Channel-surfed, recently, to the Hand Jive scene from GREASE, and insisted that it be watched, despite the presence of a less-than-choreography-loving friend.
A: You have to understand – this movie – and this scene in this movie – has made my work what it is. This may be the most influential source I have.
B: (incredulously) Really?
A: (proudly) You don’t know this, but right before I got to Chicago, I spent almost ten years working on the chorus in theater.
B: That’s a different kind of Greece.
All part of the same chorus.
What I didn’t say, and could have, is that I once made a very experienced actor perform the hand gestures from the Hand Jive throughout an entire serious monologue of Agamemnon’s. At the time, I was entirely hung up on having one gesture per line. I wasn’t working with a choreographer, and I had run out of gestures.
If you look at this Broadway clip of the Hand Jive, perhaps you can see why I thought some good might come of this choice. See how automatically the movements come out of their arms. When you’re doing the dance, you become focused completely, like some kind of weird pat-your-head-rub-your-tummy sensation. It strips away facades. It’s an “activity,” for goodness’ sake, like Meisner.
Choruses have to be moving. Stylized text requires stylized movement. I knew there was something about the Hand Jive that worked to make individual actors behave like parts of a chorus – to unite discrete individuals into the swarm-of-bees mentality. It builds ensemble between the dancers.
Did I make this clear, to myself, the actor, or any audience member? Probably not. But it’s clear to me now.
In the light of B’s comment, perhaps, although I didn’t know it, I was making some kind of mash-up chorus-on-chorus commentary. GREASE meets Greece. These are the kinds of things that it’s best not to know about yourself, but knowing them is so satisfying.