26 September 2009

Flying On The Ground Is Not Wrong, Just Inevitable


Tonight Millie and I went to a dance recital at LaGuardia Community College, where I used to teach.

The irony is that the only people I knew who were there were the choreographer, two of her dancers, her husband and, of course, Millie. None of the students, faculty or staff members--at least none that I recognized--were there.

Michio "Tami" Tanaka staged Nest Egg, a work in progress. It followed two other works--one abstract, the other a tragedy of sorts--and I liked hers best, not only because she's a friend.

One thing about Tami's work: Her dancers always seem to have great empathy, not only for whoever or whatever their portraying, or for each other, but also for whatever is the source of their movement and their vitality. They seem to have a kind of empathy, if you will, with the means as well as the subject of their expression. This, I think, is something that Michelangelo and Rodin also had in great abundance.

Nest Egg opens with a group of seemingly-pregnant dancers in a something that wasn't quite flight or a glide, and certainly wasn't fluttery. They were not quite earthbound, either.

Each of them deposits a very large ceramic "egg" in one of the nests. After some time, "chicks" emerge: Three black male dancers. I mention this because they, like their female counterparts, are very beautiful yet do not fit the stereotype of dancers, or at least the stereotype Balanchine articulated: "as white and thin as an apple's core." At least one of the female dancers was white (or seemed to be, anyway). She wasn't fat (as if I should say that about anybody!), but she looked as if her diet consisted of something besides yogurt. And, apparently, she retained at least some of what she ate.

Anyway, in the "nests," the female "birds" peck at, cajole and demonstrate such life skills as flapping wings to the "young" male "birds." Then, the latter are pushed out of their "nests" and the females resume their earlier movements, except that their "flights," while covering a wider range of ground than their earlier ones, also seem to have more discernible patterns. Then we see the males, finding their "wings" and wandering about and later returning with other young "birds." And one of the young females leaves an "egg" in one of the nests...

Sounds like a typical story. But the dancers weren't (thankfully!) wearing bird costumes. Rather, their outfits, while in avian shades of red and yellow, looked like some sort of Native American ceremonial outfits. And their movements were entirely human. So were their wordless interactions with each other.

I'm not a dance expert, but the piece seemed more emotionally than technically complex. And that is more than satisfying to me.

I wish I could have taken some photos or a video. But, as in most shows, flash is not permitted, and neither my camera nor my skills are good enough to take a photo that would look anything like what I saw in that environment.

As Millie and I left, I was about to lead us down a hallway that would have taken us to the doors through which we entered. But it was closed off, and we had to take the longest possible path to the entrance, where Millie's husband John picked us up. That wasn't so bad, though, because I took us down another hallway, where there was a ladies' room that none of the other spectators could've found, and which was cleaner than the others. Nothing like a ladies' room without a line, right?

And, for a moment, I felt like something between a spy and a ghost. I taught at LaGuardia from 2002 until 2005. During the first year I worked as Nick (and was spending most of the rest of my time as Justine); I returned as Justine for the first two years I lived full time in my true identity.

But it's wasn't only the four years that have elapsed since I last worked there, seeing no one I remember from that time or having had the operation that made me feel as I did. For one thing, at the time I was working there, I didn't yet know Tami. Also, I feel that I've changed in other ways since my days at LaGuardia.

You might say that in those days I was still embryonic. I was just learning what it would mean to live my whole life as a woman and how different people would react to my "change." When I started at LaGuardia, the only people to whom I'd "come out" were Jay, the people in my support group and Tammy. And, of course, "coming out" to Tammy put an end to our relationship, which is how I became a neighbor of Millie and Tami.

My feelings last night had an odd parallel with ones I had in my early days of living as Justine: that I was surviving on someone else's knowledge and life experience. Back then, I was drawing upon what Nick left me, if you will. I had some education and job skills, as well as other kinds of knowledge and memories, because of things Nick did. And, last night, I was navigating the school--and, I realized, so much else!--with what I learned from those days when I was making my transition and from the ensuing days when I was starting to create the life I had envisioned for myself.

It's still a work in progress. There's nothing wrong with that. After all, that's what Millie and I saw last night. I want to see it again.




3 comments:

EdMcGon said...

You seem so well-adjusted. That may sound like an odd thing to say, but bear with me.

I believe successful people usually reach a point in their life where they are at peace with themselves and their situation. If you will, a feeling of overall "zen" with their own existence. You seem to have reached that point, or are at least very close to it. Your writing reflects it, as if you are surprised to be where you are at, even if it was your intent to go there.

Most people never find that "one thing" (as Jack Palance called it in "City Slickers"). You seem to have found it.

Justine Nicholas Valinotti said...

Ed, the funny thing is that I did my transition and surgery, not to reach Nirvana or achieve any state of ecstasy, but to feel at peace with myself--or what some people would call "normal." Fortunately for me, that indeed has been the result.

I think that my surprise at being where I am is that, for so many years, I felt I never would arrive in the metaphysical space in which I now live. Also, I never could envision accepting myself as I now do, much less that people would respond to it as they (and you!) have.

Another irony in all of this is that now I understand that all those people who told me I should be a teacher and/or writer had the right idea, even if neither was the "one thing" for me. But finding the "one thing" has caused both of those roles to fit me better than I ever imagined they would. And it has made interactions I couldn't have previously imagined--like the one I had with the fellow prof last week--possible.

EdMcGon said...

Personally, I find contentment to be more desirable than ecstasy. One can live in a state of contentment far longer than ecstasy. Happiness, like the ancient concept of victory (as embodied in the goddess Nike), is fleeting.