Dancing Away the Doldrums

There are reasons to admire any group that can do a complex task in perfect coordination.  That they seem to do it with so much pleasure is something to celebrate.

There is an eight-minute YouTube video featuring  Broadway’s Sutton Foster that I’d recommend to anybody who feels like  they have been mauled by the national news cycle. It will momentarily lift the dark clouds. The clip features Foster and a group of dancers rehearsing a tricky dance sequence for a revival of the 1930’s show, Anything Goes. It played at the Stephen Sondheim Theater in Manhattan in 2012, eventually leading to a Tony Award for Foster. Even though it’s a piano rehearsal without sets or costumes, the video has been seen by several million viewers.  And its easy to see why.  Who said communication can’t also happen through your feet?

Tap dancing has gone out of style in contemporary shows, but its unique combination of rhythm and syncopation against the beat remains a pure joy to watch. The cast seems to be having as much fun in this run-through as they are supposed to have in front of an audience.

Anything Goes works well right now for the same reasons it worked in the darker days of 1930s.  Cole Porter’s music and lyrics help us look past the frail plot to witness age-old skills that evolved from Irish and African-American traditions.

There are obvious reasons to admire any group that can do anything together in perfect coordination.  That they seem to do it with so much pleasure serves as a model of contagious optimism. There is also something to celebrate watching the cast ‘nailing’ the complicated footwork demanded in the last four minutes of this sequence.

In Rehearsal: Sutton Foster Sings “Anything Goes”

Buy Tickets to “Anything Goes”: http://www.broadway.com/shows/anything-goes/ More Broadway Videos: http://www.broadway.com/video-on-demand/ During a press event, Tony winner Sutton Foster tears into the title song from the upcoming “Anything Goes” revival. Shot by Nick Shakra for Broadway.com

Like most forms of expression, dance works because it engages audience members and makes them sympathetic participants. People moving in rhythm offer a unique form of predictability that we can easily anticipate.  In addition, theater is always a potent trigger for empathy. We are mentally wired to put ourselves in the action. The cognitive process of “mirroring” induces us to become vicarious participants in what we see and hear.  This is by no means a given in most of the rest of the animal kingdom.  Humans are born to put ourselves in others’ stories. And so the exuberance of the performers becomes our’s.  And once more the cliche is true: the company’s sense of fun is literally infectious.

Top Photo: Foster in the 2012 Revival of Anything Goes by the Roundabout Theater Company