Sunday, October 30, 2011

Washington Journal: What images tell us....

Washington, DC
Sunday, October 30, 2011

On a cold clear October morning there is snow still lingering on my deck, the wood below and the sun above not warm enough yet to transmogrify it back once more to liquid state so it can seep beneath the insecticide injected timbers onto the petroleum tar roof below, down the tin pipes to the (lead?)-lined drain and, ultimately, into Rock Creek at the insertion point just above the Washington National Zoo, where this morning the howler monkeys are quiet, bound indoors because they are meant to live in places where no such thing as frozen water exists.

On a typical October morning like this they'd be the alarm for the neighborhood, our Mt. Pleasant rooster proxy.

Since records have been kept of weather in Washington -- the mid 1880s -- snow has fallen in Washington 15 times in October (at least according to the WP). A hurricane. Snow. The hottest summer and, in New York, an all-time record for snow fall in Central Park in October.

But climate change is a myth (just ask everyone on the Republican party dais on debate-night).

In Peru its begun raining during the dry season. In Italy the town mayor of one of the worst-hit parts of the coast during the rains and floods of the last month says, categorically, "its climate-change" that caused this.

And yet the day is brilliant and gorgeous, and the wide-angle lens we all need to see through narrows in the course of absorbing it. We see things day-by-day and so the aberration of yesterday drifts into the walk in the park of today. Unless you're still cleaning up debris on the ancient Italian coast or watching your family's possessions float by from your roof in Bangkok, or sifting dust from your piano bench in Texas as the dust of a season of wild-fires settles once more on the land.

In our DNA we approach the world day-by-day. Hunger will do that, and hunger works on a cycle of a few hours, not a few days or a few weeks or a few years. We have to over-rule that clock to comprehend something longer and larger. When you worry about your ability to feed yourself and your family should you lose, or fail to gain a new, job, the global gets much harder to comprehend.

That's what images are for.

Wherever we have traveled in these past
30 months the images we have taken, both mentally and with various digital sources, have been our conduit to communicate what we have experienced. Yet without context those images are the same snapshot-induced experience as the day's search for milk, bread and coffee. They live in the moment and fail us contextually.

All this comes to mind because of a short piece in today's New York Times. The title of a brief photo essay is "Halloween Photos of New York: Not on Halloween." The subhead is "When New York was a House of Horrors." Taken by John Conn in the late 70s and early 80s they are of things I had forgotten -- or chosen to forget -- from the city where I grew up and which were very much real during my childhood. They recall a time so visceral, where sometimes a trip "on the train" set your hair to standing on the back of your neck, that the images themselves set me back in time -- but only because I experienced elements of it. They are art as life or life as art, images so beautifully framed as to catch you in design and not in documentary.

And, then, what is next is the recollection of a defining moment for me in art. Once more those images turn me to Paul Taylor's "Last Look." When I set out to explain to people why that dance defined my sense and sensibility about the power of art I will, from here on out, refer to Mr. Conn's images because, in their way, they were the mead for Mr. Taylor. A city collapsing in on itself, eating, if you will, its young and itself. "Last Look," literally, is that mirror. It stands today and, ironically, it does to the dancers what it does to the audience -- break them down. Sometimes physically. Sometimes mentally. Inevitably spiritually.

If art is to be more than dressing we have to understand it as a portal.

Not an end in itself, but an end of dispersion into contexts large and small, funny and fraught, framed and fantastic. As snapshots that we open, Harry Potter-like, and which can, through the opening, tell us what lies inside the moment of creation (not in a biblical sense, just a more mundane daily sense). That, for me, is the genius of photography. It's reality transformed into time capsule, offering the viewer the chance to comprehend context.

I remember not understanding the impact of climate on our water until I saw the photographs of one of the great glaciers of Iceland this past summer and seeing, year-by-year the frantic retreat, and of walking through the parking lots of old as man chased places to deposit his vehicles as the glaciers run away from them up into the mountains.

Taken only in a moment, a photograph is still. That's not their point. They are designed for more, and as photographers we're obligated to that more, I think. We see, and we capture, but the moment we share the images go beyond us and into the world.

We are in a place of profound change. We're not built for that change, but we must become so.

Thats what images tell us.

Monday, October 24, 2011

New York | Dayton | DC | Utah -- another day at the shop

New York City
Monday, October 24 2011
The Bowery Hotel

One of the things I love most about the people with whom I have the pleasure of working is their creative intelligence. Each could direct -- and each often does in their own way. Take, for example, today.

In the midwest Rob Priore is knee-deep in a two-works in nine days marathon at Dayton Contemporary Dance Theater, one of the great contemporary companies in America. He was asked to make a new work not just for DCDT 1 or 2, but for both. AT THE SAME TIME. That's insane. But I know Rob and I know he'll make something great for each, working to their strengths, challenging their sense of limitations and building new understandings in each dancer of what they are capable of.

**The image above is of Rob during one of our Master Classes in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in October 2011....

Here's Rob's journal entry on the first days:

"After two rehearsals the dancers have really started to make something beautiful. A working title for what we have started is called the " Four Corners Of The Heart". I just tried compressing the video files and they are all still too big to attach and send :[ I try to have someone who is understudying take some pictures during process over the next few days and once I start working with the first company I think I will have more to say. I do have something to say about the collaborative artist."

"After meeting with Willis "Bing" Davis, it became very clear to me how organic this collaboration would be. His series of paintings called "Ancestral Spirit Dances" is making its way into 400's. They all look very similar however once he explained his inspiration for the paintings they began to take on hundreds of very different looks. Each painting is based on the different meter of poly rhythms in tradition African music. Half of each painting is pure improv wild strokes of color. The other half is based on kinte cloth patterns which is very structured and layered. This all started to make sense for me. I love to structure my work. Starting large maybe with all seven dancers on stage then as I progress I break sections down into smaller groups of dancers like the structure of the African meter 7,5,3 and so on. The other half to my choreography is based on some loose improv as well. As Bing and I continued to talk about how we like to create our art it became clear this collaboration was going to be dynamite."

-- Rob Priore in Dayton, Ohio
October 24, 2011

Meanwhile, in Utah Christian is in the middle of his own process of work. We haven't seen him since we came back from Kyrgyzstan, and won't again till right up before we leave for China (or Russia if we go there before China).

Jason, Kathryn and Amanda are in DC, rehearsing at Achmedova Ballet Academy and crafting the newest Company E work as a collaboration that Rob will leap into as well when he comes back from Dayton.

And as for me, I'm in New York, writing a business plan, meeting with the New York members of the Board -- Susan Wall and Aaron Graham -- and meeting with collaborators and potential partners for NEXT.

Four cities, four projects and processes, yet all tied into the creative spirit of the Company and its vision.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kyrgyzstan Journal: "Thank You for Calling Master Card"

Washington, DC
Sunday, October 16th, 0050am

Inside the main entrance to the University
In the long, slow morning after Company E's standing-room-only concert at the Opera House in Bishkek five of us (Kathryn, Rob, Amanda and Christian, me) made our way West along State Route M39 out of the Capital and towards our Master Class at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University in Kara-Balta. If you think that's a mouthful to write, try vocalizing it (but don't do it with anyone within ear-shot....). The drive was about 90 minute from the Silk Road Hotel (where we would later go on to leave our lasting impression by the shattering of a glass-top table as our last act after checking out at 3:40 in the morning) and as always the view out the window told many tales so unlike those in the city itself. Time travels backwards in Central Asia very easily.

Unlike most bus-rides, though, this one came with its own soundtrack. We'd come equipped with Season One of "Mad Men" and the mid-point of Don's endless dalliances. The van had the sound system and video that one only dreamt about as a kid in a hot car on a summer "trek." And, as the scenes of semi-rural life went by outside, the scenes of America at the turn of the 60s went by front-of-cabin. As with so many things that seem at first incongruous, this one, too, would later reveal itself to be in so many ways fitting to our destination.
An old guardian still lives outside the Capital....

At the beginning of "Mad Men" lie the roots of the 60s, but Don, Roger and the mens club of "Mad Men" are very much Nixon men. Kennedy was for the girls, as it were. The Soviets are everywhere in people's minds even though we are months removed from the Bay of Pigs and years from the Cuban Missile Crisis. The cars are long and loud, just like the ones outside the van. The phones have dials and long straight black cords that snake into the walls. The length of walk-around-while-talking travel in a call is only that of the length of that cord. Its not today where a single conversation begins in the kitchen, extends through getting ready to leave the house and often terminates at a destination 30 miles away and involving unlocking and locking doors, navigating traffic lights and finding a way to stay connected while talking to a parking attendant two-levels down into the earth. 

One State Route M39 the road is rough and Kathryn, a seat behind me is verbally at war with the unfaithful Mr. Draper. Up front someone is snoring. 

Along that old road, the kind of road that assuredly was once upon a camels back part of the entire silk road network the dust kicks up easily and the pot-holes, though not deep, are ubiquitous. Your liver gets a workout even though the van's breaks and shocks had been replaced sometime in the night. 

As we wound our way along the reality of just how in the middle of nowhere we were took hold. Small mud or brick homes, low-slung stood set-back from the road. The windows were small and the slope of the roof too like the old sway-backed mare out to pasture to create any comfort.  Before long livestock became a part of the scenery -- not rural livestock but the kind that accompanies a semi-transition into a store-bought life -- chickens, an occasional goat, a mule. There is still much of what people need to be found in those animals at the foothills of the Tien Shen Mountains and Whole Foods is 10 time zones and a life-time distant. 

As we neared the end of the first episode we were watching, as Don flashed back to his Korean origin story (if you know the show it will make sense, if not -- well, download it or something), we also neared the entrance to the University and our first encounter with one VI Lenin. Banished from the cities his presence is far from absent in the country and small towns. He is, here in this small city, clear and present. 

The van, as it pulls to a stop outside the entrance to this "Tara-like" mix of a mansion and a mausoleum, groans a bit. The air is clear and clean and the Company tired. 

At the top of the long stairs to the right, past ferns and paintings of plants and V.I. himself a woman, early 50s with blond bangs, black spandex, a ballet-skirt and what can only be described as an ample figure proudly shared through a low-cut leotard presents here students. Here there are ways to show respect that we forget at home -- and whether they are needed or not is irrelevant. You honor those ways to return that respect. The rooms moves as one in a mini-ballet of welcome. 

One of the young artists who enchanted our class in Kara-Balta.
The class begins and Rob, in his wonderful way, sets about torturing a room-full of young minds and bodies and making them love him for it. How much laughter are we really used to in jumping jacks? Yet he always elicits love with what will, a day later, be serious abdominal angst when they try to get out of bed. 

I vanish back down the stairs. 

Outside Lenin waits. Inside Lenin waits. 

But the contrasts are overwhelming. In the front chamber the ever-present woman, guarding the castle, as it were, sits at her desk. The phone by her right arm is, surely, the original one. I'd seen one just like it in the van on the screen. Black. A long cord stretching from its base to the wall. Small metal rotary dial. When it rings the plaster shakes. Her record-book is as old as the building, it seems. Yet it all works and that building will stand a million years from now. Its 1960 again. Just like on TV. 

But its also 2011. Her face glows a bit in the half-light. Some comes from the windows behind her. But most of it comes from the enormous flat-screen TV in front and to her right. On the screen are two avatars and in front two boys with controllers battling it out in Wii land. The sounds are digital and analogue combines as they yell and the phone rings. Behind them a tin relief of a bare-breasted woman, paint brush and palette in one hand, hammer-and-sickle in the other, reflects light as on a pond at twilight. In the corner V.I. watches and on the wall, barely visible, he stands in his study examining the papers of the day. 

It all fits into one small hallways down Route M39 outside Bishkek. "Mad Men" lies 50 years in the past, yet save for that Wii and a bit of time travel it was yet in front of me in a cool October morning. Upstairs an iPod blasted out Rhianna and ADELE. Downstairs a phone rang on a handset my grandparents would recognize. In the studio young bodies with feet in both worlds laughed at the 100th sit-up. 

The day before the Company left the States Kathryn called her credit card company.

"I'm calling to let you know I'm going out of the country and want to be sure I can use my card." 

"Sure. No problem. Where are you going?"


"Ok. And what country is that in?"

Its a fair question. 

Thank you for calling Master Card....

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Kyrgyzstan Journal: Even here...a story for Mr. J.

Washington, DC
Sunday, October 9, 2011

Aeroflot flight #179 from Moscow touched down in the deep night air in Biskhek, Kyrgyzstan at 5:04am on Monday, the third of October. Reflexively I looked at the time and re-set it to the local time, two hours further east from Moscow, 10 from Washington.

Against common sense I checked email, turning on the cell phone and using the data search to find a local Kyrgyz carrier. I put the phone back in my pocket and gathered my belongings from the overhead, the under-seat and all the other places I store my technology and gadgets when on the road and in a cabin at 35,000 feet. For some reason I remembered standing in line in O'Hare in mid-July, arrived just from Hong Kong, a bundle of books in my arms because I had given my iPad to Aidan for his 14th birthday and hadn't replaced it. For some reason I thought I really didn't need it anymore, and that books were fine. The Buster Keaton (look it up) imitation standing in immigration, and then in security for the connection to DC provided far, far too much amusement for the people behind me, and, finally, led one guy with a belly stretching to Texas and a drawl to match to say "Man, get with the 21st century -- get a Kindle."

Disembarking, my back left pocket buzzed -- the little alert that tells me when I have mail (a far cry from "You've Got Mail" to be sure). It then double-buzzed to tell me that there were also SMS messages waiting and, finally, pinged -- voice mail.

The trip to Kyrgyzstan had come up so last minute that I hadn't had a chance to get my visa before arriving in Bishkek. They're easily obtained at Manas International Airport, a tiny, old Soviet construction place where the lights buzz and the smell of cigarette smoke clings. A small line for the one overworked immigration officer was simple if slow, and in about 15 minutes my passport had its latest piece of paper allowing me access.

The entire operation for immigration -- entry, visas, security, border control -- is no more than 40 feet long and 25 wide. Three immigration kiosks, the usual machinery and scarred floors from too many feet and too much buffing, all stood in close proximity.

I'd been at the very back of the plane, and with my visa process was the very last to complete everything. Immigration was empty and the kiosks closed save for one.

I had my knapsack on my right shoulder, cameras and lenses on my left and my phone in my hand, pulling mail and searching the directory to figure out what Hotel I was going to (I had no recollection and I needed to be sure in case the transportation arranged didn't arrive).

The kiosk open was at the far right, next to the window overlooking the tarmac. My face, I suspect, glowed a bit from the light of the display screen as I pushed my finger over the screen, sliding the mail cue up and down looking for my itinerary. Usually we get asked where we are staying, and I figured probably best to have some idea when that question arose.

I put my passport down on the counter and said good morning. All routine.

And then, suddenly, there was a guard -- tall, thin -- maybe 6'1" at my right shoulder. "Hi," he said. Not the usual greeting from a border guard. He said something in Russian and then there were three guards around me. And then a second at the kiosk.

That's typically not a good sign.


I looked at him and he looked at my hand. At my phone. At the buzzing, beeping, humming, find your hotel walking through an aged and aching airport in the dead of an October night deep inside a tiny country still battling with Lenin's ghost in so many ways (more on that another time) machine in my hand that fit easily in my palm. He was snake-charmed. Transfixed.

"iPhone!" He said and looked around to the other guards.

He held out his hand and, for all practical purposes, pulled my iPhone from my hand -- a bit of gold glowing in the night. It wasn't an offensive gesture in any way. Just one of anticipation and breathlessness.

He took it with a bit of wonder it seemed, and over his shoulder the other two guards outside the kiosk leaned over his shoulder. He looked at me again, wanting a lesson in iPhone-ese. And so, for a few minutes, we played with my phone - the mail, the browser, the internet and the video and then, finally, the music.

"Music -- how?"

I pulled up the last thing I had been listening to. Randomly, it was Miles. Kind of Blue. "So What." He put it to his ear, then looked for the sound, which was coming from the tiny, tiny speakers at the machine's base. High-hats tick-ticking and then Miles's opening solo, just loud enough to echo, faintly, through the Manas immigration room at 6 am on an October morning.

He played with the screen, with multi-touch, and I wondered, for a moment, if I'd ever put my hands on my magic device again. But standing there, in that space, the random American walking half a dozen border guards through the wonder of that little machine -- completely non-verbally because we couldn't actually talk to each other -- the world got small, and easy and friendly and funny. All because of little box calling out one of the great albums of all time.

Finally, and a little possessively, I took it back from this guy -- this lit-up guy. My passport had been stamped minutes before. An after-thought, really.

We all said, in our way and language, good bye. You never say good-bye to border guards -- particularly not in Post-Soviet countries where its all so random. But we did -- bonded by a little wonder that went quietly back into my back pocket, buzzing again as it did so.

Turing past the kiosk and just before the door that took me to my luggage, with the sound of the moment fading, the guard said one last thing to me.

"iPhone. COOL MAN."

Two days later, at the Silk Road Hotel, sitting on my Mac and typing in a note before the day start Jason, in the other room, said "Steve Jobs died."

For some reason that moment in the airport was the first thing which came to mind. All my years of love of these machines, of my endless evangelism for them, for my gloating and glee as all the people who told me over the years that Apple was a fad, a faded company, a place where children went to buy their toys but business people shunned and all the things I'd heard for so long but which had utterly vanished in the past years, came back to that moment in Bishkek. I gave iPhones to friends when they came out in 2007 -- it was the present for the people I loved the most, a machine -- but more than a machine.

I've wondered for days what to say about Wednesday's news. So many elegant words from so many brilliant people -- I wanted to say something, but couldn't imagine what I could offer. And then I thought about Monday.

As I gathered my luggage, the kiosk doors closed behind me and the early, early dawn coming to Biskhek, I heard Miles in my pocket. I'd forgotten to pause the iTunes track, downloaded from the iTunes store onto my MacBook Pro, transferred to my iPhone some years earlier. I thought of that border guard. Of the wonder of that machine now buzzing away.

"Even here," was all I remembered thinking in that moment.

"Even here" those ideas, those dreams, those machines and those tiny bits of genius resonated, bringing smiles, wonder, cordiality and a moment across so many different collisions of culture in the pre-dawn Central Asian air.

"Even here."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Kyrgyzstan Journal: A Master Class image gallery

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Wednesday, October 4, 2011

On Monday October 3rd the Company began its working time here in Kyrgyzstan with a Master Class program at the Seitek Center for Children. The students of the Youth Ensemble spent a few hours with Jason, Christian, Amanda, Rob and Kathryn learning a bit about the contemporary work of the Company....

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Valencia/Madrid Journal: A reluctant farewell

Madrid, Spain
Saturday, October 1, 2011

Walking along the densely packed, verbal, social and sensual streets of Madrid in the early evening tonight, trying to take in every image, scent and sound I turned to Belén, my graceful, careful and thorough guide this past week of dozens of encounters in three exceptional cities and said, simply "this is an easy country to fall in love with."

In this past year perhaps only Rome has had the impact on my spirit that these three cities - Madrid, Barcelona and the most subtle jewel of them all, Valencia have. There is a grace at work, combined with a restlessness, that leaves you a bit breathless. Elegance meets a sense of a country in deep distress as the unemployment rate pushes above 20%. Barcelona by night was a wonder, and yet at every turn people told me to "be careful." My camera, the ubiquitous Nikon D3 and 80/200 2.8 is always an attraction. But there, in the old city, in the empty yet utterly alive streets it garnered warning after warning -- "he shouldn't bring that in here" was the common refrain.

Yet despite all the warnings, and despite the hair standing ever so slightly up on the back of my neck, an internal warning that time in strange places have told me to attend to, the images were just too urgent to turn away from. Sometimes the camera has the control far more than you. It knows more than you do and wants more than you do. It knows, for lack of a better way to put it, that a picture is waiting. However crazy that may sound, its the truth.

As the sun set tonight I found myself in a working-class neighborhood in Madrid, in a town square filled with immigrants, babies, soccer balls and the scent of more than a little illicit smoke. It was Saturday night and the weather, utterly perfect, emptied the houses and enjoined the streets to celebration, wine and beer and laughter and romance. Its was enchanting.

The reason for being there was not a simple tourist visit. It was "Don Quixote," (I found out a few hours later that the site where the house of the Master stood, where he was born and where he died, was literally around the corner from my hotel), and it was to talk, and to think, and to begin, and in the beginning seek a collaborator from Spain.

Last Sunday I went to a performance by Maite Larranetta, a show I wrote about earlier this week. It was to her neighborhood I went and to a meeting with her (and her nine month old Son). A simple chat in a park pub and a sense that I was on the right track, and that, just maybe, Don Q has the beginnings of a team....