Monday, October 22, 2012

So Tall It Could Block out the Sun

Believe it or not, this is a story about a dance performance that Audrey and I attended Saturday night. But you’ll have to be patient. Some background is needed. . . .

When my brother and I stand next to each other, two things are clear: (1) We look a lot alike, and (2) he is much taller than I am. The first element I can attribute to our father; we both resemble him very much. The second element is one that has disappointed me since I was a child. When my brother, who is five years older than I, sprang up to over six feet tall during high school, I began dreaming that I too would reach such a height. Didn’t happen. Instead, I stopped off at just below 5’8”, perfect for looking my father directly in the eye, but coming up only to my brother’s nose. Alas. This, of course, gave me a handy excuse for not becoming a star at basketball, my favorite sport. A lousy jump shot and predilection for throwing errant no-look passes may also have limited my basketball success, but who is counting those?
Skippy and I with our mother. I'm the one with less hair.
So I have gone through life longing for extra height. I am almost ashamed to recall that period in the 1970s when stacked heels for men were the rage, and I indulged in some ugly brown monstrosities. And I can certainly understand the urge for young women today to wear those impossibly high heels that help them reach a whole new plane of vision and thought. Frankly, I’m a little jealous of their ability to soar. But I am stuck here at nearly 5’8” and fear that I am already starting to shrink as my age rises.

Am I getting to the dance performance yet? One more story first. . .

I once played a racquetball game during my high school years in Savannah against a very large and very athletic man named Bill Pickens. Pickens had been a small college All America basketball player at Georgia Southern University, not far from Savannah. He was 6’10” tall and was nearly as wide as a barn, at least in my estimation. There is an old expression about being tall enough to block out the sun. Bill Pickens could do that. (Parenthetically, I found a photograph with that title posted by someone in Australia . I am attaching it here.) 
(photo by Kim and Hayley)

Playing Pickens in racquetball was a little like trying to stay in the ring for three minutes with a boxing champion. He would place himself directly in the middle of the court and slam the ball against the front wall at whatever angle he chose. His opponent—me, in this instance—would have to figure out where the ball was heading by sound because you certainly couldn’t see it through the mountain of man strategically planted in front of you. I can’t recall if I scored a single point in that match. I can tell you that neither of us chose to play each other again. He probably considered me no challenge; I felt extremely challenged. And very small.

Flash ahead more than 45 years to last Saturday night. Audrey and I decided to attend an American Ballet Theater performance that featured an iconic piece choreographed by Twyla Tharp, one of Audrey’s favorite dance creators (and one that even I can enjoy). We had pretty good seats in the center of the rear mezzanine. Even better, up to one minute before the lights came down, the two seats in front of us were empty. That’s when a tiny woman and a man large enough to block out the sun began sliding into Row I. We were in Row J. “Oh, come on,” Audrey groaned more aloud than she planned, as the man turned to give her a look while taking his place directly in front of her. He seemed a little sheepish at being so impressively large, but what could he do about it? I gallantly offered to switch seats with Audrey, and she quickly accepted. It was amazing. As I sat back down, I realized that my head was at almost the exact height as the man's, and his seat was located at least 10 inches below mine! Plus he was wide, really wide.

From then on, the contest began. It was like playing racquetball against Bill Pickens again. I could move to my left and see a small piece of the stage on that side, perhaps one or two dancers. Or I could move to my right and see even less on that side. But the middle of the stage was off limits to me. Unfortunately, most dance companies utilize the middle part of the stage, and the ABT was no exception. What could I do? Assuming the position I often do at dance performances, I closed my eyes to concentrate on the music (and perhaps get in a little shut-eye). This time I had a real excuse. And the music by Philip Glass was exceptional; I am told that the dancing was, too. When the audience rose to their feet after the performance to offer a standing ovation, I too jumped up quickly. For a few seconds, as the large man slowly worked himself to a standing position, I could see the entire stage and the smiles of all of the excited and breathless dancers. They had put on a performance that had the entire theater buzzing. I had heard the buzz. The following morning, we discovered a video of an earlier performance of the piece on You Tube, and Audrey and I sat side by side to enjoy it. You know, it really was terrific, even if I had to see it second hand. 

Who knew this many dancers were on the stage together?
They say you should never look directly at an eclipse of the sun; it can damage your eyes. When the next eclipse occurs, I know whom I plan to be standing behind, just to be on the safe side. 

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