Friday, October 24, 2008

Misha Alperin - Her First Dance (ECM 2008)

Her First Dance
ECM 2008

Listen: Her First Dance

A distant clock strikes midnight as I stroll through falling snow along deserted Parisian streets. Getting lost in the whiteness of winter, I stumble upon an alley where a masked figure in a dinner jacket beckons to me, inviting me to come over as if he had been expecting me for some time. His manner is reserved, but polite and soon he is pushing me through a door at the end of the alley where I emerge in a dusty room where an old painting of some forgotten Count licking his lips watches over me. Smoke washes the deep purple velvet walls of this antechamber, performing elaborate pirouettes and dissolving into air. Beyond a heavy red curtain I hear the faint sounds of piano notes and find myself drawn towards the simple melody. Pushing back the heavy red curtain, I step into a small hall where a stage lies before me and at its centre rests an impressively sized grand piano. Sitting with her back to me, black hair tied up neatly into a bun in a sort of Oriental fashion, wearing a long dark green gown is the pianist playing that ethereal melody. She pays me no attention, but as she twists her neck towards the hall, I see that she too is wearing a mask, birdlike and glittering with gold and silver, and the faint trace of a devious smile marks the edge of her lips, scarlet red and incredibly appealing. Scattered throughout are several more masked figures, the men in neat and tidy, stylish suits and the women wearing various gowns of subdued colours or perhaps it is the smoke in the room which makes them appear subdued when they are normally vivid and striking. What strikes me as strange is that the handful of figures all sit apart at small circular tables, but perhaps this is a necessity since there is no more than one chair at each table. The majority of them hold long cigarette holders and exhale with dreamy puffs of smoke in time to the rhythm of the pianist. The hall itself is French fin-de-seicle Art Nouveau, predominantly red with gold detailing of playful cherubs, freely frolicking against golden plants that twist and curl around pilasters and up, up towards the arching roof, to the centre where an exquisite chandelier hangs proudly, illuminating faintly with flickering red candles. I take off my jacket and sit down at one of the empty tables towards the back of the room and moments later another sound, deeper than the piano, weaves itself in between the sparse Satie-esque notes of the pianist. Unsure of where it comes from, I scan the hall until I notice yet another masked figure stood with arching back in hazy light atop the central balcony over the stage, moving his hands hypnotically up and down the horn he is playing. As the performance continues the room turns cooler. More and more smoke fills the air. Then I hear the sound of the cello, the rich, earthy sound of the plucked strings that echo the melody of the pianist as a rich counterbalance and despite the haze around me, my thoughts turn surprisingly lucid and then in a light and breezy moment, I imagine that I am hearing the sounds of an animal left out of Saint-Saens’ Carnival, an owl perhaps or a snake of some kind, a nocturnal hunter. Through the waltzing smoke that obscures my vision I can just about make out the deep red stage curtains being pulled back, revealing, behind the pianist, the slender figure of a woman wearing a simple black dress, below which the criss-cross pattern of fishnet stockings shimmers across her pale skin and down her legs to a pair of plain, black ballet shoes. Her eyes are like jewels and from her forehead emerges an extravagant headdress of exotic feathers and golden embroidery. She turns, smiles at the dreaming audience and steps forward to the edge of the stage. After a deep breath, she closes her eyes, spins slowly on her tips of her toes and falls back. At the exact moment she begins to fall another figure emerges from the shadows and catches her in his arms. He is assertive, strong, a great magician of a thousand spells, who wears an elegant waistcoat offset with a grey and silver paisley cravat. As he rises from the floor he twirls the girl into the air and she revolves around him. They embrace and begin to dance. The show progresses, movements become more entrancing, his muscular body marks a striking contrast with the delicate, butterfly like motions of his female companion, the musicians weave melodies in celestial whispers, ghostly communications, the audience, enraptured, hold their breath in anticipation and I gaze intently at the beautiful, dancing couple who seem to have shed their earthly qualities. At one moment, they leap like leaves through the air and hang suspended for what appears to be a long length of time, though I must confess that I have by this point lost all sense of time. At the next moment they fall into one another, consuming each other as their limbs contort, twist and bend. And then they disappear into dust as if an illusion all along. And the pianist, she turns towards me and smiles with those delicious lips, then quickly turns away as the light in the room begins to dim until completely extinguished and in the blackness a few lingering notes hang solemnly in the cold air. In the silence I think of all the things I have seen this evening, now unsure of whether or not I am still dreaming if I ever was dreaming and I can only recollect vague images, but what I remember most clearly are the simple melodies of the evening as the last few notes play themselves out, the final key becoming a reflective reminder of everything that has passed, before dissolving into nothing so only blackness remains.


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