A tale of two sittings

Present ticket to enter arena. Climb stairs. Slide across the row of red seats and stop at No. 84. Repeat.

Two performances of strength and agility filled the Fourth of July weekend in Perpignan and opened my eyes to this pair of unfamiliar demonstrations with common threads — modern dance and rugby. Saturday’s dance showcase presented a sophisticated use of the troupers’ abilities and the Catalan Dragon game illustrated the brute force of their strength.

The dancers of the Nederlands Dance Theater (NDT) opened the month-long arts series Estivales in black leotards, exposing their muscular physiques. The women displayed agility, balance and control as they slowly moved in unison across the black stage. The men ran and jumped. Then the two came together as a male and female pair took turns lifting one another, using a gold stick for assistance. While it is not unusual to see a man lift a woman with his hands, like cheerleaders, it was a treat to see the woman carry the man. The dancers went one-by-one before the crowd, illustrating their individual passions. Then they went into the crowd for a random partner. In another number, they dove out their chairs in a motion similar to that of a wave by fans in a sports stadium.

Sunday night’s rugby league match between the local team, the Catalans Dragons, and the Wigan Warriors showed an archetypical display of athleticism. Twenty-six oversized men bashed into one another for 80 minutes, ending the uncompetitive match with a 34-16 win to the Warriors. Unlike American football, or “gridiron,” rugby league, which differs from rugby union, players are not allowed to block for the ball-carrier nor pass the ball forward. Reaching the endzone, however, is the same goal. The main strategy for the Dragons, it seemed, was to run into a crowd of guys, with complete disregard for their bodies, over and over five times, then punt if they didn’t score. But they needed just as much balance and composure as the dancers, as well as a lot of determination, to finish the play with a score.

The evenings had absolutely different premises, but there was a slight sense of deja vu, and not just because I sat in the same seat number for each. Each night featured finely tuned performers who have trained for hours a day since childhood, showcasing their skills for an eager audience. The crowd also served as motivation for both group of entertainers. The rugby fans, obviously, scream and applaud throughout the match and provide encouragement and adrenaline for the players. But the dancers also fed off the crowd’s reactions. Furthermore, audience members became part of the show when the dancers drew a random observer out of the stands as partners. This inspired the first standing ovation of the festival.

Unfamiliar with the displays each night, I watched with an open mind and assessed on the fly. After the performances reached full swing, it became easier to understand what I was looking at and what to anticipate. But surprises remained.

Even though I wore a tie to one and tennis shoes to another, both were great spectacles.