The programs for Beverly Blossom’s performance at Baruch College (September), were handed out in wrinkled, crumpled wads. It was a sign of things to come; Blossom’s un-ironed costumes could’ve been from an old, dusty chest. No longer blessed with the twenty-something body she had while performing with Alwin Nikolais and studying with Mary Wigman in the 50’s, this 79-year-old performer has had two hip replacements and the lines on her face tell a story. In a performance where nothing is “perfect,” everything (crinkled program and all) is in fact, just that. Blossom is not afraid to be vulnerable, and is unashamed of whatever we might find under the microscope of the stage. It all boils down to a few clichés, and here they are… Blossom says, introducing the evening. She confesses that her program is abounding with shtick,” as she calls it. Besame Mucho, a slapstick performance, opens with two false starts—the music is cued before Blossom is ready. Blossom is dressed in suit, top hat and coattails on one half and elaborate flowing gown on the other, and flirts her way through this solo. In Stylish Girl, a farce about a fashionista, Cynthia Pipkin-Doylle enthusiastically bobs up and down, while 12 inches of exotic egret quills, attached to a remarkable hat, bounce with her in a beautifully ridiculous display. Blossom colors her work with such clichéd routines, elaborate costumes, props and over-used musical favorites by Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Ravel. Old tricks work. They are tried and true, and Blossom seizes on our familiarity with them, as an opportunity to go deeper. She lets the tricks work themselves out as though saying to us, “You know the shpeal.” In this way, she can say what’s really on her mind.
The Incomplete Lament of an Old Dancer is Blossom’s response to, and a way for her to manage, the death of her sister. Blossom has a powerful presence here and it’s mesmerizing just to watch her stand and scratch her elbow. Often, her hands articulate what she is saying, adding layers of tenderness, frailty and nuance as they swim in the lighting designed by Ruth Grauert.
In a post-performance discussion, Blossom explains that before she died, her sister began to give things to people. She gave Blossom a cello and in Swan Song she dances with the cello, and, as if speaking to her sister she says, “You are beautiful, you are bold.” But Blossom avoids being overly precious. She plucks the cello to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and this reminds us not to take her all that seriously. In this way, Blossom teeters on the ever-so-thin line that separates humor from sorrow, and leaves her audience on the verge of either laughing or crying.
Nicole Pope is a dancer and writer living in Brooklyn.