‘MJ’: Dancing the Pain, and Dancing the Pain Away
Irritatingly, yet predictably, “MJ: The Musical,”directed by ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, has been nominated for 10 Tony Awards. It will run for ages. Michael Jackson — for all his flaws — is still Michael Jackson.
But the production does have something to show about Jackson’s dancing body in all of its articulate anxiety. It made me think: What happened to that body when the boy became a man? How did his dancing change? Was something of his internal landscape exposed in his dancing for all to see? Did we ever really see it?
When he was alive and building his pop canon of music and dance, it wasn’t always so easy to grasp how, beyond the nervous twitches of the choreography, his spirit was reflected in his dancing.
He was always hiding. His costumes were armor, masking his body, his interior life and even, for all of his extraordinary prowess, his physicality. In a sense, he made it possible for his impersonators to exist by crafting and perpetuating a Michael Jackson that anyone could borrow and put on. Like a rhinestone glove. Or a moonwalk.
The Broadway musical tries its best to focus on Jackson, the perfectionist artist, MJ, as the adult Jackson is listed in the Playbill. For Little Michael, tormented by his father, dance is an escape; for the older MJ, it’s a way for his body to scream in ways he couldn’t with words.
The older MJ, in the show, fights for rigid precision — movement phrases are knotty, spiky, full of angles, while Little Michael is smooth and enviably relaxed.
That unselfconscious fluidity throws into relief the rigidity and the constraint of MJ, as played by Myles Frost. Frost’s dancing accuracy is extraordinary; it reveals a body turning in on itself and hardening — lonely, brittle, concave. The tipped hat and rounded shoulders weren’t just about Jackson imitating one of his idols, Bob Fosse. Weren’t they also a way to hide (and guard) himself from the world?
It’s impossible to know who Jackson really was. “MJ” delivers yet another impersonation of the man we saw onstage and in videos. Often a dancing body reveals a certain truth about a person, but in Jackson’s case, dancing might have been one more thing to hide behind, like another costume; it was a place he could control his body. He could be himself or the person he wanted to be: strong, powerful, sexy. Maybe the dancing body was the man, or his fantasy of himself.
文／Gia Kourlas 譯／陳韋廷