Where the Hell is Matt? 2012

23 Jun

It has been about a year since I got a couple of emails from Matt Harding saying he wanted to dance with me….

I had been smiling to think of Matt Harding for several years and of his global quest to plant a little dance in each country of his travels, record it all, and later weave it into a narrative of connection with people, people who are so much the same in their joy of moving that we all seem to be of the same tribe – or so it seems in the experience of what Matt creates.

When I heard that he was looking for dancers last summer, and I joined him in NYC and Philadelphia to dance, it made an already wonderful summer into a magical one. As the months went by I got busy, I got back to work, I got back to life and I forgot that spurt of joy in coming together with large numbers of strangers to perform silly dance moves. Never whole numbers, mind you, because we were there to create but a few seconds of movement for a larger cause.

After the filmings I attended, for a long time Matt was off to new corners of the world to record more sessions and I began to wonder if this year’s video might be 20 or 30 minutes long… Eventually he began discussing the music for the project on his site and how he was bringing together the instruments and performers. Finally he started to suggest it was close to completion, with the music as the final piece of the puzzle to fit together.  He then suggested that he would be releasing it on June 20, the same release date as for his last two videos.  My anticipation started to build but Matt warned that not every taping session made it to the work – and in fact many of them probably didn’t as I lost count of the number of cities he had touched down in.  Still, with fingers crossed I awaited the work.

When it came out this past Wednesday, I was hammering his channel on YouTube mercilessly at 11:00 am EST, the promised time, but it took 30 or 40 minutes before it appeared.  I was chatting with friends online and shouted to them “IT’S UP!!!”  and immediately clicked to watch.  The counter indicated I was #7 to watch the video and there were no comments yet.  I missed the honor of first comment but the video was more important.  As it played, I felt the usual feeling of goodness and wonder well up yet again the way it always does watching Matt’s work – as I viewed a world stitched together, a few moments a location, but everyone in dance and laughter.  Hey, it was a lot like the live filming….

But something was different with this video.  A maturing of the concept?  A different story?  An evolved message?  In the days before the release of the video, Matt had put out a “teaser” meant to whet our appetites.  It showed Matt standing next to a military figure in North Korea, trying to induce him into the classic “Matt dance” together.  The soldier only wanted to have his picture taken and smiled but stopped any dancing with a motion.  Matt then tried to sneak a few steps, cracking up the soldier.  Seeing that, I was sure we were back to Matt’s standard “badly dancing” steps in ever more wonderful and beautiful locations – but no.  Not this time.  As the music was introduced, we see Matt, in one scene with his partner Melissa, working to learn new dance steps in distant places.  Learning but also teaching, and all the early “learning” pieces are strong.  It opens in Rwanda with a tentative gathering of dancers, later to return there at close.  Next, a Spanish twirl mimicked from a partner in Seville.  My heart swelled to see a ballet dancer in Damascus leading Matt in sweeping moves, with the beauty of their movement amplified by the necessary masking of local faces – directly and in the studio mirror – to ensure their safety in the current terror of that nation.  Cut to him being shown moves by a Penn State cheerleader team with seasoned mastery of each motion, and he tentatively responds.  Next, Matt and Melissa in formal attire are circling each other in a Viennese salon, seemingly trying to figure out how to generate the beauty of a waltz.  One of the sweetest moments was next when Matt moved the forearm of a yellow-faced Papua New Guinea tribesman into the desired stance, and he responded with a lovely smile in cooperation of working together on this piece.  The final one shows Matt and a well dressed North Korean gentleman in a sweeping hall working on moves together – arms driving downward together as the music swells.  As with the brief clip from his last work of the formal Indian dancers, at many points in this work he finds  dance with local people to explore – but he does not abandon the joy from the combined movements of hundreds together bringing beauty and expression.  Importantly, its no longer about one man dancing badly amidst the beauty and curious people of the world.  Matt has grown to recognize that weaving together the dance he finds in the world makes a far more compelling story.

The few ponderous moments of training past, the beat of the song kicks and Matt stares down the camera, center stage, with a small group advancing on the camera as if to say “here’s what you were waiting for…”  Following scenes flash quickly.  Some  profile Matt mirroring the moves of local dancers (quite well) while others are clearly moves that Matt brought in order to progress the theme of the piece.  An early piece that stayed with me was a wonderful choreography of a few dancers on the deck of a ship in Budapest – incredibly short but pumping huge energy into the work and technically impressive.  The scenes progressed through dancing seemingly in local style (South Africa, Bali, Maldives, Zimbabwe, Hawaii, Haiti, Austria, North Korea, Namibia and Puerto Rico) and through many other locations where coordinated moves sent the combined work forward.  Ultimately, massive crowds were brought to bear with their energy, helping to move the music and story to a peak.

What was fun was watching for the unique and small nuances of individuality in each scene.  Duck and monkey costumes in Slovakia, jugglers in Detroit, a “Hi Mom” sign in Louisiana, a “Vote for Pedro” T-shirt in the Salomon Islands, a polar bear mask entering the scene at the last moment in Trinidad and some guy totally disconnected in the first row in Hong Kong checking his watch, holding a bag and seemingly waiting for a train.  If you are looking for Waldo, he is two or three people to my left on the steps in Philadelphia.  Memorable scenes were mobility-impaired people dancing in Oakland, a desert gathering in Saudi Arabia, and the deck crew from the USS Abraham Lincoln taking their normal “clear for takeoff” motions into a dance piece.  People of all body shapes and sizes, as well as ability, participated equally and with the same passion.  My personal favorite was Edinburgh, Scotland where everyone was right on point in a beautiful piece and perfect location.  They nailed it.

The crescendo of the piece was a series of quick cuts between crowds in Prague, Athens, Cairo, Zürich, Dresden, Rome, Costa Rica and Budapest, each with coordinated arm motions and energy, bringing the theme forward and then settling it down into masses of dancing joy among various cities.  Masterfully done, Matt.

Following Schyman’s Praan from the last video, the musical work developed for this piece, “Trip the Light” was a wonderful progression.  Perfect in offering a base for dance but with beautiful lyrics and execution.  It all comes together wonderfully in this 2012 release of Matt Harding’s Dancing…

Watching this, it really means something to me to have been part of this work.  Yes, I am a little of a blur in the center of the Philadelphia performance, a couple of steps to right of Waldo and a little behind Matt on the first landing. I can now pick myself out every time – but it took a few viewings to get there.  I smile and grin like a fool every time I see myself in this.  It’s ok….  but I do the same watching everyone else too !!

I love what Matt is doing with his life to envision and create these works.  It is so different from individual artistic expression – precisely because he needs to welcome not just his friends but the world to make this work.  It started out focused on Matt.  Now, it’s about us all.  It’s about how we connect and find joy together – joy in movement but also joy in creating something beautiful together.  I think we all did a really great job this time around under Matt’s guidance.  Thank you to all the dancers and a special thank you to Matt Harding for all you have invested in this – and continue to invest.  I hope to keep supporting your vision and your efforts.

More information about Matt Harding is at http://www.wherethehellismatt.com

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2 Responses to “Where the Hell is Matt? 2012”

  1. Reparacion de PC June 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    Aw, this was a very nice post. In idea I would like to put in writing like this moreover – taking time and precise effort to make an excellent article… however what can I say… I procrastinate alot and under no circumstances appear to get one thing done.

  2. MB June 26, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    I love, love, love this. It is so amazing that one man has brought the world together in loving cooperation for this endeavor. Surely there is a metaphor (is that the word I want?) for our leaders.

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