Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Billy Elliot.


I saw Billy Elliot The Musical at the Kennedy Center last night, and it was just so lovely and kind and joyous. It exceeded all of my expectations. I tend to get very weepy at anything that features children excelling at some form of artistic expression, whether music or dance. I babysat for a couple of young girls a while back, and I went to one of their dance recitals. And I literally almost started bawling during a jazz/hip hop number set to like Rhianna.

There's something so affecting to me about talent in young people. Because no matter what your personal thoughts are about religion or God, there's no denying that a form of expression like dance reveals something transcendent inside a living body. And when it's a young person, it's in its rawest, purest, most innocent form. Humans can be so miserably sad and ugly and cruel, but as I watched the immensely, ridiculously talented young cast of Billy Elliot, for those three hours in the theater, I was reminded that the human form, silent and alone on a stage, can be capable of the most shattering beauty.

And at the end of the day I'm just a sucker for a dance themed story. Footlloose, Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, Step Up, etc. I love them all. I think it's because I have literally no dancing talent or coordination. And I'm not being falsely modest. I am not the girl in the movie who starts off "bad" at dancing but after a few lessons and a zany montage ends up like break dancing and doing back flips at the big school dance. 

I am the girl who starts off bad and is bad in the middle and then ends bad. Usually somewhere along the way I injure myself. But I do it with spirit.

But while I can't dance, I do understand the transformation behind it, which I think is also why I so connected to Billy Elliot. Because whether it's dance or singing or playing an instrument or the lowly work of writing, anyone who loves any of these things, knows there's a moment when literally everything else disappears. The character Billy describes it like this in the gorgeous little song, Electricity (the lyrics of this song + Billy dancing his little heart out in front of his coal miner father =blubbering):

I can't really explain it, I haven't got the words
It's a feeling that you can't control
I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are
And at the same time something makes you whole

And if that isn't just the most perfect, succinct little description of what art can do to a person then I don't know what is. 

Billy Elliot works because it gets this truth. And it's an exceedingly sentimental, even sappy idea. But it works, because it's honest, because as this musical reminds you, sometimes life can be bleak and sad, which makes art and the expression of art all the more valuable, because in it's best form it can just be pure light. And it presents all of this in a very British, non-goopy fashion. It perfectly creates and maintains the contrast of a working class coal mining town covered in black dust and Billy's exceptional, rare dancing ability.

I know I've rambled, but I hope I've at least gotten across how much I thoroughly enjoyed this musical. I didn't even touch on the production value because 1) I do that enough in my legitimate reviews and 2) because it's a touring Broadway production at the Kennedy Center so DUH, of course it's professional and wonderfully staged. 

I saw White Christmas this time last year and it was aiming for that warm, up-lifting feeling that a musical like Billy Elliot so effortlessly creates. But it failed because it was artificial and saccharine. To use college creative writing speak, it "told" instead of "showed."  Billy Elliot is all sentiment without even a trace of artifice, because it does the opposite.

It gets that there's nothing more affecting or beautiful than the sight of a kid with rare and special talent discovering that talent and then learning how to showcase its full depth. It's just pure, divine, unfiltered expression. And it wrecks me, in the best possible way. 

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