everyone was talking in small groups. Someone called out, " 5 minutes to go!" People moved closer to the screen, and waited. "Four!"... "Three!"... "Two!" ... One! ... "Start thinking Joyful everyone!" 59 seconds, 58........ 25, 24,....... 9,8,7, "Keep Going" ,6,5,4,3,2,1...
And then, at that moment, this is what happened ....
Musea is Tom Hendricks 4000 Hawthorne #5 Dallas Texas 75219
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Musea #182 Nov/Dec/Jan (c) Tom Hendricks 2011
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