I once got in a bit of an argument with a friend of mine about expectations. He claimed we should never have expectations because they only lead to trouble. I claimed that expectations are ineffaceable. I am willing to concede now that perhaps he had a point: while we can’t eradicate expectations, they do seem to lead to trouble. I recently attended Night Falls at ODC Theater, a dance-theater piece created by Deborah Slater and Julie Hébert that addressed aging. I had expectations. Because of the term dance-theater, I expected it to be dance-based with theatrical elements. I also expected the piece to have a moral of sorts about coming to terms with the aging process and finding the rewards in it. While I don’t think these are unreasonable expectations, the juxtaposition between my preconceived notions and the reality of the piece was a bit troubling.
The narrative of the piece is about a woman about to turn 60 who has to give a speech and is grappling with her own personal frustrations and disillusionment at this life juncture. With her are three permutations of herself at different points in her life, two younger and one older. She is soon joined by her ex-husband’s brother and his younger self, and together they all engage in an extended discussion on what it means to grow older.
I’m 25. I’m young. I think about aging here and there, but I don’t worry about it much. I expect aging to be a trade-off of sorts. I expect to trade my healthy, muscular, able body in for wisdom, perspective, and maybe even some inner peace. I expect it to be challenging and relieving at the same time. If Night Falls is any indicator of whether my quixotic idealism is correct, I’m way off the mark. In Slater and Hébert’s eyes, aging is a process fraught with dismay and disappointment, regrets and nostalgia. Reacting purely to the content of the piece itself, I was discouraged by how dour the aging process is looking from the onset.
Along with my expectations regarding content, I had expected the piece itself to be equally rooted in dance and theater, perhaps dance more so, as it was performed at ODC, a venue typically reserved for dance productions. However I felt the piece was guided almost completely by the spoken text, leaving the dance to feel gestural, decorative, and not completely integral to the piece. One of the younger women never spoke, and I understand she was a designated dance component in the piece. However, with so much dialogue between the other performers I missed her voice. Vice versa I missed seeing the other performers move more. There was so much text about the changes wrought to a body as it ages, but it was never fully manifested physically: the younger and older cast members often did the same movements.
Thus my expectations led to my dissatisfaction. Had I no preconceptions about how much dance versus theater the piece would have, or what the message about aging would be, I might have come away from Night Falls much more enthused. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a way to rid one’s self of expectations.