Celeste Miller is a casualty of the 1960s, a very, very white girl (pale skin, blonde hair) who grew up in the New Jersey suburbs suffering from media-induced delusions about her generation's manifest destiny.
Since 1987, Miller has chronicled her experiences and dismay in "Lost and Found in America," an evolving series of solo, dance-based narratives. At Highways last week she presented the first of her stories and also the latest: both remarkably funny and poignant disaster epics. Saturday was the final performance.
Using dance to re-create the physicality of a particular moment, Miller refused to distance herself from her past or to sentimentalize her own victimization. In "True Stories From New Jersey," she turned desperately ingratiating: offering the audience cups of Hawaiian Punch as she plunged hurriedly through anecdotes about her parents, brother, best friend, first bra--toward a memory of mindless violence.
"Living in the Emergency of Minutes" (premiere) found her more verbally sophisticated and physically languid as she wove a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" into recollections of her teen-age loss of innocence. Where sitcom values and fashion-model icons provided a frame of reference in "True Stories," here '60s social rhetoric and the titles of rock anthems suggested the context for Miller's reckless behavior and doomed relationships.
"I was looking for someone to help me stay young for just a little while longer . . . ," she recalled. "I don't know what went wrong." However, we knew exactly--partly because the bursts of raw, compulsive movement (particularly in "True Stories") revealed Miller more deeply than her words.
Beyond a personal odyssey, "Lost and Found in America" represented a deconstruction of '60s myths--myths still being relentlessly merchandised. Miller gave them the same weight as that fairy tale--"an unlikely story about a love that lasted forever."
In "True Stories," Miller had told us about yearning to be beautiful as a child. But in "Emergency," she explained how she came to identify more with the Beast than with Beauty--and, significantly. in her retelling he is never transformed into a handsome prince.
Like many of us, Miller accepts the monstrous as a fixed reality in life--maybe in her own nature. Her path to that viewpoint makes a compelling evening in the theater.