Sunday, November 8, 2009
We' ve been attending the weekly "Tahitian dance show" at the Club Bali Hai here in Baie de Cook. Every Wednesday the plastic chairs under the palm trees fill with honeymooners and timesharers, their faces eager, expectant. I think of Captain Cook's sailors leaping into their rowboats and making for these same verdant shores, brownskinned women beckoning from the beaches. The beat of the drums accelerates and the dancers appear, their sexuality unembarrassed, sly, hilarious. Young girls are adorned with fragrant couronnes de fleurs, holding bouquets of ferns like castanets. The dancers smile at each other, singing, playing to the audience but mostly caught up in a world of their own making from which we are joyously excluded. During the audience participation segment near the end of the performance, awkward and untrained westerners become the stiff colonial mirrors of the dancers' vivid jerks and fluid rotations. Tourists who want to unbend, who, prodded by the dancers (“You get up here, now!” the MC barks one evening at a reluctant young man in the back. “And you too!”) sway, a little drunk, goggling at the energetic bursts of their native partners, unable to, even uninterested in controlling their self-conscious expressions. Is the point of this to shame or to liberate? To liberate through shame? And those eighteenth-century perfumed Tahitians, what were they thinking as they welcomed Cook's hungry, unwashed crew? Tallulah leaps from her chair, rushing to an open space in which she spins. As the dancers exit she runs across the grassy expanse of the performance space, lit by a crescent moon under the black cliffs, gathering the waxen frangipani blossoms that tumbled from the dancers' sinous bodies. (The frangipani has no economy, is profligate with its scent, lies broken on the roadsides after heavy wind.) Nelly is on duty at the reception desk tonight. She often wanders, chainsmoking, shouting into her cellphone. I try to pay her but she waves my money away. “Bof!” she says, as if we are old friends.