we dance to the Earth
we dance to the Water
the gods awake and we take no chance
our hearts hear the song
our feet move along
and to the music of the gods
It's the opening number of Once on this Island, a musical adaption of a novel. It's loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, set in the French Antilles. Instead of a mermaid in love with a human, a peasant descended from African slaves falls in love with a Grand Homme, the light skinned mixed race descendent of African and French lineage. Two different worlds, not meant to meet. The gods get involved. There's no happily-ever-after. It's beautiful. Passionate. Sad. The ending moved me to tears (which Ginger can tell you is a rare occurance).
We saw it in a tiny theater in Lakewood. So tiny that the front row was in danger of being kicked by the actors during the dance numbers.
The dance numbers - this play was originally written for a black cast, rather necessary given the subject matter. But theater being what it is (make believe) this play often ends up being performed by actors of various hues. My colleague Ron used to teach music in middle school - he did this play (somewhat edited) with 7th grade white kids. This company was 'multi-cultural', which amounted to white, latino and gay. With a few changes to the dialogue, it works.
What really worked was the drummer - I haven't heard drumming like that live since the orisa ceremonies I went to in New York. More than music, more than a show tune, it was an invocation. There were times I could feel the energy, times when the drums and the singing and the dancing came together and created more, more than actors going through a script, a song, a dance routine. It was magic. In that tiny, hot theater, they made magic. In spite of all the nitpicking that could be done over individual performances, the whole was alive and powerful.
It wouldn't have happened with lesser drummer. From the first beats he had me, I felt that internal dance, the one that can happen even when I appear to be sitting still, the dance that would have been visible if only the seats hadn't been so close together. The drum started, the dancers followed, the song began, and the Presence was there. I can still feel the rhythm. Where can I find an African Dance class.......
Our hearts hear the song
Our feet move along
And to the music of the Gods
WE DANCE! WE DANCE! WE DANCE!