Mark Morris and ASL for Vagina

Today is the first day I’m sorry my father is dead. Not that I’ve been dancing on his figurative grave, but his death has been more theoretical to me, and I haven’t really felt like “damn, I wish I could tell him X.” Well, that’s not exactly true because right around his sudden and unexpected death I heard a story on “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” which I knew he’d also find amusing. (A work-from-home IBM employee was found to have been subcontracting his work to a man in China while he sat around all day watching cat videos. WWDTM panelist Roy Blount, Jr said “I don’t think I could watch cat videos all day. I mean … well all morning, sure.”)

But today the mail brought the H.J. and me a lovely handwritten note from Mark Morris, creator of the sublime Mark Morris Dance Group, our all-time favorite ballet company. They’d never performed in our state; we’ve now lived here six+ years and the only thing we’ve missed to which we had access in San Francisco, California has been MMDG. Well okay, MMDG and vegan char siu bao at Golden Era on a piss-covered stretch in The Tenderloin. But that’s it!

When I read earlier this year that MMDG would be performing here I literally bounded out of my chair to run, screaming into the other room (and I am forty-four years-old, supposedly past my screaming-like-a-banshee for Duran Duran [which I totally did in the ‘80s] days) to tell the H.J. “they’re coming!” I purchased tickets tout de suite and arranged, months in advance because I was not messing around, a babysitter and a back-up babysitter and then a just-in-case babysitter. We were not going to miss this.

Honestly, just on the significant drive to the venue we were both so happy — hadn’t yet seen any piece of the performance let alone the theater in which it would take place, but still, just the knowledge that we were going to see MMDG delighted us deep down inside. We were happy. The H.J., a study in Korean casual (although he is Japanese his sartorial style tends more toward Korean … North Korean), even dressed up wearing his fancy-occasion hemp jacket we’d purchased when living in Kathmandu. He was excited.

The first time we saw MMDG was in a small coastal college town in California back in 1998: the piece I clearly remembered was “The Office” but the H.J. was crazy for all of it, particularly “Grand Duo.” If you see it (above) you’ll understand why: it makes you want to rush the stage and join the dancers. It’s exuberant. We’ve since seen “Grand Duo” many times, and again it was performed at this September performance. Now we know (a lot but are nowhere near conversant in) ASL (American Sign Language), courtesy of the Little Angel and our kissing every frog to try and help him understand / communicate. Big Angel has had fun learning signs for ideas important / interesting to him … like Weapons of Mass Destruction, Gun, Piss Off, etc. I learned body parts and somehow that led to learning the signs for Penis (and all euphemisms for it) and Vagina (again, and all the other colorful phrases – ASL is a study in economy). The sign for Penis is NOT intuitive, but Vagina makes total sense, and if I were to ask you “what do you think the sign for ‘vagina’ is” you’d probably guess a sign not far off from the real deal.

During the “Polka” piece in “Grand Duo” the H.J. and I noticed that many of the dancers were inadvertently signing Vagina over and over again – there is a fabulous hip-slapping component and if the dancer places his / her hands too close together they get ASL for Vagina. Watching it, already excited because we know this piece, the H.J. and I looked at one another and practically squealed “oh my god – that’s Vagina!” We were in heaven, and as we walked to the car when the performance had sadly concluded, we both said over and over and over again that we “really love Mark Morris” (we meant the whole company, of course including the man himself).

I sent an e-mail to MMDG, so sincerely thanking them for coming to our state, extolling our MMDG love and, bien sur, telling the Vagina story.

Today the mail brought a handwritten note from Mark Morris, genius, himself, thanking us for our note and, in so many words, laughing with us our Vagina story.

The H.J., he of four words per annum and the mask of stoicism, got a huge grin and rushed to place the note somewhere safe so I could take it to be framed without being mauled by children / animals (as has been known to happen chez nous…).

My father, with whom I had a complicated relationship (who doesn’t?), not only knew how much we enjoyed MMDG, but catholically he would have understood the very special, very real import of receiving this note from Mark Morris himself. When he wasn’t being a jackass (ahem), he let me know he was amazed by me, confounded by my Pollyanna-ish spirit, and in awe of my genuine reaching out to strangers to say “thank you” or some variant. He would’ve really gotten this, and I believe he would’ve understood the warm fuzzy Mark Morris and his assistant, Jenna Nugent, gave me with their generous gesture.

I super-heart MMDG.

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