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Sideways

Diane Mina Weltman

Perspective can split the truth. One eyewitness point of view can be drastically different from another simply due to perspective. The same scenario can be cut into different, and opposing, pieces depending on who saw/heard what. The answer to "Who done it?" often depends on the point of view of "Who saw it?"

This holds true whether we are witnessing a crime or an accident, viewing a work of art or watching a live performance.

With two daughters involved in the arts in some form, I, like many parents, have clocked significant time sitting as an audience member in theaters, auditoriums, gyms converted into performance spaces, studios, outdoor amphitheaters, and even parking lots used for performing. Those of us watching assume the posture of witnesses as we see a performance unfurl before us from the traditional perspective in front of a stage.

I thought about being a witness this weekend as I stood backstage at my younger daughter's rehearsals for Rock West’s Nutcracker performances. I had a new perspective because I was tucked in the theater wings intermittently viewing the colorful cyclone of dance that is Nutcracker.

"Whooooosh" best sums up the pace of entrance and exit sounds as the lithe, enthusiastic, powerful athletes hit that stage. My side view was a half view of luminous dancers performing full out as the spotlight bathed them in white. Once they hit the darkened wings, their exhales temporarily broke the magic. Breathing (often panting) in huge gulps, they spun around back onto the stage reclaiming their performance personas - never flinching, always smiling, looking effortless.

Of course, it is anything but effortless. I've seen a dance sweatshirt that teasingly proclaims, "If dance were any easier it would be called football." Dance has many expressions and athleticism is a main ingredient. What I realized as these fit performers pranced to and fro was another aspect of sports that had little to do with the performance - it was team spirit. My view from the wings went beyond the stage and into the faces of dancers in the opposite wings. They reminded me of teammates on the sidelines of any sporting event. Just as in football or soccer or baseball, the team on the sidelines cheered for the team on the field.

Dancers watching their own perform is a mini spectacle. Their eyes are wide with wonder, their hands mirror infinitesimal foot motions, their mouths are gently agape as they hold a momentary breath of anticipation. Once the performers exit the stage, they face a rush of support for their latest effort. And, if the performance has problems, support greets them just the same because every dancer knows the feel of missteps and falls.

They dance equally in the language of perfection and empathy.

Regardless of age, these ever watchful athletes, earnestly pull for whomever is on stage as they applaud particular moments of success. They often mime the performance in minute mirror movements. They understand what it is to be under the lights. From my sideways view, I realized dancers offstage either see themselves in roles past or roles future while they witness someone else's onstage efforts - in the present.

This was an unexpected slice of magic to come from this weekend's Nutcracker.

Dancing is about mastering a progression of small steps. I am most definitely not a dancer, but this weekend I learned more about the heart of dance than the mechanics. It provided a precious perspective

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