Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dance of Debt

Some of my friends have been worried by the economic crisis. It's in the news, of course. It's everywhere. Obama's allegedly brilliant plans are being snubbed by arrogant Republicans, and Obama's would-be appointees are one by one being exposed as tax cheats, employers of illegal aliens, among other problematic situations. Hope? Change? Nein.

This same week, at work, I've been listening to one of many free music channels on iTunes, and one of my favorites is under the Eclectic category, called Radio Déliro. Described as "French Varieties," it plays an array of smart good music, hopping from 60s French pop tunes to classical to pop to ethnic. Anyway, it's very entertaining, like having your own personal DJ constantly surprise you. Best yet, it's free.

One song I've heard several times over the past few months is "Money, Money" from the soundtrack of the musical Cabaret. The passage where Liza Minnelli's character and Joel Grey's character, the MC, sing, "Knock, knock!" "Who's there?" "Tapping at da window" "Who?" "Hungah!" amuses me with its jaunty tone.

But it exemplifies the poverty-stricken setting of the play, of course. Germany, under the collapsing Weimar Republic, continued to entertain itself with mindless cabaret shows as the Nazi Party continued to grow and overwhelm the country.

I get about 300 press releases emailed to me each week. An increasing number of performances are for burlesque shows, reviews, cabarets without a plot, It's rare to hear of a production that has some depth.

There are exceptions. Only last Saturday, I saw Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. Rioult's work was utterly fantastic, not only for the haunting and sexual contemporary interpretation of Stravinsky's "Les Noces," but the even more brilliant "Wein," set to a chilling Ravel waltz.

In it, a sextet of grey-clothes-clad dancers swirled about in increasingly violent movements, until they were each trampled multiple times. The dance clearly referenced the desperate last gasps of a culture on the verge of collapse, of a clinging herd of people denying their inevitable demise. At the same time, it managed to be a well-crafted and thoroughly entertaining piece of art.

In this interview, Rioult, a former track athlete, explains the inspiration for this work:

"Wein" was choreographed in 1992, the year of the Watts riot in Los Angeles.

"I had an idea what this work was to be about," Rioult said. "It was going to be wild and weird. And it was going to be more along the lines of misery. It's like a trail of misery. And it's a study on how people get caught up in a whirlpool without knowing it -- until it's too late."

The main inspiration for the work was actually postwar social decay, Rioult said. "I was thinking of the time between the two world wars. And the early beginnings of World War II, when rocks would be thrown through Jewish-owned store windows in Germany."

Rioult reflected on those actions for a long time, he said. "I kept asking myself, 'If I were 18 in Berlin and those things started happening, would I have tried to stop it? Would I have not gotten involved? Or would I have participated?'

"It's scary. When the rise of Nazism began, there were a lot of people who didn't agree with the philosophy but were carried away in the whirlpool."

I was feeling sad that his concert last week was not as well attended as I'd hoped, while tonight, I went to a packed house at the Post Street Theatre to see Burn the Floor with another dance pal. The show is being heavily promoted.

It was an auditory assault, and the ballroom-derived choreography one step below a cruise ship act. Yet the audience lapped it up, whooping and hollering for some of the sloppiest dancing I'd seen in years. We left at intermission.

And afterward, my friend and I ate at O'Doul's, a fine working class pub and cafeteria-style restaurant that, we hoped, would remain impervious to the economic collapse.

Yet as we walked through Union Square toward Muni, we were beseiged by homeless beggars entertaining us, asking for, and in increasing numbers, demanding spare change. No, I could not spare a quarter. I'd had to make sure to make exact change to get on the train, since the previous night, I'd walked home from another event after being utterly frustrated by not being able to change a five dollar bill at the Powell St. stop. No, even a quarter was valuable, and more importantly, despite all the comp tickets, that quarter was mine.

The increasing number of beggars reflected our previous conversation about the impending class of formerly working and upper-class becoming unemployed, and how they would soon push the poverty class even lower on the scale. People were already becoming more desperate. And the entertainment, in some cases, was reflecting that Weimar aesthetic; banal, cabaret, mindless and wan, all noise and flat in its lack of depth. Basically the message is simple: ignore reality for as long as possible.

Look at the statistics on LayOffDaily.com. Thousands in all industries, and they are not going to disappear. They are going to have to find other lower-paying jobs.

Major Layoff Headlines
Caterpillar Layoff Tally -22,000
Boeing -10,000
Pfizer Update: Closing 5 Plants -26,000
Circuit City Closing Down -30,000
Alcoa -13,500
GE Capital Cutting up to 11,000
Bank of America to cut up to 35,000
Rio Tinto Mining Cutting 14,000 Worldwide
Office Depot Will Close 112 Stores
KB Toys Bankrupt Closing All 460 Stores
Citigroup will have to cut 75,000 by 2009
Financial Layoff Tally 290,000

What does the future hold for these people? How are they supposed to, as our new president said, "Dust themselves off"?

And yet, the Wall Street executives give themselves billions in bonuses. The money keeps getting spent, by the rich and the richest of the rich.

If you spent $1 million a day every day since the day Jesus Christ was (allegedly) born, it would still not amount to $1 trillion.

Where is this money coming from? Where is it going? You can be sure of one thing: you're not getting any.

What dance will we be doing in the future? One of release, of escape, or one of desperation?

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