This search for what you want is like tracking something that doesn’t want to be tracked. It takes time to get a dance right, to create something memorable. – Fred Astaire
Lightbulb moments happen at the oddest times. Do you know what I’m talking about? That instant, nearly spiritual spark of mental cognizance—like a mini-revelation—and you can practically see the light bulb over your head, just floating there and suddenly shining brightly, like in the old Bugs Bunny or Popeye cartoons.
Sometimes certain events happen in your life or you face a sort of incoherent malaise that forces you to ask, “What the hell am I doing?” or “Why am I doing this?”
And so, for me, I’ve been in this sort of questioning fog lately and yet still going about my business, doing the day-to-day operations, the procrastinating, the eating of lavish meals and drinking of the finest wines, the paying of the bills, the having of the amazing sex, blah blah blah, when it hit me.
It was something David Ward said to me a couple weeks ago, as I was interviewing him for a possible story. Ward is this revered dancer-choreographer who, for the past 20 years, has elevated modern dance in the Hawaiian Islands and brought an unprecedented vitality to the performing arts scene at large, and especially in regards to state funding. He also teaches dance at Seabury Hall.
But anyway, for the past six months, he’d been intensely working on his big choreographic swan-songy retrospective called, “Dancing Through Life” (Feb. 17, at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center).
Naturally, we talked about the importance of dance—how it’s used as a means of storytelling in many different cultures, how aesthetically pleasing it is to see the human body in all its various forms of movement, how if everyone did more of it, we’d be healthier people.
I enjoyed talking with Ward. He was dynamic and accessible, warm, wise, funny and supremely youthful.
But honestly, I didn’t know what to expect at his big dance performance. My grandmother used to take me to the ballet when I was younger but nowadays, the extent of my knowledge has more to do with hip hop’s b-boy battles or jokingly making modern dance “jazz hands” for dramatic measure when goofing off with friends.
On the night of the show, the Castle Theater was packed with beaming folks busily not making jazz hands. You could tell these people had seen a Ward show or three in their time, and were anxious to see more.
The curtain rose to reveal a dream-like set, with a large canopied bed covered in scarlet ribbons, and a backdrop of video-ed images, signifying Ward’s imagination as a child and early artistic influences, including clips from Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. On stage, dancers seem to pour out from all around, on top and under the bed frame, flowing like the diaphanous crimson strips that adorned it.
This first segment set the scene for a highly varied body of Ward’s work that included an ode to early American folk music and the homeless epidemic, a celebration of the beauty of Middle Eastern culture, a tribute to Paul Robeson and his songs of slavery, a phenomenal tongue-in-cheek tango presentation, and a beautifully tender piece that paid respect to the elders of our society.
The dancing was phenomenal, but what most surprised me was the sentiment, and how purely emotional dance—primal movement, non-verbal communication, body language, jazz hands or no—can be.
I cried. So what? It was touching shit.
The deeply effective finale featured Ward and his main dancers in energetic numbers to David Byrne’s “Don’t Fence Me In” and Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
The closing segment of this finale had Ward back in bed, sleeping, set against a retrospective video montage, with his dancers assuming seemingly haphazard positions around the four-poster canopy. Ward then rose from bed, stretched his arms over his head and grinned.
At the end, the crowd was still beaming, albeit with dewy eyes, as they gave Ward and his troupes an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Taking his final bow on the edge of the stage, lei’d, flushed and sweaty, with tears streaming down his cheeks, he looked so genuinely happy.
And I thought about the last thing Ward said to me in our interview the week prior—and the moment when my introspective fog momentarily lifted. I’d asked him, “What are you going to do now?”
And he said, “I don’t know. That’s what I’m so excited about, again—the thrill of possibilities.”
Samantha Campos was the pre-J-Lo “Fly Girl” stand-in for the popular variety/comedy show In Living Color, first season, episode six. MTW