Monday, October 24, 2011

The Trouble with Expectations

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.


  1. I am always reminded about expectations. Half the time we don’t even know we have them- often about very trivial stuff- and low and behold we are pressed up against the gap between our expectations and reality. On the other hand the reason why I think you even bothered to mention your expectations is because the work was fairly empty. Even if your expectations had been foiled because your response was thrilling I think you would have talked about your thrill not your expectations. As an older person I felt the main character whined about their aging and was uncourageous in digging further into the meaning of life and aging. I did think there were some very funny one liners….but I didn’t go away touched or moved. My fear is as artists we are so caught up in our “work” and the “image” of our selves we fail to live and therefore convey real meaning in our art.

    -KT Nelson

  2. At first, I was also surprised at the predominance of spoken text vs. choreographed movement phrases, and I was somewhat puzzled by what seemed to be an inconclusive final scene. Maybe the purpose was to send the question(s) back out to the audience instead of attempting to wrap it all up in finality and certainty. However, I thought the text was very well written, I enjoyed the distribution of a central character amongst several different performers, and the combination of text / movement worked for me. And… I’m one of the old people so the issues are probably more pertinent for me than for your generation.

    Plus, the event was announced as "...a play with movement" so I was not anticipating the sort of presentation that I've seen in previous works by Deborah. After the performance I told her I would have like to have seen more direct interaction between Patricia's character and the other members of the cast. She said that they are intending to expand that role if they have the opportunity to continue working on the piece.'s a thought about dealing with expectations: now that you know more about the intentions of the playwright and the choreographer, I'm wondering how you might respond to the work if you were to see Night Falls again. I’m hoping they continue developing the play and find more venues in which to perform; seems to me that it would do well on the road.

    -Chris Bigelow