I was introduced to the dancer Ida Arbeit in what was to be the last days of her life. She was 101 years old. This was no gentle lounge seat encounter. We were in an activities room transformed into a dance studio in a retirement apartment block in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis & St. Paul. She was filming with PBS TV and the amazing Kairos Dance Theatre with whom she has been collaborating since she was a 100. “Be more” says the strap line of PBS. Ida was; so much more.
Ida was dancing with Kairos’ artistic director Maria DuBois Genné and members of their intergerational company. They were working with the legendary Jazz saxophonist Irv Williams. Irv is 92 years old. To avoid problems with performing rights he was on the spot improvising melodies backwards.
Gene Cohen talks of the “Encore” stage, the last segment of our lives, characterized by the desire to go on, to seek out still more variations on the theme, to snatch at life right until the end. And Ida did. Her whole body pulses with a rhythm that she has carried through her life. She works to the camera, eyes on the beat, darting straight into the lens.
Maria recounts Ida’s story when she was dancing with the pioneering Helen Tamaris in on Broadway in the 1930s. She leaves the theatre and, still in costume, jumps into a taxi to go to an audition: “I came out on stage, and sang and danced, ‘It’s Me, It’s Me Oh Lord, Standing in the Need of Prayer.’ I brought the house down. I came in, and sang and danced, and the audience laughed and laughed.”
Wherever she is now, on the other side of the veil as they say over here, you can bet she’ll still be singing and dancing. Encore!