MICAH PROSE HONOURS MICHAEL JACKSON
9th February, 2012
The theater is dark and the crowd is electric with anticipation. A soft light lends an eerie glow to the white curtain hanging from ceiling to floor. A silhouette of a colossus appears with a fedora hat tipped to one side, fingers snapping as hips clicked to the tempo of a silent beat. Naturally no one had any idea what surprise awaited them in a Michael Jackson concert, and on that night, like in all of his live performances, tickets were sold out and no room was left for disappointment.
Of Michael’s many fans the conversion from spectator to admirer wasn’t spurred on by his smooth voice, nor his catchy tunes. The audience’s fascination revolved around the story, the visceral grace of this singular entertainer and his moves. It was always about the moves.
Perhaps one could owe his astounding talent to the intensity of his father, Joe Jackson’s training, coaching Jackson 5 which included the ten-year-old Michael. Perhaps it was his exposure to James Brown on television, which would constitute as his lessons. It soon became clear after launching his solo career in 1983 that Michael Jackson was a breakout star to be reckoned with. However, it was only when Michael drove the audience wild with the Moonwalk that he became a legend.
He was self-taught. Hip-hop, disco, jazz, tap, break dancing and other genres contributed to his seminal style, an abstract blend of Fred Astaire and John Travolta. Michael certainly didn’t have the benefits of a ballet or jazz education. What he had instead was the luxury of unrestricted experimentation, a license to take risks and to fabricate stories upon his imagination, and plenty of room to perfect his craft. He used what was in his arsenal with the economy and efficiency of an experienced hunter, who fires a bullet only when he is sure to hit his target. In the end, he was left with the pure joy of dancing for the sake of just that, dancing.
His routine was a series of staccato steps timed perfectly to the melody and the tale he told. While Michael sang a phrase, he kept to his mark, sporadically thrusting a fist or stabbing a finger into the air like he was sending a triumphant declaration to the gods. Each move was orchestrated to precision, a still camera-shot, sudden, sharp, clear. The brief instrumental in between lines comes packed with a combination of knee bending and hip gyrating as he transformed into a criminal, a zombie and a martyr all in quick succession. And there was of course, the Moonwalk. Unhindered by gravity or friction, he literally defied the laws of science in front of a spellbound audience. Nothing could hold him down.
There’s always something intense happening before the next phrase that leaves the audience little time to breathe after the gasp, except when Michael languidly slows down to give way to his song. Then, like the runner who was left behind, he catches up to tempo with rapid-fire, uncharacteristically fluid movements to win the race, reminding every one who is in control. Each second lured the spectators further in, they simply must be careful not to blink if they don’t want to miss a thing.
Ignoring the suggestive, sometimes ribald gestures and you will find pure movement, set into spontaneous motion and executed with abandon, some compulsion to the beat, so uncompromisingly natural and impulsive that it would be painful if it was contained. He had a passion and sometimes a frightening necessity, as if he was after that vision we all can’t see, as if he was always dancing for dear life, as if he was dancing to survive.
Something similar was said of fame and perfection, they both command a high price. Michael enjoyed both and ended up paying more dearly than everyone else. Offstage, Michael was reserved to the point of introversion, childlike to the point of gullibility and vulnerable sometimes to the point of helplessness. Having established his dominance in front of the camera, that shift to being behind it is a frustrating exercise. Yet no matter how large life was, his persona was always larger.
We all have a juggling act between work and personal life but when the curtains fall, we struggle to remove the mask that hides our true identity. For Michael, the mask was always on except for the only place where he had the most liberty, on that stage. Dancing was his therapy and in front of his adoring fans, he allowed himself to be anointed with that spotlight, stripped of his imperfections, lost in the music, and be himself – just a man who could walk on the moon.