You’re History

I wrote this about a month ago after seeing Jennifer Archibald perform at Salon de Dance at Studio@620 in St. Petersburg, Florida but I believe it is still relevant. Tomorrow I’ll attend Helen Hansen’s performance and I was just reminded again of my response to this important topic.

I’ve been sitting quietly in the wings of the Internet watching the conversation that occurred in the dance communities after Alistair Macauley’s article, “Choreographic Climate Change.” Many dancers and choreographers were absolutely enraged or astounded by some of the statements that Macauley made in this article and a few dance ethnographers, critics and writers countered his sweeping generalizations with intelligent answers that highlight the flaws in many of his arguments. While his article discussed what he believed is a lack of focus within dance over the last decade, what I found most troubling was his claim that “dance is the art with no history.” I’ve been wondering what it means to label the ephemeral as having no history. The body itself contains an enormous amount of history and dance is the art that utilizes the body first and foremost in communication. Yet, often the body’s history is ignored as it is not easily decipherable. I’m interested in this because my work as a writer attempts to communicate with the language of the body, its nuances and its various histories. The body is absolutely fascinating and anyone who studies it or focuses on it, regardless of which field they approach it from, understands this. It is an organism that is what we depend on to survive, that we derive our identity from, our pleasure from and from whence new forms of life originate. It is an amazingly complicated system that is designed to survive, constantly repairing itself and breaking down, aging and revealing new elements to us. The body has a very subtle, powerful and honest vocabulary that says things where words cannot. Yet, we have no formal codification of this vocabulary and so we don’t understand how interesting and complex our own bodies are as we often focus mainly on our minds and we divorce our minds from our bodies. That is where the disconnect between a written text and a choreographed piece comes into play. Yet, both of these have histories that originate from the body. Maybe humanity – or more precisely Western culture – should really pay attention to what the body is trying to say, how it says it and what its concept of the ephemeral means to all of us. Maybe once we grasp the significance of the ephemeral we will come to terms with the fact that all history is ephemeral because all of it is written by the body.

Most recent

Performances I most recently saw:

Neighbors by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins @ The Public Theater (via the Lab)
Catch 38 @ Center for Performance Research
Whatever Heaven Allows by Radiohole @ PS 122
Women in a Holy Mess by Ai Nagai, adapted by Andy Bragen @ The Japan Society
A View From the Bridge by Arthur Miller @ The Cort Theater

Dreams from the West

Well, I’ve disappeared for the whole month of December. I’ll blame it on the holidays. In the meantime, let’s play catch-up.

San Francisco was a perfect escape. I felt as if I were leaving everything behind to be in a city that I barely knew. I’ve heard San Francisco has often been the place people have left their other lives behind to move to. It felt like the hills surrounding the city insulated me from my life, if at least for a few days.

So there was I was hanging out late nights in the Mission, eating at St. Francis and walking along Mission Street up towards Market, admiring the art at Galaria de la Raza and taking in the sights and sounds in the Haight and Golden Gate Park. I spent too much money at Amoeba, but they had such a selection of hard to find music that I just couldn’t resist. I had only 3 days really to take it all in, but oh the weather was gorgeous and perfect for a flaneur (as long as you’re fit enough for the hills, that is). I headed over to Berkeley on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, to prep and run the minimal tech at Subterranean Arthouse. I arrived early and was lucky to meet both Aharon Wheels Bolsta and the writer Hyla Shifra Bolsta. Aharon was teching his piece inspired by the works of composer Lou Harrison. I spent the remainder of the day hanging out at the Arthouse, catching up with both Claire Duplantier and Catherine Duquette. Catherine curated the performance festival “Geographical Assemblage: Mythological Landscapes of the Body” and her piece “Triptych of the Southwest”, shown on Saturday, was mesmerizing. Claire is a co-owner of Subterranean Arthouse, a unique venue for performance, visual arts and music that deserves to be supported by anyone and everyone who knows the significance that arts spaces make in a community.

I wandered around Berkeley that afternoon for a break and noticed that the streets weren’t congested with students, as it was Thanksgiving weekend and a good majority of them were elsewhere visiting family. There were loads of nice restaurants and bars in the area and I ended up hitting an organic kebab place called Razan Organic Kitchen on Kittredge Street near the campus. Yummy delicious and highly recommended! When it started to rain (and it poured, which is very unusual for the Bay Area) I headed back over to get ready for the evening.

The festival was a success and I met some amazing artists and performers such as Minna Harri, whose work, “Raja” was an excerpt from a longer dance composition of hers that examined stillness. She writes about her choreographic process on this work here. It was one of my favorite compositions of both evenings. I also enjoyed a video by a digital media artist named Bo Sul Kim, who was not in attendance. Her video “Shadow, My Shadow” (a portion of which you can see on Bo Sul Kim’s Vimeo page ) combined interactive computer generated images with a dancer interacting with these images. I also really liked “The Shi Series” created and performed by Margit Galanter.

Anyways, that was my California experience, at least for now. I’ve been thinking it might do me well to head back out to the west coast again soon…

Of the body

I think about the body, or the concept of the body, often for my performance work. I don’t think about it perhaps the way an theater actor or a dancer may think of the body while creating compositions or stagework, though I incorporate training and conceptualization from both realms. I think about the body from the position of writing for performance and what it ends up turning into is usually a form of hybrid theater/movement-poetry. A mashup of sorts that works out in its non-linear narratives and visuals. My work somehow tries to bridge the abstractness of movement and language, which are often vying with each other.

So, I’ve been creating this performance piece and it’s been an interesting journey. This weekend I’ll show another version of it in San Francisco/Berkeley. I’m excited about it, but also a bit nervous as it’s not meant to be a solo show though it’s proving to help me create this complex character, an alterego of multiple personalities packed into a mythological body of sorts.

This version incorporates three different video renditions with performance work/choreography that was created in collaboration with Carl K. Li, Jeanie Tse, Niina Pollari, Rebekah Mindel and Rebekah Steinfeld (who also directed the WAXworks version and helped with the Hallwalls version and whose work has been a foundation for the piece’s subsequent versions). It also includes soundscapes of the text I’ve written and video work of skylines (as the piece is set in a mythological NYC). I’ll be performing it as an interactive piece this time.

Labyrinthine in its structure, it is always encompassing yet another layer of complexity with every new turn.

Here’s more info on the performance:

mythbody

Connecting the dots and seeing them dance

This weekend I was fortunate enough to see some great dance in Tampa. On Friday I attended a workshop by All Out Rep – a dance+theater company that showed a series of dance compositions relating to their field work on addiction, inspired by stories from recovering women from Rose Manor. The show is called “Addiction: The Moment of Clarity.” It was well executed and you could see how much this piece meant to each of the performers. They definitely hit many good moments throughout the piece through their body expressions and movement. There was a moment of sheer beauty in the ending with the various spoken words mixing perfectly with the dance phrases. You could tell they were working through the piece still, seeing what worked and what didn’t, though as it was presented it was very professional. It definitely seemed to be closer to a finished product than a work-in-progress. It was good to see that they were handling difficult, sensitive subject matter without a heavy, patronizing hand. I look forward to seeing more of what’s to come with the piece as they plan to incorporate a theatrical narrative structure into it among the dance and prose poetry and soundscapes they had utilized. It’s amazing to see original work that’s meaningful and interesting happening in this city.

This weekend I also attended Square One’s Magnum Opus – a gigantic Gala Corina-like art show that involves fashion and performances on its stage at the Ritz Theater in Ybor. Their main focus is on bringing the various arts communities together in this city and I applaud them for undertaking this major task. At Magnum Opus, I saw a number of great performances and some excellent visual art. I was intrigued by a dance company whose name I didn’t catch. There were a number of companies including Kinetic Dance Company, HEMISPHERE Dance and Bella Dance Company. This particular group had a composition where all four women carried what looked like sand/snow and dropped it before starting this rapid series of movements where they each struggled to get out from under what was dragging them down. This was a strikingly vivid highlight of the piece, though there were some real gems of beautiful movement throughout it, but it did end up becoming slightly muddled in the middle though that did not detract from the overall piece. Still, I was really excited to see a company putting on this type of abstract dance work. Some of the phrasing they executed was very difficult and very brave as well. I started wondering where all of these dance companies were springing from suddenly. I rarely see great dance presented in this city and even more rarely do I see original works being created and performed here. It’s a sad thing, but after this weekend I think maybe the real truth is that its here but it’s hiding in the woodwork. I believe many innovative artists living in this city are hiding out as well.

I’m really curious as to how one can overcome the disconnection that this city’s energy builds. The urban planning here is abysmal (and I’m sorry Light Rail proponents…you all are jumping the gun a bit by wanting to link Tampa-Orlando-Miami with a train. Maybe the focus should be on creating a working public transportation system within each of these cities before we try to link them together). The amount of urban sprawl here is continuously growing and it does lead to a real sense of not feeling connected to others within the various communities. Everything is very separated here. You have to really be involved to get a sense of some sort of working community, otherwise you’re sort of in permanent vacation land.

Anyways, I have more to say on this and how it affects the burgeoning (infinitely stuck in its ever burgeoning mode) artistic community in Tampa. It is amazing how much infrastructure and architecture really do affect all of us. I’ll save that for the next post. In the meantime, if you live in Tampa you should look these dance companies up. They’re making new work and that’s something everyone here should support.

of Industry/Collaboration vs. Competition

It’s so good to see innovative artists creating work for the hell of it, particularly when underneath the creation there is a deeper meaning resonating beyond the usual ego traps one can fall into when creating work.  I get that it’s a career and that you have to invest a lot of time in publicity and marketing yourself and your work.  Otherwise, all of the time you’ve invested in creating the work may be for naught.  This isn’t news to me, though I’ve never really been very interested in slick self-promotion (or maybe I have, but I’ve been taught that being somewhat humble about yourself  and your work should be de rigeur).  Still, there is much to say about the role of marketing oneself to the public and creating your branded identity (even if that identity is shapeshifting constantly).  After all, we are in an era of obsessive consumerism and polished posturing.  Still, there is something so superficial and empty about this rat race modus operandi, particularly when you scratch beneath the surface of some of these artists’ creations and come up with nothing but the residue from their desires to be famous. 

Eric Bogosian has an interesting monologue in his work/character Dog Chameleon from “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll”, that blatantly unsheaths this veiled collective desire that is rampant in our culture.  In talking about normality, his poor artist character says,

“Shit, I want fame! Look at me, man! Fame is what counts. Fame with money.”

He continues on to decipher between good fame and bad fame, but you see that Bogosian is unearthing a sentiment in our society that I believe really hurts everyone, in particular artists.  Why do fame and money equal success?  Why should they really be the measure of one’s talent and ability?  Most people will acknowledge that they really aren’t, yet we all buy into the meritocracy.  It seems that it’s impossible not to equate talent with this type of success, when everywhere we’re being told that the two go hand and hand.  And also, on top of that we add to that a dash of youthful obsession to create a desire for fame to happen in one’s youth, as that is a more attractive, marketable type of success.  Yet, judging by these standards, there are a number of successful people who are not very talented.  It is what it is.  The creme de la creme does not always rise.  Sometimes it does.  But often it doesn’t. 

So what does an artist, performing or visual, do in a society that measures their talent by this definition of success, with success being something that may or may not happen depending really on a number of factors (capital, time one can invest in creating, in networking, in promoting and of course, the luck of the draw of being at the right place at the right time).  Do you just ignore it and go about creating your own value system, working on creating your own reality in opposition to or on another plane altogether, from the status quo behavior?  Or do you go along with it, taking the gamble that maybe you’ll “make it” one day.   I always want to say to all of the talented artists/performers I meet that they’ve already made it.  If you spend the time to create something that inspires another person in some way, in any way, then you’ve been successful.  These artists know that, but our capitalist society doesn’t often measure it that way and they can be pursuaded to believe otherwise.  Perhaps you measure success by the ability to go full time as a working artist.  That is quite a feat you’ve achieved, if you do manage it.  But you may never be famous in this lifetime, and you may never be rich either.   So these markers of success are deceptive.  Yes, I know many people who may read this and deny that they want these thing, but I don’t believe you can live in this culture and be completely immune to these desires.   I think artists should try to fight hard against this or attempt to expose its artificiality.   These desires lead down a very unstable path of insecurity and delusion and take you far away from honesty in your own work.  They seem to contribute to disingenuine or bland work and also they promote egoism and posturing in one’s work, both of which are turn offs (at least for me), unless they are done ironically to expose the very things they are promoting.   It also promotes a type of rat-race competition that hurts the potential communities that could spring from an openness to collaborate with others, as opposed to shutting it down.  

It’s a difficult situation for those in the arts.  There is less and less  money to help sustain us and that, in itself, creates a tension.  Who is good enough to get the money?  Who will fall by the wayside because they aren’t receiving funding?  It’s a complicated thing.  But, at the heart of it should be the realization that it really doesn’t have to be this way.

Been so long

Hello.  I’m sorry it’s been quite a while.  I’ve been remarkably busy as of late.  I attended the &Now Conference in Buffalo and had a brilliant time.  This is not the normal “scene” that I am exposed to (it’s mainly fiction/poetry based innovative & experimental work with a ton of computer related elements, but “it” – it’s actually not a “scene” but multiple ones really –  seemed to focus on text rather than performance) and I was really happy to connect to others who I may never have had the opportunity to meet.   It was a fantastic opportunity.   I’m hoping that one day a collaboration might come about from these hellos and friendly intellectual conversations that were had over the few days I attended.  For the conference, Carl, Niina and I performed my performance piece I/Labyrinth  at Hallwalls in Buffalo.  Hallwalls is a cute art and performance space that is part of a church off of Delaware Avenue in this far Western NY city.  And Buffalo itself is an interesting place.  I managed to have a number of exciting experiences happen during this trip (crazy public metro bus ride to Niagara Falls from Buffalo, drag show complete with dwarf in drag at Marcellos (I think that was the name of the club), Beautiful Thing (the play), a short visit to a 1970s-era mall called the Arcade which seemed perfect for another remake of Dawn of the Dead, nice theater people and the best caramel apple martinis (at $2.50 a piece and free top-offs!).  Excellent times had by all. 

The performance went well.  I’m really proud of the performers as they really gave it their all for this piece.  They’ve been involved with this since almost the beginning of it when it was just a few abstract thoughts swimmings around in my brain. 

Next month I’ll be in San Francisco to show a slimmed down version of I/Labyrinth for the “Mythological Landscapes of the Body” at Subterranean Arthouse in Berkeley.  I’ll be reading it live with the three video versions of the various iterations:  WAXworks, AUNTs/Movement Research Spring Festival/&Now @ Hallwalls.  And hopefully there will be a commentary piece about the creation of it published perhaps?  I’m crossing my fingers that happens as it will help me piece together a more logical approach to this abstract piece. 

I also had the chance to see the Robert Lepage show Lipsynch at BAM for its 9.5 hour view on closing day.   What an inspirational piece of art.  I love Lepage and is collaborative epic performances.  Such a stunning show that is still running through my mind now.  If you ever get the chance to see anything that he’s created, please do so!  You will not regret it.

I guess that’s about it.  I’m back in Florida for the time being, working on things, seeing some shows (I’m supposed to do a guest cameo in NOTLD for Jobsite) and hoping/dreaming/wishing to get back to NYC soon for a longer stay.  ❤

Living Life in the Arts Lane

I’m terribly busy with projects right now and unlike many people who wear many hats, I’m sort of a non-multi-tasking multi-tasker.  So, I am sorry I haven’t had the chance to write what I promised you all in my last post.  But I am working on it.  I’ve been marinating my thoughts and they are just about stewed enough to be a righteous gumbo of thoughts on the state of playwriting/writing for performance.   In the meantime, I’ve been reading a ton of blogs about the goings on in the performance based arts/theater/dance worlds, particulary in NYC where much of our nation’s dialogue on the state of the arts is being generated.  That being said, those outside of NYC are also dealing with somewhat similar issues, especially in regards to funding and sustainable communities for artists over the long haul.  

If you have a chance, please check out the following letter written by the Collective Arts Think Tank .  It’s an amazing letter to our communities addressing the major shift going on in the arts in this country.   I feel like I experienced most of what it’s addressing first hand in terms of how the NYC arts economy currently works and how finding a way to sustain oneself over the long haul in the arts, particularly in New York City, is very much based on a number of complex factors including social/political ones that are often out of the artist’s hands, the artist’s own economic/personal background (race, gender, class, etc) and how it influences how many walls and roadblocks will be thrown in the way of a successful career.  As Jennifer Wright Cook of The Field writes in one of the comments, “the arts are not a meritocracy” and therefore this school of thought that some have that only the cream of the crop rises to the top (“…if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…) is not really an honest way of thinking at all. It is, in fact, a myth of NYC.  It’s actually something hard to explain unless you have lived there and struggled as an artist to find a foothold financially while attempting to also focus on developing your own voice and identity as an artist, while also making time to learn from others and see others work, take classes, and find a community of artists who are engaged in each others works and part of a larger, exciting movement (the community thing is something I have not really found, though my experiences in participating with the AUNTS is dance  collective have been really amazing and close to what I imagine was happening in the 60s, 70s & 80s in NYC).  Unfortunately, if something isn’t done to change the model (which is what the CATT members are attemping to have the arts community/ies address), NYC may end up losing its role as a mecca for artists in the long run.

Artists in the Dream House

I am a member of The Field, an organization  primarily for those in the performing arts, with a focus on the dance world.  It is an amazing organization which helps artists, both emerging and experienced, create their own works through residency grants, teaches artists how to survive through grant writing, marketing and online strategies courses, among many other things.  They also have started initiatives such as ERPA, Economical Revitalisation for Performing Artists, to address the ineffective traditional grant making path for those in the performing arts.   About a month or so ago they hosted a forum regarding the state of the New York arts economy.  I attended not knowing what this event would be like and wound up leaving inspired by both the artists and the producers/”gatekeepers” of the arts.  There were a couple of really good points made and the one or two that have been rattling about my mind this summer have kept me from being dismayed when I see theaters losing their spaces, massive layoffs at arts organizations and less grants (less money) to go around. 

The first point, or suggestion, was to focus on one project and work on it slowly, perfecting it before showing it to the public.  This is something I need to constantly remind myself, since I’m prone to want to have my work shown in public before it should be presented.   There is definitely a market driven economy in the arts in NYC that makes artists often feel they need to be showing their work constantly or they will fall by the wayside.  Such commercialist sentiments often ruin the creative process.  Breaks are very, very important.  That doesn’t mean walking away from your life, but it means taking a break so that you can let ideas simmer, brainstorm and court your muse (he or she does not usually show up until you’ve learned to sufficiently de-stress).  When focusing on one project you can also have little spinoffs (ideas, projects, etc) that happen randomly.  You can also plan to show an entire evening worth of work instead of constantly showing only 10 minutes of work at this showcase or that workshop.  That was also another point made during the forum.  Show a full evening’s worth of work.   Don’t continue down the path of endless showcases.  I’ve used showcases to this point in my career to get my work out into the public, but I don’t want to continue to use them as a crutch.  They are very helpful for the emerging artist, but there does come a time when a full evening’s work must be shown.   

The other point that I found of great interest was the idea that maybe the artists in the city should be working closer together and less at odds with each other, especially as we enter an era of scarcity.  With even less now to go around, the current pathways to carving out a career in NYC as an artist seem poised to become dire.  As for what is going to happen to the arts in NYC, or for that matter anywhere in the USA, I don’t really know.   New York City was on route to pushing out most of its artists to the absolute borders of the city (well maybe not the absolute, but definitely further out).  Unless you’re working a posh job or claiming you’re an artist while working in advertising, or your parents were supporting you by paying for rent, you are/were barely scraping by.  Yet it seems that some people in the arts did have access to large amounts of capital during the past decade and so they will probably feel this slowdown at a much steeper incline.  But most people in the arts did not and have never lived flush with cash and so overall maybe life will just go on as it has been for most artists.  Or maybe not.  Maybe this era will push artists towards more innovative collectivity and further away from the individualistic market-driven economy.

After the Goldrush

Hey all!  Just a really quick blast since I’m on borrowed time (ie, pay-to-compute).  I just stepped out of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village where I saw the play “Clementine and the Cyber Ducks”.  It was presented by a group called The Assembly (once known as The American Story Project) and written by Krista Knight, a colleague of mine from the Performance Studies program.  It was a breath of fresh air to see this type of production in a downtown theater.  The writing reminded me a bit of Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice” (and maybe it’s because both Ms. Knight and Ms. Ruhl are Brown educated playwrights) meeting up and shaking hands with The Debate Society, with a bit of ensemble-like performing without any sense of self-important posturing that often can be found in NYC experimental theater.  It was really a treat and I loved the ending. 

Moral of the story is a sweeter, less gruesome/less violent one than say the film “There Will Be Blood”, but they have similar sentiments towards America’s gold/dot-com/financial rush history. Scam artists are a dime a dozen in California in both 1849 and 1994.  America’s beloved “entrepreneur” God (think anyone who has “made it”) is just possibly another crook who actually didn’t get caught with his pants down.  

Oh, and our heroine Clementine’s fate? (does she “make it”? does she strike it rich?)…well it’s precarious.

Go see it soon before it’s gone!