The Elders Dance Ensemble, Prometheus Dance Company
The Dance Complex, 536 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA
April 16, 2006
You've got to be kidding me. A dance ensemble made up of eight women from 60 to 83 years of age? These proto baby boomers who've spent their lives telling their offspring "You can become anything you can dream" appear to have taken their own advice. They call themselves "post career" dancers.
To its credit, the dance community has become much more diverse. Dancers of all colors, shapes and sizes are the norm. But we're hip deep in youth culture. People beyond a certain age are not represented in popular entertainment media. Is there an audience for a senior dance company? What will audiences of elders think of dancers who look like them - gray haired, with the wrinkles and sags that come with age? Will they be inspired by the creativity, wisdom, and complete lack of self-consciousness of these performers or jarred into an acceptance of their own struggles with age and the spectral future. I've been old enough to qualify for an AARP card for several years. Those were the contradictory thoughts that raced through my mind as I watched these Elders.
Where did the idea of silver haired sylphs come from? The spirit of Dame Margo Fonteyn smoldered in the hearts of these women while they raised families or climbed career ladders. The embers were fanned when some began performing at senior citizen and assisted living centers and became fully ignited when many of them performed in a Prometheus Dance performance in 2002. By 2003, the artistic directors of the Prometheus Dance were sufficiently awed and inspired by the work of these grande dames that they assumed responsibility for training them in their 55+ dance class at the Dance Complex in Cambridge and created The Elders Dance Ensemble as a performing company within their own Prometheus Dance Company. The Elders Ensemble of Prometheus Dance Inc. was founded by a grant from the Cambridge Arts Council in 2005.
The evening's performance at the Dance Complex studio in Cambridge consisted of five pieces: “Interview”; “Shadow Prophesy”; “Reading of Original Stories and Poems”; “Troika”; and “There's a Dance in the Ol' Dame Yet”.
The performers dance their age. Slow graceful movements, facial expressions, bends, and rolls are the staples of their dance. One reason it's fascinating to watch them perform is that they don't embarrass themselves, or us, by attempting grande jetes and deep plies that just don't work for dancers over sixty. They've found grace by respecting gravity.
"Interview" is actually the audiotape of a WBUR FM “Here and Now” story about the Elders Dance Company. "Reading of Original Stories and Poems" offers a window into the interior personalities as three dancers read their work. "Shadow Prophesy" performed between one dancer and a quartet of others who seemed to be guides, might be interpreted as a metaphorical dance from uncertainty to a centered calm and acceptance of the future.
The two-part “Troika” was a brilliant surprise. Part One was a fast paced vigorous dance performed by three dancers in their twenties. The energy and firm bodies of the young women were a stark contrast to the more stately and mature Elders. What were they doing here? The lights dimmed momentarily, the three young women drifted off stage and three members of the Elders company, using the same edgy music, echoed the movements of their young counterparts, with equal intensity but without the athleticism. The six joined for a confident and proud finish together… a very satisfying fusion of age and energy.
The last dance, “There's a Dance in the Ol' Dame Yet”, is imaginatively conceived. As the stage lights come up, there stand all eight Elder dancers wearing retro sunglasses and exuding attitude. Using lawn chairs as props, the eight seem to portray the range of life in the gray zone: some interact energetically with each other, one or two seem in a fog (dementia, Alzheimer's?), others are contemplatively engaged. At one point, they perform a synchronized send up of a chorus line, high kicks and all, from sedentary positions on their lawn chairs. The music slows and fades. In small groups and individually, some holding hands and hugging, they exit the stage. A poignantly bittersweet finale.
Perhaps the story here is not so much what these senior women did, but that they did it at all. They may be the forefront of a movement of in which elder members of society will showcase their vitality and make performing arts a truly intergenerational experience. I'm not kidding.
The web site for the Prometheus Dance Company
Here and Now WBUR story about Prometheus Dance Elder Ensemble