Saturday morning, on a day when consciousness of the horrors in Paris threatened to block out thoughts of anything else, I heard an interview with choreographer Twyla Tharp on NPR (recorded before the Paris terror attacks) in which she talked about going back to work with her dancers in NYC the day after 9/11, only four days after the company had performed in the World Trade Center's outdoor plaza. (She also recalls that day in a journal, excerpted in the New York Times
, that she wrote during her current cross-country tour.)
The story was familiar to me. I interviewed Tharp in New York shortly after the WTC attacks — I was living there at the time, and was in attendance at that WTC performance. The feelings she expresses now were similar to what she told me in 2001.
"Of course the magnitude and implications of this causes one to look for priority," she said then. "Should you be outside doing relief work, or should you be working at what you know how to do?"
I was pondering similar questions during the launch of BEACON, a new dance/performance series
that premiered Saturday night at the Palladium in St. Pete. How do we sit and watch dance when the world is falling apart? How do artists continue making art in the wake of the inconceivable?
For Tharp, the answer was, if not easy, then inevitable: "We don't have a choice," she told me. "We can't stop doing what we do."
And, fortunately for the audience (and, I have no doubt, for the performers), BEACON showed us why art — and the particular art form of dance — are so necessary. At the end of the program, after a moment of silence for the victims and survivors in Paris, co-founder Lauren Slone said that the series' ambition is to foster "a new way of thinking about human dignity in every single body
" — a mission that the evening resoundingly carried out.