Thursday, September 29, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Madrid, Spain - Sunday, September 26th
21 lights. 21 lives.
“This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers., instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality. Do you know the legend of Hercules and Antaeus, the giant wrestler, whose strength was incredible so long as he stood firmly on the earth? But when he was held, rootless, in midair by Hercules he perished easily. If there isn’t something in that legend for us today, in this city, in our time, then I am completely insane.”
- - -- Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Tonight my real journey in Spain began. Belén, my guide and interpreter arrived at the hotel to take me through the streets and down into the Madrid Metro to the first performance of my time here. The evening air was full – not exactly humid, but dense nonetheless as we scampered through the streets to the underground and into it. Sleek white trains that don’t look quite like any other line I have seen – exceptionally smooth, precise and yet somehow cold. You didn’t need to hold the poles but you also didn’t have any sense of life in the system, which surprised me. It did the job, but it told you little, unlike the system in, say, Moscow, which is all personality (a word that can mean many things in this context) and battered efficiency. You could talk at a normal level in the Madrid metro. In Moscow’s it really was all sign-language and curiosity at the commuter dogs that populate the system.
From the station we came up onto a plaza of stunning fountains illuminated after sunset so that the water spurted white, magical as snow rendered viscous somehow, with stem-upon-stem of white flowers surrounding the entire central flow. Breathtaking, really.
Down narrow streets filled with slowly strolling people and young men and women together in that lovers bubble that happens as it escapes parental view we walked quickly – I’d made us late – to a theater which, as small spaces often do, just appeared, as though carved into the conscious of the neighborhood yet set in so as to be unobtrusive.
Tiny space – a bit like the Mead Theater Lab in DC. No air conditioning. Perhaps 60 seats. For most artists a box to be overcome not embraced.
Not this time.
As you entered the black box the performer sat on a saran wrapped drafting chair, diagonally placed so she was looking upstage left. Behind her on the same diagonal a large canvas, bare save for a silverback gorilla similarly facing away from you but present enough to leave you to ask what he was looking at.
Over the course of perhaps an hour a journey between Maite Larrañeta, the choreographer and performer ebbed and flowed in an intimacy only the most gifted performers can sustain. In a space so small, with a performer determined, elegantly, to confront the audience, it becomes personal, intimate.
She was, at first, the gorilla, supple, stretching technique in service of emotion so that you understood her command of movement but forgot in the moment that she was a “dancer,” and not a creature removed from her evolution and restored to something elemental.
At one moment, deep into the story, evolved into a modern woman emerged from a shower, she sat again in her chair, back almost to the audience, and took a long serrated blade and sliced long strips of flesh from her left leg, placing them languidly into a bowl by her right arm on a tiny table. The effect, in less skillful hands, would be trite. But with her, with the environment she had built, it was terrifying. You had come into her world and the slow movement of the long blade felt as it was on your own skin. Later you would look reflexively at your own leg and wonder if it were still whole.
That ability to remove the space between audience and artist is what I find myself seeking constantly. It is the intimacy between us that is so often absent in performance today, especially in the States. Its what Ohad has, what his “Mamuttot” did for an to (and still does) me. Ms. Larrañeta, in her way, achieved the same.
At one point yesterday I was talking by Facebook message with my friend and colleague Dana Ruttenberg, who was at that moment in Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow bound for a small Russian city to perform. Our conversation was about the power and impact of performance beyond the major venues and cities, ones where you reach people one-at-a-time. Somehow the world seems to see those as less meaningful, less prestigious. I disagree. The world changes by degree, and to affect it one life at a time is an extraordinary thing.
At breakfast this morning here in Madrid I came upon the bacon waiting in the bin. Warm, greasy, sizzling. Yesterday I would have taken it.
Not today. Not yet. The story of Medea, of the deep history of literature, has pores. It has features and, in a moment in a theater of 21 lights, the faces of life.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
-- Tea Obreht, author of "The Tiger's Wife" in the New York Times, March 14, 2011
Random thought for the day: If you're ever going to travel anywhere in the world where there are bugs, take Jason Ignacio with you. Guaranteed you won't get a single bug bite even if you walk into a mosquito infested, spider laden jungle so long as he's within 20 feet. Turns out his popularity as a person extends to the critter world. Moths to the flame. (and make sure you're not eating when he starts telling you about cockroaches that eat your eyebrows while you sleep.....)
For the second time in three days I find myself referencing a conversation I had with Sonya and Ariana (the US Embassy Minsk Fullbrighters) as it pertains to the world in which I find myself. In this case it was about the seemingly random provoking profound change in your life. A few years ago I went to coffee at Kramer Books & Afterwords Cafe in DC (my pseudo home, really) at the invitation of the woman who has become our Board Chair at Company E, Alexandra Migoya and her work partner Pilar O'Leary, to meet "someone you need to know." That person turned out to be Jimena Paz, a Cultural Affairs Officer at the Embassy of Spain, Washington. The conversation was enchanting, engaging and fun as it ranged through possibilities and notions, but it never dawned on me then I'd be sitting tonight on a perfect evening in Madrid, a few hundred yards from the Prado, having just arrived from Minsk, because of it.
The reference to Ariana and Sonya was the point we found ourselves sharing that every conversation in life matters because you have no idea where it will take your world and into what it may lead your life. For me the genesis of everything we are doing in Company E today has its DNA in that simple coffee with Jimena and Alex. Out of it came the entire notion of building complete concert programs in partnership with a single Embassy, of finding common-ground between your art and their vision of celebrating their country. Because CityDance's mission was, and our mission is, to build partnerships through art (I'm referring here to the dance company -- CityDance is still very much an organization of partnerships in its education work), and because we're a repertory company, the thick loam of who we are fits into the seeds of partnership. In a day and time when no one has the money to regularly travel companies of 30 - 130 people for performance the possibilities of dance, of music and of "large art" are in jeopardy.
But if your mission is to seek out brilliant choreographers and their mission is to showcase the exceptional talent of their artists, well, then you have something to talk about.
In so many ways the NEXT series of international work began, and has evolved into my sitting at this table in this city on this night because of that discussion. Who knew? (side note: is there anywhere in the world anymore where you go and DON'T hear english all around you all the time? -- I could be in DC)
I'm in Madrid because the Embassy of Spain, the Ministry of Culture and the Foundación Carolina embraced the idea of sharing with both arms, both legs and a bungee chord -- because Alex and Pilar and, especially, Jimena saw possibilities that were worth building on, budgeting for and investing in.
The next week and its 20 meetings in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia are rife with the opportunities to find those artists, those choreographers, those directors, presenters and producers who lead you to the people making dances in this country who have something extraordinary to say, to building the bridges that will have them say it through us in the United States and beyond. This is all about NEXT: Spain and it is happening entirely through the support of the Embassy of Spain in DC, the Ministry here and, at the most "on-the-ground" level, the Foundación Carolina, which has put together an itinerary that just blows my mind (one of those, "really, I get to met who????)
If the adage (if you can call it that) that Ariana and Sonya and I talked about on the lawn in Minsk has truth to it, then each of these coming individual conversations will be the beginnings of the family tree of our 2012-2013 season in exactly the same way the faith of WPAS, the Harman Center and most particularly the Embassy of Israel is for our 2011-2012 inaugural season with NEXT: Israel.
You never know who is across from you and where it can take you. The kindness and grace of people is endlessly astonishing. All it takes I think is listening to what they have to say.....(oh, and never, ever sit too close with a beer in hand, a laptop open and a group of madcap skateboarders swearing in Spanish when the trick of the night goes wrong....)