Monthly Archives: September 2013
THE GLAMOUR OF IT ALL
The truth about being a presenter/producer of contemporary dance and performing arts is that it is just so damn thrilling. Friends are asking if I won’t miss the excitement of it all, hanging out with amazing artists, seeing brilliant performances, traveling to exotic destinations. I thought it might be appropriate to share the thrills of a typical festival day so you too will envy us here at North Fourth as we prepare for a weekend of “Moses(es).”
Susanna preparing the program; Marjorie scrubbing the refrigerator; Rujeko delivering the last of the brochures; Omar cleaning up out front and Josh mopping the stage.
I suppose members of the board, and artistic and technical staff aren’t cleaning, typing and delivering at BAM and the Kennedy Center but out here in the west we are just hands-on kind of people.
North Fourth artists have had classes with Reggie Wilson’s company in years past so they were eager to go this morning when the dancers appeared. Reggie has the same expectations of our dancers as of any other class he teaches so they worked VERY hard, loving every moment it seems. Here’s a small photo album:
Susanna, Yeman, Raja and REGGIE.
Well, it’s here—the beginning of the end of Global DanceFest. Ever since I made the decision to bring this ever-exciting, always-engaging program to a close I have felt very good and sure of my decision. “It’s time,” I’ve said often. “Yes, I am through…ready to move on to my next life project.” “No regrets.” And on and on and on.
So now the time has come. And, while I still feel the decision was right, and while I’m still ready, I must admit to some pangs of regret!
As Susanna and I sat waiting at the airport, I said happily, “Hey, this is next to our last airport pickup for Global DanceFest.” Then the artists came through the revolving doors and it struck me what good friends and fascinating artists and lovely human beings they are…and they won’t be coming back…and I wasn’t quite so happy.
As the evening went on, sharing a meal, driving some errands, my sense of the rightness of my decision didn’t go away but I found a certain sadness was occupying my senses in equal proportion.
Now it’s the next day; the artists are in the theater rehearsing and I’m getting ready to clean the theater refrigerator so tomorrow it will be all ready for reception food. There is no hotel near our theater so we drive back and forth often which is usually the task we find most tiresome. NOW however, for me, every action has a feeling of poignancy about it. DAMN. I’ve been looking forward to both the artists and performance and THE END. At this very moment, in my heart, the latter seems to have arrived a little too soon.
Our Global DanceFest artists begin arriving tomorrow. Reggie Wilson and company first, then on Friday, Panaibra Gabriel Canda, Boyzie Cekwana and dancers. It is all quite exciting—just hope I don’t start regretting my decision to stop producing dance after this amazing splendiferous perfect couple of weeks!
Meanwhile my morning walk was cool and energizing. Rained again last night and the damp green of New Mexico right now is quite eye-opening—as in where am I?
Soon I’ll move indoors to walk evenings on the gym treadmill with a book in front of me. Get more reading done but I still won’t feel as healthy.
Beautiful snowy slippery Helsinki
BRAIN STEPS: In my brain…where dance always has something to do with Geography…I manage to find something in a work, even if it’s just the name of the piece, which identifies it with a place and a culture. No matter the choreographers’ extensive training with whatever giants of the modern/contemporary dance field, no matter how long they’ve lived outside their countries of origin, I always imagine traces of home place/home culture in their work—whether actually there are or not. I suppose I am using and adding to the age-old, frequently detrimental, practice of stereotyping. But there is always some—real or imagined—basis for stereotypes!
THOSE DANCING SCANDINAVIANS: A few years ago I decided Global DanceFest should have a Scandinavian-based dance festival so I started attending something called “Ice Hot,” semi-annual dance platforms for Scandinavian artists. Part of this decision came from the fact that I am Scandinavian, Norwegian to be more exact. And part was general curiosity about whether stereotypical Scandinavians in their actual northern isolation would express themselves differently from other Europeans in their dancemaking.
They/we are different. I think! The humor, and there seems to be quite a bit, is sly, understated, even dark; the themes brainy, gloomy, cynical perhaps; the movement idiosyncratic. Europe is, in general, more idea/intellectual-friendly than the U.S. and that was imbued in all of their art. For example, Swedish Gunilla Heilborn’s quietly spoken and simply choreographed pieces are so poignantly funny in that Scandinavian “let’s not laugh out loud” kind of way. Norwegian Alan Lucien Øyen’s work forces the audience to ponder and confront an array of ideas and issues; it is very smart work that doesn’t make it easy for anyone; it’s skillfully choreographed in a way that seems easy in the beginning and, only after a little while, do you realize how complicated it is. The piece we presented in Albuquerque by Norwegian Jo Strømgren was a light-hearted (but only on the surface) work about the mess that people are leaving on the big island of Greenland. Danish Palle Granhøj’s work seems lighter, less somber; more movement, less-idea-based; but it reminds me of places on the edge of something and comfortable with that. Like Danish—Denmark is Scandinavian/ European/ historically, but not geographically sizeable; proudly prosperous—artists can afford to play and make work that doesn’t really fit any mold. Finnish Tero Saarinen is one of the best-known of the Scandinavian choreographers, with work that ranges from one of the world’s most brilliant solos, “HUNT” to large company pieces. So how about if I just say Tero reminds me of everything we know about Finland. Clever, brainy, sharp; maybe the world’s best education system; high-tech; starkly beautiful (both the blondes and the landscape).
DANCE OF GEOGRAPHY, GEOGRAPHY OF DANCE/MY TAKE: So there’s my crazy dance-geography essay. I don’t think anyone needs to agree with me or even tell me why I’m wrong. I like thinking about it like this.
As we all communicate through, watch, engage with, have access to the same social and other media tools, very soon the world will be the all the same, including dancemaking. So who can say, not so many years from now, whether I was right—or not?
Meanwhile one of my few regrets about leaving the dance-presenting business is that I couldn’t do one more big festival of Scandinavian work. Along with dance from the continent of Africa, it is the most self-referential—no, what I mean to say is homeland/culture-referential—and that is what is most interesting to me.
THINGS END FOR A REASON: One of the circumstances that fed into my decision to leave the field at this moment in time came from being at the Ice Hot Festival in Helsinki in December. For the first time in a place in the world, I felt old. I crept around on the slippery ice ever so carefully not to fall and break an aging hip!
The irony of this is that a travel goal is to spend time roaming about in Scandinavia’s North Country in either the winter or the summer. I can still do that however without being surrounded by the good-looking, nimble, youngish denizens of the dance world. I won’t have to feel so aged and cautious and over and done with!
Of course it was a beautiful dawn…as dawns tend to be everywhere in the world.
Photos for the day! Including one of geese just to get you through the weekend.
Glanced at the headline of the Albuquerque Journal just before heading for the river and my beautiful peaceful life-restoring dawn walk.
Another dead kid. How many dead kids in how many towns on the days there’s not even a mass murder? Yesterday someone I know said, ‘you should be careful walking by yourself…we’re a violent city…you know we’re so close to the border!’ How sad that so many people are so misinformed about where the danger lies. It’s not the border, people; it is the GUNS. In fact it’s harder to get guns in Mexico than here in Ugunistan. Maybe she meant we’re a straight shot (no pun intended) down from Canada!
I walked down green and pleasant Laguna past the roses. Along the ponds, by the art, petted the bearded man’s dogs AND I WAS NOT AFRAID. BUT I THOUGHT ABOUT WHETHER I SHOULD BE AFRAID!
Good job, fearful angry gun-obsessives! You’re passing your fear on to all of us.
Thursday Morning images:
Heated up yesterday morning’s coffee; stumbled to the couch; stomach hurt; felt overwhelmed by too many projects, too many ideas, not enough years left, not enough money to quickly move ahead with everything I want to do. I decided not to take my early morning walk. But then as the guilt washed over my gloomy head, I thought…so what is it about any of this that will be made worse by walking–or better? Well unless wild dogs attack me and rip my stomach open it probably won’t feel any worse. And unless I run into a publisher who offers me a special writing/photography assignment due immediately – for a lot of money, or unless I find Mayor Berry paving over the Bosque, I won’t have anymore stress. And there’s always the chance the solution to all problems/conditions/issues will come to me somewhere along the way. AND IT DOES. The whole ditch bank is suddenly full of anthills. Busy organized single-minded ants busily doing their ant jobs. Not feeling sorry for themselves or being physically wimpy–just moving ahead with their jobs. That’s it the answer. JUST DO IT.
I tried to blog this but everything turned cattywampus so just copied.
South Africa—History Re-lived, Re-enacted, Reconsidered
The Afrikaner thunders his god-like proclamations as ancient cultures slip away in a feast gone awry. Meanwhile Sowetans hang at their new Mall of America prototype…doing exactly what Minnesotans are doing half way round the world—spending money on designer labels, new cell phones, junk jewelry, DVD’s, washers and dryers. It has been an eye-opening couple of days here in Jo’burg where the rain has departed, the sun shines and we more and more absorb the big vitality and excitement of this country—so like the US in so many ways.
A second week of contemporary dance of every size and shape begins today. I vow to eat less, a difficult task since the food is delectably good here (although I can’t speak for the crispy, greasy, salty quotient of the endless array of fried chicken places) and the wine does seem to be way above average—even the house wines are always smooth with a kind of sunny freshness that my seriously untutored palate actually notices. The African Crafts Market is appropriately stuffed with souvenirs from around Africa. Mostly beaded, carved, wired, tall, short, brown, gold, stripped, spotted giraffes, elephants, lions, zebras and hippo/rhinos abound; they’re called The Big 5 and they are the stuff of tourist nirvana—on hoof, paw or shop shelf. I would name South Africa’s Big 5 a little differently. Let’s see—how about the DANCE; the wide-open debate among everyday people and politicos about the future and SA’s continental role; the endless spaces of desert, veld, bush and farm country; the energy and excitement of the approaching world cup and finally the palpable presence of history-making in the very air you breathe.
About history then. An astonishing piece of work happened Sunday afternoon at the Dance Factory. Called The Time of Small Berries, created/performed by Sello Pesa, Peter Van Heerden and Andre Laubscher. I am doing my own interpretation/description here with some trepidation. I had to let the piece work through my psyche overnight before I even knew quite what it was—but a few minutes in I knew it was going to be important to me. Quite simply the work is what happened to the traditions of the indigenous people under colonialism. The Time of Small Berries was a special feast time in traditional African cultures—until Afrikaner colonialism obliterated it along with many of the other traditions of the Xhosa and Zulu people. The Afrikaners, founders of apartheid, in fact destroyed everything in their path that threatened their desire for total domination, replacing it with a harsh and bitter Eurocentrism of the most regressive sort. The Time of Small Berries forces us to recognize that loss.
The audience wanders to the stage loading door, nearby Sello washes in preparation for the celebration, a pig slowly turns on the spit, drops of grease sizzle and the smell reminds me of a New Mexico political gathering in the South Valley on a crisp fall afternoon. When we finally enter the theater it is to sit in chairs circling the centerpiece…how incongruous a centerpiece it is with the chickens and dripping greasy messy meat and cases of beer just nearby…it is a white tablecloth and silver-set long table where visual artist/social activist Andre Laubscher, invites various audience members to sit. And talk. Meanwhile Sello Pesa and Peter Van Heerden pace, struggle, tie themselves literally in knots amidst sacks of spilling corn and beer. The chickens run under the chairs cackling in annoyance, stacks of plates are smashed violently by the actors over their own heads, a little more hesitantly by the audience, beer is everywhere, I guess what is South African/Afrikaner country music plays. Sello pees in a pail (discreetly) and donning his soccer uniform pontificates in an I-am-an-Afrikaner speech endlessly replicated—the irony building as platitudes from the whitest of cultures emanates from the throat of a powerful black African man. And still polite society sits around the table of colonialism discussing how to be happy, discussing what you do if your baby’s raped, somehow making it equally fit into the most inane of dinner table conversation. .
Peter Van Heerden and Sello Pesa are both respected dance/theater artists coming from very different places it seems. Peter is grappling with/exploring, through highly confrontive site-based and staged work, his identity as an Afrikaner white man in a society that has moved on from a time when that identity represented the source of all power. To see this work with roles reversed, Sello mouthing the Afrikaner speech, Peter literally tied, bound, struggling with his burdens of corn and history, so angry. I THINK THIS IS AN IMPORTANT PIECE. And a big messy theater piece. Not so many artists willing to delve quite this far into these relationships probably. I hope to ask both Sello and Peter via e-mail a little more about this work and include their comments in here.
There, I have dissected this work through my own naïve dance/South African history lens—it’s my story and I’m sticking to it in other words—only to be terribly embarrassed later if I find I completely misinterpreted everything.
History is contemporary is everywhere is alive here. Gregory Maqoma, our Dance Umbrella host and one of our favorite dance artists in this rich South African dance landscape, took us on a drive through his hometown, Soweto. I’ve been before, the tourist route to the Apartheid Museum and the Hector Pieterson Museum (the 13-year-old child who was shot and killed as students marched to protest the forced teaching of Afrikaans in the schools—the resulting photo of the boy carried bleeding from the site by two other fleeing children was a huge chink in the armor of apartheid), we drove into the Beverly Hills of Soweto where the modest little home first shared by the young newly-married Mandela’s and the only street in the world that has been home to TWO Noble Prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu) and we saw from the hill Winnie’s current rather grander house where she lives and maintains a still powerful role in the ANC.
The best part was simply driving around contemporary Soweto. While the area does have its Beverly Hills, it is more about the ordinary pleasant homes in the older communities—the kind of homes in which most of us live or grew up. The very word Soweto conjures up massive blocks and warrens of hovels and crime and hopelessness and while those areas do still exist, most lives are lived in modest little or not-so-little homes, agreeably furnished, well-maintained, filled with famiy and cooking and dogs.
Gregory took us to meet his mom, a lovely vital woman, a widow with three sons, the dancer, the soon-to-be sangoma (traditional healer) and the soccer player. Her home is spacious and comfortable and, if the treat she sent with us is an example, a cake baker extraordinaire. Gregory’s brother was home, the dogs were playing, the mom and sons equally proud of each other. It is such a rare treat to get to meet the artists’ families—we are most grateful to Greg for the opportunity. We also found out that Greg has been commissioned to choreograph the opening dance number for the World Cup games held in the massive Soweto stadium. Now I have a reason to watch the Cup!
Kids coming home from school, scuffing their sneakers, teasing each other, kids rehearsing in a community center, sun shines on the giant Orlando Towers, a disused power station whose two cooling towers are landmarks on the Soweto skyline. They now serve as a showcase for the electric blues, greens, reds and golds of everyday life in Soweto as a train winds past the musicians playing, the fruit waiting to be tasted in the biggest mural in Africa—they could be said to power a certain irrepressible Soweto energy and pride. I am not trying to convey that all is love and roses in Soweto but there is something very infectious about the pride everyone from there seems to find in those origins. After all Soweto and the townships of Cape Town are where it all happened. They forced a nation to freedom—pretty inspiring. Remember we fought a civil war in addition to our marches and freedom rides, and South Africans managed to do it without resorting to the battlefields in the way much of the world expected. Sorry about that…but I am simply over and over impressed with this place and these people—black and white South Africans.
Today’s photos are simply here as tools through which I seek information. Not just to show you another duck/goose photo okay?
Cool lovely morning in Tingley Beach. Feels like a gun-toting Republican-free zone. Only the cyclists, dog-walkers and a skinny runner in kilts.
The questions follow right after this first dawn on Laguna Drive heading toward the river.
NOW FOR THE QUESTIONS:
WHY DO SOME WATER FOWL HAVE GREEN BEAKS AND SOME ORANGE?
WHAT IS THIS PLANT? FIRST PHOTO THE SEED POD AND THE SECOND THE FLOWER THAT PRECEDED IT?
WHO IS THIS?