January 15, 2004

Niki & Ben Munisteri Dance Projects & Johann @ The Joyce

We’re in New York right now, primarily to see Niki–Danica Niki that is, not Nichole Niki–perform at the Joyce Theater as a member of Ben Munisteri Dance Projects. For a review of the company’s premiere show at the Joyce I’d like to refer you to my Eclectic Echoes entry. Let me say here, however, that this is the best Modern Dance performance I have seen yet. Simply wonderful.

What was equally amazing was Johann. He had his own ticket and was excited as ever about seeing Niki. Remarkably, he didn’t sleep at all on the way down to New York, and even requested “the megabonds” song, that is to say Can You Feel The Love Tonight, the line is actually “…Kings and vagabonds…”—from The Lion King Soundtrack only 27 times—the only song played from the Connecticut line all the way into Brooklyn. When we got in, he was so excited to see Jen and Sophie, (Jen is Niki’s roommate, and Sophie is her slightly neurotic, but very lovable dog), and by the thought of seeing Niki later, that he wouldn’t even consider taking a nap.

When we finally arrived at the Joyce, we told him that we had to be very quite whenever the house lights were off, so as not to disturb the other people who had come to watch Niki and the rest of Ben’s company perform. He was a perfect model of good behavior. For a three and a half year old to sit quietly and still for the better part of two hours is asking quite a lot, at least in my book.

When the lights went down for the first time, he was a bundle of nervous energy. Somewhat concerned by the darkness—pitch black—but mostly the excitement of something new and knowing how important this was for Niki. He was perfectly silent, occasionally whispering quietly his awe and appreciation of the dance to Tammy or I, but never above a mouse’s whisper. At the end of each piece he applauded loudly and energetically, even yelling, “Encore!” occasionally. After the applause following each piece subsided he immediately turned to either Tammy or I and announced, very enthusiastically, “I want to see it again!” To the appreciative chuckles of those around us.

I think some of the surrounding audience members where apprehensive about having a three year old in their midst, but more than one told us—either during the intermission or after the show—that he was a joy and a real gentleman, and they remarked their surprise at his obvious appreciation for Modern Dance, not something they would think of most three year olds sitting still for (no pun intended).

One thing about it, Johann was riveted from the moment the first dancers took the stage. He never took his eyes off the dancers, and watched them with the level of concentration that he does typically show when he immerses himself in a new activity—that is to say a laser focus on absorbing every bit he can of the activity. Even though Niki was not in the first two pieces he sat, tensed and focused at the edge of his seat, nearly ready to leap to the stage himself. He seemed to especially enjoy the piece Smash Through to Sunlight which was a wonderful duet—originally a piece he Ben choreographed for himself and another dancer it was performed by two wonderful male guest dancers. After the intermission he started to tire, and long to see Niki, but as soon as the lights went back down he was again focused on the dancers. He was excited when he spotted Niki on stage, and could barely contain himself, bouncing in the seat—but not enough to be a disturbance—and whispering to Tammy, “There’s Niki! Theres Niki!” After those two sentences he was spellbound by the dance once again.

Naturally as the evening progressed, Johann became more apprehensive about when he could finally see Niki. He had been so patient all day. We explained there would be just two more dances and then Aunt Niki could come out. “And then we can play?” Johann asked again for reassurance. After the next piece we said he was doing great, just one more dance to go. Once the final piece was done, Johann cheered and clapped with everyone shouting, “It was wonderful! It was wonderful!” When the lights came up, Johann turned to Tammy and asked, “Now can Niki come out?” Everyone around us laughed.

After the final applause and bows—Ben received a very enthusiastic welcome for the groups Joyce premiere—we waited about 15 minutes for the dancers to change out of costume and get a touch refreshed, then were treated to a 30–45 minute Q&A session with all the dancers and Ben on stage along with a member of the Joyce staff. Johann caught Niki’s attention and then tried to take part in the Q&A. Even getting as far as being recognized by the Staff member during a lull in questions, before she immediately turned to an adult question asker. Even here he as perfectly well behaved, raising his hand (as he saw other audience members do) and waiting his turn. Ben had opened up the questioning to any subject even such things as “How to get rid of gray hair, or my astrological sign.” Johann’s question (which he posed to Ben after the Q&A when we finally met up with Niki and the other dancers backstage and in the lobby) was: “How do butterflies fly?” which he followed with “Why do butterflies fly?”

Ben treated the question with utmost importance and commented that he hadn’t considered that most excellent question but he would definitely think hard about it. Johann was very pleased at that response.

Needless to say, with his behavior and his shy smile he charmed all of Niki’s friends and colleagues.

By the time we got home and unwound he was done in. A full and exciting day, capped by an amazing night. He slipped almost immediately to sleep. Tomorrow, the Natural History Museum, Chinatown, and B&H photo, among other places, plus some good quality play time with Niki.

Edited on 01/17 to clarify who choreographed Smash - a little loose with the pronouns, and cleaned up some translation issues between Open Office and Movable Type… all links should work again…

Posted by Eric at January 15, 2004 03:28 AM | TrackBack
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