There is an awful moment after every performance when one’s feelings fall from euphoria into depression. In the moment of the performance, under the transforming brilliance of the spotlights, everything seems sharp and clear and powerful. Wave after wave of vibrant joy at being alive sweeps through every gesture, every expression. Every step is charged with energy and exuberance, every thought is an intoxicating pleasure.
To come back to ordinary life is almost torture.
After the colors of the stage, everything seems washed out. After dancing flawlessly for two hours, real life seems horribly clumsy and uncoordinated. Walking about with no sense of the intense emotions that gripped me just a few moments before leaves an awful hole.
Even worse, the transformation never becomes any easier.
Years of experience have not taught me how to completely overcome ‘post-performance depression’. I can cope with it, in an awkward, painful way, but the effects still cling to me afterwards for some time.
Normally I try to talk to people to distract myself. However, after this performance, the very last in our tour, I have absolutely zero energy to drag myself out of the black mood I have sunk into. Some of the cast is going out for a late dinner, and they asked me to come, but I can’t. Reality is pressing too hard right now for me to make any attempt at small talk.
So they walk off down the street, talking and laughing loudly, and I head back to our hotel. Once I get there, I almost wish I had gone with them. What was I thinking, coming back here all alone? I need something to distract myself, something to get myself out of the hole I’m rapidly falling into.
But I don’t have the strength to try.
This past month of performances, the wild swings in emotion, the draining routine, is finally overwhelming me. As much as I love to perform, a secret part of me is glad it’s over. There will be no more euphoric moments to pull me out of ordinary life, but at least I will not have to experience the emotional low that follows. I can stand ordinary life if I’m not constantly reminded of what it could be.
I switch on the light and stump into our rooms, repulsed by the chaos of packing cases, hairpins and makeup kits littering the floor. I stand in the doorway a moment, and then abruptly turn around to leave again. I have lived in this hectic state of affairs for the past month, but suddenly I can take no more of it.
It’s then that I hear the crying.
I freeze, ears straining to pick up the soft sounds. It’s barely audible, but I think it’s coming from the bathroom. I hesitate. Whoever is bawling their eyes out probably isn’t expecting anyone to come barging in on them and probably wouldn’t be very happy if anyone did.
But the utter patheticness of the sound keeps me rooted in the doorway. I can’t leave without knowing if everything is alright.
I close the door behind me and silently cross over to the bathroom. I hesitate a moment, wondering if it wouldn’t be better to just walk away, before I finally get up the courage to knock.
“Hey, um, everything ok?”
There is silence, the quiet, choking noises suddenly broken off. I wait nervously, twisting one hand in the other. Oh, why did I do it? I should have just left. Whoever’s in there will hate me for disturbing them-
My thoughts are abruptly shut off as the door opens and I am confronted with the last person I would have thought to find crying: Leah.
For a moment, I can only stand and stare, not knowing what to say. Leah, although she’s only one of the backup dancers in the troupe, is the brightest, bubbliest, most fun-loving person I know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her upset or depressed. To find her here alone and sobbing her heart out in the bathroom is shocking, to say the least.
“Gosh, Leah, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”
My apologies stumble to a halt. What can I say? She’s probably horribly upset with me - how will I ever explain?
However, to my amazement, she rubs at her swollen eyes and tries to smile. “Oh, Mila, I didn’t know anyone would be coming back here. I thought they were all going to dinner.”
“They are, except for me. I didn’t-”
I break off, my throat threatening to choke me. The depression that drove me away from my friends rises up again, just as horrible as before. However, I don’t need to explain what I’m experiencing. Leah looks at me out of tear-stained eyes and something in her gaze seems to understand. She’s feeling it too.
I don’t know what makes me say it. I don’t really know Leah and she really doesn’t know me. All I know is that I don’t want to leave her alone like this.
“Leah, you want to go get dinner or something? I know you didn’t want to go out with everyone else, but-”
The smile that spreads over her face is astounding. For one moment, I see the Leah I used to know - vibrant, happy, alive…
If only she will stay that way.
In a moment, we are both out on the streets. It’s almost midnight, but the city is pulsing with life. The store fronts blaze with warmth and color, strings of Christmas lights wrapped around their windows. There is hardly a window that does not have some trace of greenery about it, hardly a window that is not bursting with the season’s opulence.
We pass mountains of chocolate, rich and dark and shining in gold wrappings, boxes of frosted cakes and pastries, thick with raisins and cream and jam, stacks of books and puzzles, rows of toys, racks of clothes…
We pass a cafe, and our noses are drenched in the rich, hot smells that come wafting out. We don’t resist - we go in and order drinks for each other, guessing wildly what the other might like. We laugh when we see what the other has ordered, and between laughing and trying to swallow the rich mounds of whipped cream, I realize that I have not laughed this hard with anybody in a long time.
I had forgotten how contagious laughter was, how simple it could be to let go and loosen up. I had forgotten that not every moment needed to be one of almost ecstatic pleasure. I remembered that there are other moments, smaller, simpler moments, that can be just as beautiful.
We ambled out of the cafe and back onto the brilliant streets. We didn’t know where we were going, but we also didn’t care that much. Everything was floating in a beautiful dream; nothing was quite real, yet everything fell into crystalline focus. Perfect was too weak a word - there is no word that can describe the surreal beauty of walking down those shimmering streets.
At some point we found we had turned down to the river, and were walking past its placid shores. Gentle waves beat out against the banks, breaking the city’s reflection into quivering shards of light. We slowed a little, and stopped, watching the pulse of the river throb to keep time with the city.
We don’t say anything because we don’t need to. The quiet slap of the waves, the faint drone of the cars behind us - it is enough. There is no need for heady waves of applause, the glare of the spotlights...
The quiet, the dark, the soft lights - they have their own softer beauty that flexes and bends with our moods. Not as consuming as the joy that comes with the stage, but not as harsh either. It is willing to work gently with our joy - mellow it, bring it down to a level that will not be painful to leave.
A star ripples down through the darkness and Leah catches at my arm with the wonder of it. We stand until it fades out of sight, and then suddenly realize how cold we are. We sigh, shiver a little, and then turn back, walking on in silence.
Though we do not say it, we both know what the other is thinking of. We both know that the other is remembering the easy laughter in the cafe, the silence of the river, the faint trace of the shooting star…
At that moment, we are no longer consumed with what we felt on the stage. We do not let it dominate our life outside of it.
It is enough to live in this moment.
We all still struggle to overcome the wild swing of emotions during a show season, but it has gotten better. I think we have realized that if we do not let ourselves become so entirely immersed in the euphoric passion of performing, forgetful of any life outside of it, we will not feel the jolt back to reality so horribly.
If we remember there is beauty outside of the stage that is not dependent on its rampant emotions, we can preserve an element of sanity. We have found ourselves even enjoying the time after performing because we have discovered there are other joys to balance those of the stage. Quieter, gentler ones, but just as immersing in their own way.
We have remembered there are simpler beauties.