A Birthday Party

Dance beat / Reviews 1967-1976 1 Mar 1976English

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All those people who stood out in the damp night of lower Broadway wanting to see Sara Rudner’s solo concert, Some ‘Yes’ and More - was it because they, like me, think of her as The Compleat Dancer (complete: having all the customary skills; undivided; uncompromised; lacking nothing; entire; full; perfect in kind and quality)? After you’ve seen her dance, as generously as she did that night, you don’t really need to see anyone else dance for quite a long time.

She doesn’t show anything that is posed or decorative or self-consciously “beautiful” or “interesting,” but she uses richly and with superb control all the vital elements of dancing - time, space, weight, shape, and so on. Even though her dancing has subtle gradations most dancers never achieve (and some don’t even know about), she dances unaffectedly and with pleasure.

Even the small first section of her hour’s dance is amazing. She comes into Lucinda Child’s full loft, puts two paper cups of water and some Kleenex on the radiator, and starts to walk. She’s wearing a black Chinese jacket of padded silk and white pants and shoes; a pair of woolier pants that she has on underneath flaunt their red hems. (I always like the way she looks: her strong, small, quiet body, her frizz of black hair, her pretty, blunt face with its alert, sober, but potentially mischievous expression.) So, anyway, she walks. Circles, figure eights. She casts matter-of-fact (inquisitive?) glances at points high on the wall. Without obvious stylization, she puts crescendos and descrescendos into her walk, subtly alters how her weight falls onto the front foot. Here’s this woman just walking around looking at the room, and, on the sly, she’s giving you the unexpurgated history of the walk.

That walk might have been more seminal than I’m prepared to admit, because I have a hunch that throughout her variations on something, Rudner was working with a carefully restricted roster of movement, only we didn’t fully realize it, either because she manipulated it so brainily, or performed it with so many different shadings.

It’s a marathon - full of the twisting and spiraling, the slam-bang foot dancing, the loose-jointed leg gestures, the silky complexities that are Rudner’s heritage from about eight years of working with Twyla Tharp. Rudner takes off her jacket and twitches her black jersey into place. She breathes deeply, mops her face, and drinks water between sections. She luxuriates in movements that deposit her on the floor. But she’s always game for more: the deepness, the resilience, the trueness of her dancing never falters.

At first she looks at us from time to time and holds up her hands to tell us this is, say, section five-fingers-plus-one; later I think I detect those signals too, but after 12 or so she stops stopping. Here are some of the events I remember. A lickety-split progress across the floor, full of false starts, and go-back-to-your-marks; rolls with her body folding and sprawling indolently; a section in which she stands still while her arms dive and snake around her and end up, wrists together, in front of her, forcing her body back (fleetingly: the end of another Perils of Sara episode); Rudner standing almost on the toetips of her shoes, backed up against the wall, staring at a point in space. Did she really put that arm stuff on top of an equally complicated foot phrase? Probably. Did she really transfer that arm phrase to her legs? It’s possible. I know she takes some tumbling falls and later repeats them creakily, bit by bit, groping for the floor like an old person.

The repetitions and variations give subliminal comfort. We’re aware that all this spontaneous-looking dancing is firmly anchored to some form or other. Our eyes register visual rhymes. The silence of the hot crowd is staggering; the wall could fall on us before we’d notice.

She’s into a quiet section. She says a few names, and her slow generous bending and folding motions acquire the significance, almost, of a bow, an expression of gratitude, an homage. She’s drinking her last few drops of water, back to us, when with consummate timing, she pours the rest over her head and start into dancing. (it’s like coming upon a deer: you could swear that your footfall was the first step of its run.)

Grinning, she yells inaudibly into the clapping and the cheering, “Thank you for coming. It’s my birthday!” So after all the clapping stops, someone shouts, “Happy birthday, Sara,” and we clap some more. And then the elated, the dumbfounded, the wet-eyed fall down with the elevator. Many happy returns, Sara. What a celebration.

Rudner did not begin this evening’s dancing by walking. She began by swinging her arms quite violently to the sides and across and behind her body and allowing this to pull her into turns. It was like a limbering up preamble to the walk.