Perpetual Motion

Stéphane Mallarmé’s “The Afternoon of the Faun” is about the creative urge.  At the poem’s opening, the half-man, half-goat declares that he wants to “perpetuate these nymphs,” the sensual creatures of his half-waking dream he would prevent from slipping out of his grasp.  Claude Debussy’s musical response to Mallarmé’s brilliant poem highlighted the flute, the faun’s potent instrument of creativity and desire.  The poem and music inspired further creation when Nijinsky danced the role of the faun in a legendary performance that emphasized the faun’s sexuality.

“Perpetuate” means “to continue or extend without intermission,” and such were my own desires last Saturday evening at the performance of “Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun,” presented by the Monterey Dance Collective and Ensemble Monterey Chamber Orchestra at Hidden Valley Institute for the Performing Arts in Carmel Valley.  This was a gorgeous performance I didn’t want to end.  Choreographed by Deanna Ross, and featuring the compelling Brendan Barthel as a randy alpha-faun who flirts with any pleasing nymph drifting by and keeps rival fauns in their place, this “Prelude” successfully conveyed the atmosphere of the poem, in which raw lust ripples just under the translucent elegance of the poem’s form.

The excellent dancers were given strong support by the onstage musicians, conducted by John Anderson.  Today, it is rare for dance performances to benefit from live music—recorded music has sadly become the norm, even in larger cities.  Yet dance is a living, breathing art, and to replace the living breath of real instruments played by real bodies with electronic music is to cheat the audience—whose breath and bodies are also part of the equation—of the deeply satisfying experience that inspired performance provides.

The other works on the program were “Ballet de Cour,” with music by Gabriel Pierné, and “Concierto del Angel,” with music by Astor Piazolla.  “Ballet de Cour” was a delightful sequence of courtly dances and flirtations, marked by a sense of ease and pleasure.  “Concierto del Angel” told the story of an angel who arrives in a gritty barrio of Buenos Aires to rescue the community from the darkness of their souls, only to be killed by one of its cruelest members.  The company offered a vivid theatrical performance of this tango-inflected piece, shaped by Ross’s imaginative choreography.  I especially liked the descent of the angel (Eli Weinberg) on a laundry-strewn piece of scaffolding, a simple piece of stage design that took on deeper resonance when the angel is confronted by the violence he is unable to heal.

On a dark and drizzly evening, Hidden Valley’s wonderfully embracing auditorium was packed for the occasion; if there were any empty seats I did not see them.  Another meaning of “perpetuate” is “to preserve from extinction or oblivion,” and it was deeply gratifying, in this season when our community college arts departments are under seige, to see such a robust turnout for this collaborative effort.  Those who attended were treated to a superb expression of artistic commitment—the creative urge on full, triumphant display.