[this.blue notes: Sarah originally posted this in comments, but it deserved its own post.]
I try to imagine someone in an editing room, considering the story. What’s the story? What production assistant said–keep her, keep the big one. It doesn’t matter that we all know where this is going, we can milk it a bit.
Maybe I’m reading too aggressively, but I think there’s a bit more going on with Natalya and Sasha. Dance is complicated. Who can lift Natalya? Can she jump? What sort of choreography will work for her? The editors let us see all these questions play out. Is the problem her, or the show? Maybe they can keep her and bring Mark Morris in to choreograph. You sort of imagine them weighing the options. They probably don’t consider whether it hurts her, ultimately, to have this chance that is not a chance. But maybe they do. They try to be nice.
And then, at some level not too far beneath the surface: this show has such a strange relationship to race, and to black women in particular. The show loves the black male dancer. It loves him for some good reasons, but more bad reasons. [Nigel luuuuuves the fetishized black dancing male body; Nigel gets to cast them and then they become his strange proxies, bringing the masculine back to dance. I think of Eric Lott’s great dependant clause that introduces so much: “Because of the power of the black penis in American psychic life, …”] But black women, that’s harder, here. The black woman’s body, unlike the black man’s, is not an attribute that she can substitute for training or technique.
But this is all too subtle for the show to talk about. They have a vague sense of racism that they can’t really understand or discuss. When they try, it always goes so poorly. But they can talk about Natalya’s excessive body, her weight! So she “breaks barriers” because of her weight, not her race! Yay, we love breaking barriers! This is even a -better- story line than we’d imagined, wonderful!
AND THEN, OH GOD, HER HEALTH. “They think I have diabetes,” Natalya says. And all of a sudden it all comes crashing down, this feel good “barrier breaking” that the show has been trying to do, because while the show had been juggling the separation between blackness and weight, now they come together, now we get the new racism: food deserts, bad health care. I don’t know where Natalya and Sasha are from, or anything about their lives–I don’t know if they’re poor, and I won’t jump to that assumption. Both girls have training that is no joke. But Natalya’s collapse, her potential diabetes, raises this intractible specter, the racialization of poverty. This barrier is not a feeling that some mean people have: “I used to think fat people couldn’t dance, and now I have changed my mind!” This is the gritty core of the black body in institutional machines, beyond feeling. And this show, about the expression of the body: maybe it just showed itself something new, in spite of itself.