Truth or Consequences
Written by Amber Xu on February 14, 2023
Often the days have been strange and tense for me. I’ve been knocked down by these waves of ennui since I was young. I feel dull and unenlightened sometimes and want to peel apart the hardened knots in my stomach the way one might open up a half-cut pomegranate, jewel toned juice splattering everywhere. There must be something more in here. It’s probably (definitely) a personal thing, and during one of these ebbs of inspiration I became obsessed with watching contemporary dance videos on YouTube — specifically Batsheva and Aterballetto. Recently graduated to Mats Ek and Dimitris Papaioannou. Those two minute long videos, beheld horizontally on my scratched iPhone, provided my brain with short spurts of verve and nebulous willpower. In an attempt to ride the meager momentum of this soul tickling, I sought out live dance performances in Los Angeles. They were, apparently, quite hard to find.
“if you spy a dancer
jumping out of a dryer in your local
leaping through a vacant lot
whirling through city hall
it’s probably us
expect us in unexpected places”
Eleven flights of stairs spat me out into a nautical world of plastic umbrellas turned jellyfish, ushers in snorkeling gear, and sinuous blue wall projections. According to Heidi Duckler, who helms the Heidi Duckler Dance company and therefore tonight’s event, I’d earned the free tamales by climbing the stairs. Be-totebagged people milled around, clutching flowers and cervezas, waiting for the event to start.
Eventually, after much foot-tapping and looking around silently, we were escorted towards the elevators, headed to what Heidi Duckler called the “building’s underbelly.” The elevator was plastered with photos of kawaii Asian girls and I wondered which tenant took the creative liberty. We piled in, held our breath, and looked anywhere but each other as the elevator doors slid open.
We entered a retro bedroom with a neon blue sign screaming “Life is Beautiful.” It reminded me of a plaque my parents had once gifted me, that proclaimed: “TODAY IS THE DAY.” The day for what? Would something happen to me? I recalled hoping so, desperately. Even now, years later, I find myself searching for signs, almost always missing something unnameable. Maybe there was a key to a different life, right out of my grasp. I wondered if tonight would be “THE DAY.”
A dancer seated next to the bed, bathed in a stained glass mosaic of light, began to mime sobbing. A woman in a slip dress, previously laying rigidly supine on the bed, awakened from the dead and the two engaged in a wrestling duet. The couple embraced, pulled away, and fell into each other. It was all very glamorous, in the manufactured way that Lana del Rey built her old Hollywood allure with lace, beestung lips, and false lashes. Sad, too. I thought of John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence — Gina Rowland, magnetic as ever, intoxicatingly restless and bizarre in a manner that can only make sense if one elevates to her level of feminine hysteria (which is, incidentally, the only way to really engage with being a woman). The female dancer climbed atop a filing cabinet and fingered the dangling crystals of a chandelier.
Forget the tormented couple. We moved as an amoebic mass into a plush blue velvet room with a DJ spinning house music in Muay Thai shorts. It was a Lynchian dream sequence, complete with a bicycling dancer in an orange bodysuit throwing glitter on the floor. The dancer, whirling and vogueing, fed the audience pizza, handed us landlines, and amped up the energy. When the dancer came to me with a disconnected phone, my cheeks flushed a ruddy complexion. I didn’t know what to say. “There’s no one there.” I attempted to play along. They nodded. I was angry with myself for being rigid and boring and uninspired. The same shame I feel when someone bright and loud and gregarious invites me to banter and I suddenly misplace my tongue. The salon was fun and unrestrained, a private party we were all privy to.
I left the party in the other room, even though I so desperately wanted to break through. This day did not turn out to be “THE DAY.” The days to come would probably not turn out to be “THE DAY,” either. I had a vague sense to make peace with the fact, but somehow I held on to the fantasy of sudden change. Maybe I’d find it by giving myself fully to moments like dancers handing me flowers or dancing with strangers to house music. But not tonight.
Stepping out onto the roof of the Bendix, I locked eyes with a Verizon advertisement that suddenly switched to an ad for NASCAR. I let the 9pm skyline, shimmering with the lives of others with somewhere to be, carry me away. I suddenly felt irredeemably alienated from my own life, as if I could reach for it with both hands, wanting to cradle it like an egg in a spoon, but instead watching it fall through my fingers as sand. An airplane passed overhead. My internal clock struck twelve. I said a quick goodbye to no one in particular, bounded back down 11 flights of stairs, and felt relief crashing against the boulder of my being when I slammed my car door shut. I’d resume my search tomorrow.