Being shallow definitely has its advantages. For me, the quality I love most about my politically unaware being and my less than sufficient ability to find meaning and symbolism in even the most simply constructed works of art (except James Cameron’s Avatar, I mean, I’m not brain dead,) is my amazing fashion sense. Very little escapes my attention where sartorial affairs are concerned, thus prompting my inevitable and obvious recognition in 8th grade as “Best Dressed.” This superlative was the result of never having owned a pair of jeans, and my gift for making even clothes from K-Mart, JCPenney, and Sears have the same look and “je ne sais quoi” as any major fashion house in Paris. The red plaid suit I wore to a family reunion shortly after the birth of my Chinese sister, to the Garanimals matching ensembles featured at Sears, to the direct plagiarism of any mannequin that crossed my path, gave me the title of style icon, even in my youth. I am certain, had I been a subscriber to GQ at the time, I would have seen my 6 year old, front-toothless image, gracing the cover. I believe this godly gift came from my father, who to this day takes tremendous delight in assembling outfits for my mother. Were it not for him, I really believe she would only ever be seen wearing a beige nightgown with those wooden Dr. Scholl’s slippers that at one moment can protect your feet against the harsh pavement, and the next be used, if aimed properly and thrown with enough force, to thwart any sort of menacing behavior I was intending to take against my sister.
My day-to-day attire consists of cargo pants and t-shirts, and quite often the same pair of cargo pants; provided they pass a strategic sniff test. This look is neither noteworthy nor fashion forward, but it doesn’t have to be. I have tremendous wardrobe power and if I choose not to use it, well then, that is entirely my prerogative. I need to prove nothing because my gifts are always at the ready, prepared to be unleashed with the force of a semi-annual sale at Nordstrom’s. There is however, one teeny limitation to what I am able to accomplish with my clothes, and that little teeny something is money. I am like Harry Potter without his wand, George Bush without the dumb, gaping mouth, the Royal Couple with just a cupcake for their reception. I am almost powerless in light of the fact that I cannot afford all the necessary layers and accessories to truly make a John Varvatos ensemble soar to its full and proper glory. I have therefore learned to be a strategist, conservationist of “power” ingredients in my wardrobe, and astute with regard to making purchases that are on the cusp of trendy yet enduring. I am clairvoyant. I am the Miss Cleo of Clothes, and no one can tell me any different. Even in my ridiculous Dora the Explorer-esque Flip-Flops and matching v-neck t-shirt.
Consumerism is the way of the world. I don’t care where you are, what your political affiliation is, or the limitations that people have to endure given their governments’ ideologies. We love to buy things and will buy anything. We buy tacky denim outfits that somehow survived the 80’s and made their way to Israeli Bus Stations, we buy Pigeons from pet stores – yes, they are actually for sale here, (side note – isn’t that the height of laziness? In a place where there are approximately 43 pigeons for every human, why would you not just catch one yourself? ) We look through millions of identical wooden rosaries to find just the “right” one to prove that we had been to Jerusalem. We buy tickets to shows, we purchase the services of plastic surgeons, and we buy each other. We sometimes hate buying things: replacing a hot water heater for instance, but we LOVE to buy most things. It feels so good. Even when money is tight, splurging on orchestra seats is a joy, and the sting of the credit card balance is eradicated once you strut into the theatre and egotistically walk down the aisle to the seats that seem to be bathed in divine light. It is a neurological massage, and it is an addiction no one will admit to having.
Shopping is just yet another way we have to categorize ourselves. We love to show the labels of our preferences and we also do not mind commenting on the preferences of others. We look to see what others have, what they do, where they go, and we align ourselves accordingly. We follow trails that have already been forged and we rarely venture into new territory. Ask a Brooks Brothers shopper how often he/she goes into Club Monaco. Do Stallone fans really visit the artsy foreign films cinema? Do release dancers go to see Mark Morris? The answer is most likely “no” and placing myself on the same chopping block, I admit the sadness of that answer.
Last week I saw two very different dance shows with two very different audiences. The Batsheva Ensemble performed an evening of work created by the dancers, and Barak Marshall presented “Rooster.” Each concert had value, each had not so great moments, each were educational. Neither shared similar audience demographics.
Batsheva’s work was exciting for the most part, but the dances lacked a sense of refinement and completion. Many of the ideas were very interesting yet lacked total fulfillment and focus. Many were marked by constant shifts, awkward transitions, and bizarre music choices. This is how I would characterize the dances:
Imagine if you will. I’ll take two sugars, please. It is obviously much more soft and absorbent than other leading brands. Yes, but will she be able to shimmy when it is all over. Jingle Bells Jingle Bells. Did Abby poop on the carpet or just on the wood floor. Peace Out.
The dancing was superior. What stood out to me the most however, was that without coaching, without a great deal of attention to detail, and minimal rehearsal, compared to what I had seen in work by Ohad, the dancers looked young. Not youthful, but less wise in their delivery. This speaks volumes about the process, the massaging of the work, the tweaking, the exploration. The lack of polish was evident, but again, the dancers are exceptional, so even with them at 75%, they still soared.
On the other hand, Marshall’s dancers were coached to utter perfection. ”Rooster” had unison that mesmerized and precision that would rival any competitive cheerleading organization, and sadly, with so much attention to frontal unison work, that is where I went. Cheerleader land. His ideas could run their course if the actual choreography does not become more layered, more varied, more communicative. He is masterful at creating unique gestures, but when the same ideas repeat intending to say something different each time, I was left with a lot of hype and little connection. I thought the storyline was insultingly spoon-fed to us and I longed for the less obvious, the more mysterious. There were lengthy bits of narration and one did not have to know Hebrew to put two and two together, and just when things started to feel drawn out, dancers emerged performing intricate movements, in unison, to some rather compelling music.
In addition to being shallow, I have the attention span of a gnat. Magazines, honestly, can often be my preferred reading material. Their bullet point how-tos on style, the fashion Q& A, the ads, especially the ads, all satisfy the urge to get information as quickly as possible. Give me a quick glance at the latest Armani ad and I can tell you spring trends, show me a page or two on grooming and you have my attention – but not if I have to skip to the back of the magazine to catch the end of the article. Hopefully nothing too important lingers in those back pages. I’d hate to find out that the most important step to exfoliating your scalp is buried within the ads for x-ray glasses and corporate gifts.
The Batsheva audience was made up of friends of the dancers, and had the same young vibe as the performers did. You can easily tell that the audience is younger, not merely by appearance, but by the high-pitched “wooooos” that seem to exist in every culture during the applause. The Marshall audience was much older, a majority had clearly seen the piece before, and many seemed to be in it for the visual spectacle rather than the narrative as the narratives received very little response. Not even a jaded chuckle. The well-coordinated music/dance sections received all of the reaction, the dialogue interludes in turn, seemed to have been something people sat through to get to the next “routine.”
If you were to tell a group of “indie” dancers about Batsheva, you could predict the looks on their faces. If you talk to a “trendy”group of dancers about Yosi Berg, you could predict their reaction. At times, I think these two very different dance worlds get along like oil and water, despite coming from the same place. It’s like parents having two very different children. One child leaves the house, explores, finds something new, returns home, takes a shit on the living room carpet, telling the parents he/she has always hated the carpet, is ashamed of anything that looks like the carpet, and wants to make sure to never look at anything like that carpet again. The other leaves the house, explores, and returns to take care of the parents well into their old age. But along the way, introduces the parents to cell phones, computer technology, maybe cleans the shit off the carpet, using some of the new things he/she learned and is proud of the carpet and wants to show it off. Needless to say, there is tremendous tension between the two very different children from the same dance parent. Each child pretends to like the other, but each is judging the other. Plain as day. Neither really wants to go to the other’s house, but will if absolutely necessary, looking tortured the whole time.
Regardless of how one truly feels about dance, oops I mean, the carpet, it doesn’t take away the necessity of responsibility and mindfulness toward what one offers up for public consumption. Dialogue, honest dialogue, is so critical and I admit that that is definitely a strong suit here. In fact, during a sharing of choreography where I provided feedback, I was asked: Be honest in the Israeli way, not the American way. This means, maybe we don’t have to be served a dead cockroach on a used piece of toilet paper, be told it is filet mignon on Wedgewood china, then get handed a bill, and swallow the experience bitterly, then pretend to like it. If we are open, we avoid situations that put is in situations that are less than savory. In short, each child could learn a lot from the other if they weren’t each so stubborn.
I doubt that I would ever update my wardrobe at “Forever 21” but that isn’t to say I couldn’t find a nifty necklace, or cool leather bracelet. Certainly if I were in a spending mood I could find something of interest. In addition, just because I can’t afford a custom Armani suit certainly doesn’t stop me from browsing and entertaining the idea that maybe one day I’ll have one. However, if I were a little drunk, who knows, the suit could end up on a credit card. More than likely, I will just pine for the day when my wardrobe equals that of my friend Natasha’s – except with man clothes. She is a woman of inimitable style and class, whose inner beauty is already magnificent, but whose outward appearance is poetic. I’ve never seen her in the same piece of clothing twice. Ever. She carries herself with grace and her clothes don’t define her, but have simply become a part of her African voice.
My time in Israel is sadly drawing to a close, and if I can remind myself to take away an important lesson, it is that I can shop to my heart’s content. I can browse the racks of tacky denim, cages full of pigeons, and even consider the latest kippa. Browsing won’t identify me as anything different than what I am, even buying, for the most part won’t inescapably lock me into someone I’m not. All I seek is accurate product information, humility, and sensitivity. It’s fun to look, fun to buy, and even more fun to enrich.