In Los Angeles, an Encounter with a Dancer

Poet Lewis MacAdams sometimes writes prose stories about things he witnesses in his downtown Los Angeles neighborhood. In this one, he recounts an encounter with a beautiful and haunting Chinese dancer.

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LUKE BURBANK, host:

From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Luke Burbank.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

The poet Lewis MacAdams lives in downtown Los Angeles. Sometimes he writes prose stories, little tales about things that he sees in the neighborhood, and he calls these his “Close To Home Stories.” Here's one about his encounter with the haunting Chinese dancer.

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Mr. LEWIS MacADAMS (Poet): The water court at California Plaza on Bunker Hill sits at the foot of some of the tallest buildings in downtown. I was missing somebody badly. I wandered like a ghost through the streets, climbing Grand Avenue to watch the Beijing Modern Dance Company, LDXT - in Mandarin, it stands for Thunder Under the Sky - polish off a three-day residency at Michael Alexander's grand performances.

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Mr. MacADAMS: The first time I spotted her, she was dancing to the music of Cui Jian, the godfather of Chinese rock and roll. The next time I saw her, she was blindfolded, shoulders bared, arms bound to her torso with braids of raw silk. The music was Stravinsky's “Rite of Spring.” When the company lined up to take their bows, the palms of her hands lay flat on the floor.

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Mr. MacADAMS: The last piece she danced to was an 18th century style called pintar(ph), plucked on a lute, the music came across aching with loneliness.

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Mr. MacADAMS: The dancer's eyes were rimmed with cinnamon. Her lips bore enough gloss to reflect light. Wearing short shorts, black high-tops, and a black and white-striped hoodie, she was sitting in the audience, waving her arms like they were seaweeds in the tide.

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Mr. MacADAMS: Between the back of the audience in a Chinese fast food joint, the Panda Express, somebody had placed a square red wooden box inside a taped square. The dancer opened the box, took out a pale green floor-length gown and put it on. She walked toward me slowly, looking right past me.

Unidentified Woman (Dancer): (Speaking foreign language)

Mr. MacADAMS: Speaking in Mandarin as she turned away. Then she climbed up on the box, swaying as if she were fainting. A black-clad stagehand appeared with a tray, carrying a half-dozen green tea cups and placed them in a semi-circle in front of the dancer. Climbing down from her box, she glanced into each of the cups. The last held a lit candle. Whispering a word that sounded like she, cupping the light in her hand, she stretched her body, lifting her candle, as if summoning a faraway lover to her window. Hear him coming from behind the stars.

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CHADWICK: “The Chinese Dancer,” a “Close To Home Story” from Los Angeles poet, Lewis MacAdams.

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