"Waltz at CMA"

The rain began to pour just as the rehearsal time drew near.  I arrived at the Marriott ballroom to find Malcolm Rembert from Vibrations Dance Company, who was there early, ready to dance.  He told me about his trip to NYC to audition for Alvin Ailey.  Apparently they didn't take any new dancers on at the audition, but he was encouraged to audition again in the fall when they definitely would be looking for new company members.  Malcolm is a phenomenal dancer and I have no doubt that he will leave us to dance with the most prestigious African American company in the country, so I feel very lucky to have him dancing with us for this production.

Ryan Thomas and Olivia Anderson arrive, followed shortly thereafter by Krista Futch and Kristine Hartvigsen.  Aaron heads to the museum to see that we have a microphone for Xavier Moses, the graduate of the USC Music Department and Opera who will be the vocalist for the production.  I eagerly begin the rehearsal after a few more volunteers enter the ballroom, excited about seeing the choreography that Ryan and Olivia, both students majoring in dance at USC and members of the USC Dance Company, have come up with for this performance.  Ryan was a professional dancer before returning to school to get his undergraduate degree, and both Ryan and Olivia have been trained in choreography by Wideman Davis.

I review the steps of the waltz as Kevin Green and Karen Storay enter the room.  They join in the rehearsal, and we run the performance with Ryan and Olivia; I am just as amazed and impressed with their creativity and talent as I expected.  Malcolm is still waiting for Monessa Salley, soloist with Vibrations Dance Company, who is stuck in the torrential rain.  As we complete the second run of the performance, I look anxiously at my watch, wondering whether Xavier and Monessa will be able to battle the rain and make it to the rehearsal.

Aaron enters the room, dripping, and announces that we will have a wireless mic for the performance.  He begins to explain the structure of what will be our dance floor, and describes the events that will be happening in the museum when we begin the performance.  Xavier arrives, and his booming voice lifts all of our spirits as we run through the performance a third time.  Terrell Rittenhouse assists me in demonstrating a turn, and the volunteers quickly achieve remarkable proficiency with the new step.  Their performance two weeks before seems to have given them a sense of these steps that they could not have had after only an hour of instruction.

Malcolm paces outside, searching the sopping streets outside for Monessa, who is parking.  She enters the hotel and we all embrace, relieved that she has made it in time to run through her choreography before the performance.  Terrance Henderson is an award winning choreographer and the recipient of the choreographers grant from the Arts Commission.  With Malcom and Monessa performing his steps, I had no doubt that their section of the performance would draw the energy of the piece to a crescendo, leaving the accidental audience in the art museum amazed and rightly impressed at the talent that these incredible performers have to offer our community.  Malcolm and Monessa mark through their choreography and the performance is run one more time before we head out the door to the museum.

The 15 performers wander in, buy glasses of wine, mingle with those in the lobby who are awaiting the Buster Keeton film that will play at 8 PM, accompanied by a Jazz Quartet from NYC.  I make my way to the book launch that is happening in the room to the right of the gallery.  I usher Ed Madden, author of the book, over to the door.  Ed Madden is a professor at USC and a renowned poet.  Ironically, he was also one of the readers for my honors thesis ten years ago.  He had sent a message to me the week before asking whether we would be performing in the Art Museum.  I couldn't help but divulge the secret, knowing that he would be able to help us to ensure that we would have a captive audience to catch off guard for the performance.  "The performance is going to start in three minutes," I whispered.  "Is he going to be finished with his talk by then?  I don't want us to interrupt."  We postponed the performance just a few minutes so that Ed could ensure that there would be a small reprieve in their discussion just as the performance began.

As the chords of "The Rainbow Connection" began to pour forth on the PA system, recorded by Kirill Simin and Aaron Pelzek the day before, Xavier walked to the middle of the lobby and began to sing, "Why are there so many songs about rainbows..."  The dancers pull their partners into the middle of the lobby and begin to waltz.  They are joined by Olivia and Ryan.  Ryan turns and lifts Olivia as the second verse of the song begins, and the crowd, once murmuring in amazing, now freeze, aghast as the couple fill the room with their effortless grace.  As the third verse begins, Malcolm and Monessa take the stage, the energy between them apparent as Terrance's choreography tells the story of two lovers meeting unexpectedly at this event and appreciating the delight of the experience, perfected by their amazement at their love for one another.  They turn and leap through the lobby, uninhibited by the expectations that might have prevented them from the full expression of this feeling of perfect joy under other circumstances.

As Xavier lifts the melody to the climax of the song, the transfixed crowd catch their breath, holding the moment as a portrait of what everyday life and art are as one.The song ends with Xavier walking out of the door of the art museum, the dancers disperse as the chords fade, and the onlookers break into wild applause.We walk off, attend the movie, catch the end of the book launch, head out to Art Bar, brave the rain, carry out the rest of our day.  The event is over, but the day continues, and the possibilities have increased in quantity immeasurably.