Shinwa Dance Myth

SHINWA CHERRY TREE
Shinwa Tree
SHINWA

Interpretation of a Dance Myth
Created and Choreographed by Keiko Fujii
by David Arthur Walters

 

It is the year 3,000 AD. A two-hundred-year-old man is telling some children a story that has been handed down for many generations as a myth about events that had happened in Japan over a thousand years before, some time after World War II.

“On the first day of spring, in the countryside near Ashiya, there was once a innocent young girl who was dancing with the cherry trees at the edge of a lovely meadow. She was glad because the spring that she had longed for had finally begun. As she danced, she was singing and talking to the trees, the birds and the cherry blossoms in sign language, for she had lost her voice because of a terrible fever she had suffered as a baby. Losing her voice had also made her very shy. When other people came near the meadow, she would run and hide until they had passed by.

In fact, there were so many people interrupting her on this first day of spring that she decided to go home and return the next day. “As the girl was playing in the meadow on the next day, she was surprised by three young ruffians who snuck up behind her and surrounded her. At first, they just teased her, but then the bullies began to get rough. One of the boys started to break off a branch of the girl’s favorite cherry tree. She tried to stop the boy from hurting the tree she loved, but he finally managed to break off the branch. He began to beat the tree with it just to upset her. She placed herself between the bully and the tree to protect it, but he then struck her repeatedly with the branch, knocking her down. The boys saw that she was badly injured, so they decided to run away, leaving the girl for dead, lying on the ground at the foot of the tree with cherry petals blowing around her, and clutching to her breast the branch she had been beaten with.

“At the end of Autumn, one hundred years later, a party of three men had a very strange experience. They were tourists attending the Buddhist celebration of Shakya Muni in Saga, Kyoto. They had decided to view the maple leaves, which were changing color, on their walk home. It unexpectedly got dark as a cold blanket of fog and drizzle covered them. They became quite confused and began to shiver in the cold. But a woman appeared and told them that they could stay at her house until the next day.

“The tourist felt warm and welcome in the nice woman’s old house, especially after they had feasted and drank plenty of Sake. Later in the evening, the woman told them she was going up the mountain to get some good firewood to make sure her guests kept warm all night, She refused to let them help her, but she made them all promise not to go into the woodshed behind the house, or even to look into it, while she was gone.

“After she left, one of her guests became very curious, wondering why the nice old lady would have asked them to stay out of the woodshed. He asked his friends to go with him and take a look into it. They refused and warned him not to break his promise. But when they had fallen asleep, he decided to sneak out and peek into the woodshed anyway.

“The curious tourist went to the shed and slid open its door. He heard weak moans coming from inside. He hesitated, then stepped slowly into the shed. What he saw there was a vision of Hell. The shed was filled with zombies who were only barely alive, almost too dead to move except to fall and stagger and wriggle around the best they could with their rotten bodies all twisted out of shape. Many of them were missing one arm. Some of them were sticking their hands into horrible gaping wounds on their bodies. Many of their faces looked like they had been smashed with a club, with noses and teeth badly broken, swollen cheeks, bloody and broken eye sockets, some with eyes missing, and mouths and jaws caved in. The zombies seemed to be begging the frightened tourist for some life.

“Well, the tourist was paralyzed with fright. His knees weakened and he had to lie down on the floor. But after a moment he raised his head and saw a strange light coming from the corner of the shed. He felt attracted to the light, crawled towards it, struggled to his feet, and saw that the light was coming from a coffin made of clear glass. A girl was laid out inside the coffin. Some strange power pulled the man towards her. He looked all over her body for some sign of life. He noticed that she was clutching a cherry tree branch, holding it close to her bosom.

“The curious tourist then got control of himself and was able to run out of the woodshed and back into the house, where he woke up his friends and shouted that he must have found a witch’s den in the shed. Of course, they did not believe him, so they went out to see for themselves. Sure enough, there were the zombies, the walking-dead people, in a living Hell, just as he had told his friends.

“At that very moment, the nice old lady appeared. When she caught them in the woodshed, she became angry and her body changed shape, taking the form of a terrible witch who was one-half woman and one-half spider. This ugly monster blamed the three men for breaking their promise not to look into the woodshed, and she promised to kill them then and there.

“The poor tourists fought to get away. The witch’s hair had turned into threads that spiders use to trap their food alive, and she threw those strings of spider hair towards the men, trapping the curious one first. As she began to choke him with her hair, the other two men escaped, scrambling over each other to get away. When she started after them, the curious one got away, and they all disappeared into the woods outside. She screamed after them that she would get them all someday soon. Then she changed back into an ordinary woman.

“The woman was really someone who was very sad and angry about how good changes into bad in the world. She had warned the three tourists not to look into the woodshed because the secret of her loneliness was inside, a secret she wanted to protect forever.

“After all that had happened, a fine snow started to fall. The woman began dancing slowly with the snow. She wanted to tell a story with her dance, the sad story of karma. But as she danced, the snow and her thinking became deeper, and she became young again, just like a girl dancing and whirling with the petals of cherry blossoms.”

THE END 

Monophobia Choreographed by Keiko Fujii

MONOPHOBIA CAGE WITH KEIKO
Keiko Fujii in Monophobia

 

 

MONOPHOBIA – Modern Dance Presentation

A Japanese dance company tells my life story – or am I paranoid?

How can I begin to tell you about Monophobia? I could consult the myriads of books on creativity, but then I might lose the impetus to speak. So I shall proceed to say whatever comes to mind. An improvisation if you please, since I have no plan.

I must admit that I am afraid to approach Monophobia, to waltz right up to it, take it by the hand and report back to you what steps were taken in 3/4. For it concerns the existence that has us all pinned down. We struggle to unpin ourselves, yet if unpinned we lose the point and cease to exist. That struggle is my starting point. I cannot stand here perfectly still. I have no choice but to be continuously active or to gravitate to nothingness as the ground rushes to meet me. I must keep moving in the interim, one way or another. So, in this case, I must speak to you.

Keiko Fujii and her dancers came to Manhattan and reminded me of my own singular fear of existing, a phobia I attribute to the personal sense of the imminent loss of existence that my own existence implies. Her production of Monophobia, which premiered in the United States at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, was shaken out of her by the Kobe earthquake. There is nothing like having the earth ripped out from under you. Creative Destruction is awfully sublime. The thing in itself that is really no thing is a terrifying mystery beyond description. Nevertheless, we can describe some of the forms it takes. The question is: where to start?

Anywhere might do. Keiko started with the pas de chat, using it to describe the mythological underpinnings of the Japanese economy. It is amazing how she milked the pas de chat for all it is worth. No, the pas de chat is not a chat with father. It is a cat-like step that has become a formal element of the traditional ballet vocabulary. The dancer jumps quickly off one foot then the other, legs turned out at the hips, bringing his knees up in the air in rapid succession, with feet pointed and for a moment almost touching below, so that at the height of the movement his legs form a diamond shape. Of course, there is a lot more to it than that: it is a simple movement in the rough, but it takes the dancer years to polish the diamond.

To continue: Keiko’s dancers, decked out in business suits, formed teams and executed several series of pas de chats across the stage. The simulated enthusiasm as well as the unison of the team members and the precise coordination of the teams vigorously shuttling about their business illustrated the virtues of the well-oiled Japanese business machine. To serve its purpose, the parts of a machine must move in opposition, as did the phalanxes of dancers as they moved in opposite directions to weave their illusion of happy workers laboring in their divisions for a common cause. However, as the workers continued with their rituals apace, the entire affair became rather monotonous. I began to notice that the whole industry was based on perfunctory pas de chats, alien components expensive to maintain. Technique is better left unnoticed. The workers were not dancing; they were doing technique. Even the smiles of the happy workers seemed contrived. The dream machine was running down. A couple of the machined parts began to squeak and broke off, annoyed by paperwork and laptop duties; information anxiety began to set in. Alas, the worker was overloaded. But, finally, the relief of the evening commute! The ranks were broken into their constituents. The dancers, however, did not bother to communicate with each other at the station or on the train; rather, each one got out his cell phone and proceeded to call home, finally displaying his most genuine smile, not for his traveling companions but for the invisible family on the other end of virtuality. But what if you don’t have a family, what if you are single; for whom do you smile, your personal God?

Except for the sole male dancer Keiko traditionally utilizes, all of the males roles were played by lovely women decked out in the business suits that frightened me because, though I look terrific in one, when I see someone in a power suit, I feel that someone is going to be crushed.

Never mind. Thou shalt not shout or lose thy cool. A well-oiled machine must not squeak. A happy worker does not need a future because she has nothing to cry about. Employees must not display genuine feelings, especially negative ones; although positive emotions are highly recommended for everyone, they are resented because they cause hard feelings in those who don’t have them. Business is not the place for emotions. The romantic claim that all values are based on emotion is scoffed at by the rational businessman.

Thou shalt not get naked! Thou shalt not take off thy suit! Thou shalt not streak! Above all, thou shalt not whistle or sing on the job!

In a moment of disobedience, however, Keiko’s dancers did shed their suits. It is not easy to shed the conventional mythologies, especially the mythology of the Japanese economy or any other economy where if it cannot be counted it doesn’t really count. We want to strip, but our clothes are a security blanket.

Shed obligations. File bankruptcy. File for divorce. Quit your job. Disown your family and friends. Forsake your nation. Move offshore. Be cynical and be saved, you selfish traitor to your own social security! Ironic, isn’t it, that almost any virtue defrocked makes all virtue look like vice?

Good grief! Just what is the healing answer to all this highly touted Creative Destruction?

Well, Keiko went back in time and donned the traditional kimono, a green kimono under which she executed ever so small movements with enormous implications. A mere lift of her foot gave one the impression that she had just traversed the entire universe. Moving upstage on the diagonal, the kimono unfurled behind her in a train that extended from one corner of the stage to the other, all to the rushing, rumbling and gurgling sounds of a waterfall. Then she ever so slowly turned and turned, reeling in the train, winding it about her feet into a pedestal. Disappearing under the green shroud of the remaining material, she finally emerged, an exquisitely painted “nude” in colorful tights, as if clothed by Nature, leaving her traditional chrysalis behind. She did a series of grande changement Italiens, jumping straight up from both feet, bringing her legs up rapidly into a diamond shape, hovering in the air for a moment. Yet again, as it should be, the classical ballet technique was invisible to the untrained eye. Keiko simply looked like a wild hummingbird cavorting about in accordance with her natural proclivities. The other dancers then appeared in the same native costumes so wonderfully designed by Keiko herself, and they likewise displayed instinctive tendencies.

Is this the healing answer: Back to Nature? Maybe so, but not as long as we have to think about it, so I’ll leave it alone in the trance I briefly enjoyed. It was a retreat into solitude, an epoch, a momentous pause, an interlude eventually rudely shattered by Monophobia.

Enter doom and gloom with a room therein all pervaded by that familiar fetid fog oft mentioned clauses cluttered with malicious malcontent. I see my life passing by on the stage. That must be my dismal uptown studio with one window facing the rank exhaust of the Chinese noodle shop. Ah, and nearly the same discordant, unsynchronized, rhythmic racket of the air conditioners and exhaust fans outside that window, music here for the modern ears, as accompaniment for the monstrous ogres now entering. There is an ocherous devil dragging an enormous white bundle on a rope behind him with all his might. It must be Saturday morning laundry! I am shocked: this is about me! Several dancers are huddled together in a corner each shrouded in white. They must be the sycophants of yet another diabolical character, played so well by the sole male, creeping about with that two-pronged pitchfork. He must be the infamous binary system. Damn! I think he uses that fork to devour his sycophants! What great technology! The food cooperates with the fork. When Keiko comes out of her room she eventually embraces the ghastly instrument.

Keiko’s tiny room in hell reminds me of the facades on those Holiday Inns that mushroomed all over the country years ago, facades made of glass and aluminum extrusions. Although her cubicle is transparent and my uptown hovel is opaque with merely a window, I think the song is still about me. The room is the mind; I am aware of a vast universe by virtue of cells in my brain living a warm and watery life in total darkness. And because my consciousness of it all seems to expand, the possibility of what I might know seems unlimited – it is really my stupidity that gives me the sense of infinite expanse. My room is so tiny, my perspective so small. I live in a skull supported by flesh and bones. I am so small in comparison with infinity that I might as well be a point without dimensions. I am pinned down here! Someone please tear me loose, please get me out of here! Oh my god, if only there were a god!

Keiko struggled with an enormous variety of movements in her cell. Perhaps that is how the human animal differs from her caged relatives; she dances her miserable danse macabre intentionally, hoping to somehow overcome the isolation of her limitations, to get out of here and become one with the all, to synchronize with the cosmos. Is this love of unity a fear of identity? Is our dance a game of camouflage, a nihilistic playing of hide and seek with the universe?

As modern dancer in original, iconoclastic sense, Keiko attempts to display the fullest range of movement; history is the progress of freedom, but what paltry limitations has this pinhead existence! Eventually one succumbs on bed or couch. Not for long, however. Never Stop Moving is life’s imperative. Depressed by ponderous gravity, feeling monotheism is Monophobia and that the one sure thing, the monotonous reality, is death, that God is not dead because God is death, the devotee prostrates herself prone before her master; but then she twists and turns and now she is supine; now she tries to rest and shuts her eyes and voids her mind all to no avail. She shudders with hunger and ennui. She must have bread and the circus. She leaves the security of her room. She goes out to embrace her fear. Entranced by the not- voidable, she will willingly dance her dance with death.

Embrace fear. Is that the healing answer? Misery is inevitable, the argument goes, so console oneself with the knowledge that chance does not really matter because your misery would just take another form if not the present one.

So, you say you enjoy being alone, and while alone you do not give much thought to death. I too love being alone but after awhile I must admit my thoughts turn morbid. Acute awareness of my own existence prompts me to think of its opposite and I, in my solitude, cling precariously to the roots of depression lest I plunge into the abyss. For what I love I fear as well. The formation of my personality is the response to the fear that my life will be wiped out. I am a product of death. I think death makes the man and then takes him away. I love and fear my maker and although I love being alone I am driven by my fear of the same to desperately cling to others of my ilk on the chance that I may forget myself. Fat chance, for the relation further defines me and sets me apart from my relations.

I think of all this when I consider Keiko’s Monophobia. It seems, however, that I seldom have much company. It was not a full house. The audience enjoyed the performance but grew very weary during Keiko’s prolonged, anxious movements within the confines of her own limitations. That is just how an anxious life can feel after a long while: extremely boring and sleep-inducing. Although the audience was enchanted by the early stages of the performance and was appropriately enthralled by the hellish scene, many people thought its life had come to an end and left, forgetting there was a third act to come as indicated by the programme.

I was so exhausted by Keiko’s extenuated monophobic symbolics that I paid bare attention to her third act. I do recall a pleasant dance by the chorus all decked out in white space suits. Is that the final solution? To go where no man has gone before? To catch a ride on the tail of a comet?

I met with Keiko the next day. She seemed amused by some of my interpretations of her work, but was mostly silent. At one point, while struggling desperately for the meaning of life, I said: “I see people smoking, drinking, using drugs, chasing men and women and money, seeking information, so on and so forth. They look like they are trying to escape. I keep saying maybe there is no way out. Maybe there is no escape. Maybe there is nothing but misery ending in nothing.”

Keiko seemed surprised, and responded: “That is Buddhism.”

“If that is an answer, why don’t you show it to us in your next concert.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Call it Zero, or just 0.”

“We’ll see.”

XYX

Manhattan, June 1997

Reflections in the Well – Postmodern Dance Pioneer Deborah Hay

Reflections Minerva Bloom

 

REFLECTIONS IN THE WELL by David Arthur Walters

The Author’s Reflections on Postmodern Dance Pioneer Deborah Hay with Special Thanks to Minerva Bloom for designing, printing, publishing, and distributing the original little chapbook on foot.

I. Returning to the Well

Where and when should I begin? Here and now shall do quite well. As far as I am concerned, anywhere and anytime is good enough to press ahead with this pressing business called life. Yet from my progress I am always returning to the well for yet another drink that I may proceed.

I would fly free beyond the arc between ashes and ashes and dust and dust, but my flight is rooted in the past. I fly backwards like the mythical Jayhawk. I don’t give a damn where I am going and I only care about the where I’ve been. What else is really mine? What else can I know except the past as I realize it in the future? To that end my life is an essay or trial. I double back on what I have done along the way, pull myself together and carry on. I am constantly rewriting my life, but my life’s essay I would never throw away.

The arc of my life is really an ark. The arc is the cradle of dimensional existence. Witness the Earth falling into the Sun, missing the Sun curving away from it. Thus the orbiting Earth falls while it recovers itself. Likewise I would never stop moving. But I know I will slow down soon enough. Long before the Earth stops moving, I shall achieve an absolute state of rest in Nothing, where everything gets done by doing nothing. I shall ride the arc until then and dance upon the globe. I do believe I am going somewhere as I circle back on myself. I am never quite satisfied with my present state when I return to where I once was, hence I dream of returning to the place from whence I returned.

Today I returned to the dustbin of my history, reached into it and pulled out an essay I wrote in 1985, entitled ‘Reflections in the Well.’ Therein I described Deborah Hay’s (1) choral dance workshop at St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan and her subsequent performances of ‘The Well’ and ‘Leaving the House.’ I knew nothing of Deborah at the time: I did not know that ‘Leaving the House’ was considered by critics to be a major feminist statement of the day.

Part of my essay was published in 1985 by arts enthusiast and feminist Effie Mihopoulus in her literary magazine, SALOME. As I examined my manuscript, I felt a twinge of regret that the rest of my essay, my reviews of Deborah’s performances, had not been published. Therefore I decided to edit the entire essay. Now I have not altered any of Deborah’s statements nor have I made any fundamental changes to my views at that time: I have simply dusted off the work and polished it up a bit.

At first glance the reader might not suppose my subject would be of much interest to the non-dancer. But I believe it is, for I speak of the human spirit, bound by matter to dance on Earth. The dancer is a moving, conscious synthesis of spirit and matter. She needs no other machine or tool than her body to express the tragic joy of her Earth-bound existence, to convey to her audience the essence of humanity’s gravity, dimensions and dynamics. For that expressive purpose I believe Modern Dance evolved .

Everyone is essentially a dancer; we can all experience the joy of dance movement. Modern dance pioneers such as Isadora Duncan and Rudolf Laban strove to bring the direct experience of that joy to everyone. Isadora wanted to bring America to its feet; unappreciated at home, she became a dance prophet in Europe. Laban, a native European dance prophet, worked to restore dance to its ancient and rightful place at the center of the community where all can come together to mutually celebrate life. He trained cadre leaders who in turn organized dance movement choirs for community participation. One massive pageant orchestrated by Laban in Germany had over 10,000 participants. But the Nazis did not appreciate the democratic aspect of Laban’s dance choirs, wherein each person is autonomous although interdependent. The fascists preferred to march people around aimlessly yet in drilled order, using the elements of carefully choreographed pageantry to mesmerize the marchers into believing they were doing something grand besides being obedient. But Laban’s dance choirs celebrated the individual’s striving for spiritual harmony with the cosmos and not collective submission to the leadership principle. Goebbels disallowed Laban’s choral movement entry (Of Warm Breeze and New Joy) for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Laban fled to Paris. His work in Germany was thoroughly annihilated by the Nazis, but his ideas gained influence in Britain and America. It is with Laban’s aspirations in mind that we may better understand Deborah Hay.

II. Peering Into The Well

“Flee then, be free then,
A clay pot bewinged be then,
In your saintly seriousness
Be then like those who weep for joy,
Speeding to the mark that is
But is not.”

Deborah Hay, “the Jung of post-modern dance” (Dance Magazine), asked me what I thought of her workshop at Manhattan’s St. Marks’ Church.

“A cup of cold water in the desert,” I responded, and returned to the serenity of a grand silence I had forgotten until Deborah had returned me by indirection to the profound source of inexhaustible nourishment. And still, until this very moment as I sit grasping this hard pen in my soft clerical hand, it is difficult to shatter that precious silence with an explanation. It is not that I have nothing at all to say: rather, I would say it all at once and once and for all, say everything that could possibly be said; but, alas, that is impossible.

“I moved from New York City to a commune in Northern Vermont,” Deborah explained to us when the workshop began, “and I lived there for eight years. Moving to a small community, I was fresh, naive and frightened. In fact, I am attracted to states of insecurity. For me insecurity is AHA! Without an AHA! Two or three times a week, life is too painful for me. Unless you put yourself into this state of opening, of unknowing, there is no AHA!”

I was deeply moved by her soft-spoken introduction. Her honest words and sincere demeanor gave me cause to believe she had refreshed herself from the same Well I had fearfully abandoned some time ago, the Well referred to in the ancient I CHING, the Chinese Book of Changes, translated by Richard Wilhelm:

“The Well.
The town may be changed,
But the well cannot be changed.
It neither decreases nor increases.
They come and go and draw from the well.
If one gets down almost to the water
And the rope does not go all the way,
Or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune.”

As I opened my heart in recognition and felt myself reflected in Deborah’s being, I appreciated once more the value of what I had forsaken, what had now been inexplicably returned to me by fortuitous contingency, coincidentally unmasking my destiny yet again. “Coincidence or God?” Herman Melville once posed the question. A small coincidence can bear the stamp of the universal. I suppose we have all prayed for big things at one time or another. Other than my life, my god does not supply me with big things but rather communicates to me with seemingly insignificant signs, such as the eraser lost by a stranger and found by me just when I needed it, in lieu of the small fortune I had prayed for. I ask my god for the universe and I am given a tiny detail in time and space that simply says “I AM”, then the mystical moment vanishes leaving a vague, soon forgotten impression of the divine detail. But every vanishing moment is a divine gift, is it not? I believe existence is a constantly changing changeling. I want the security of being permanent, but my presence here is all motion, I thought as I surveyed Deborah Hay’s lithe figure before me. Yet the only thing I can take for granted is in itself Nothing that I know of. So here, once again, I stand again at Hecate’s crossroads, at the crisis of being in existence, my heart suddenly thumping with a skip: AHA!

“The only constant is change,” Deborah reminded the class, as if she had read my mind. “Our purpose here is to present change fully and visibly, and to create AHA! in dance, taking nothing for granted,” she continued. “As a choreographer, I am least interested in choreography as choreography. I am most interested in the performance of movement. Of course, there are some little tricks, some of which I will demonstrated to you.”

Aha! Tricks! I was eager to learn a few tricks. My eagerness was due in part to the suggestive emphasis she had placed on the word “performance” when she pronounced it, insinuating something wonderfully exciting and inscrutably sacred underneath its sound. A writhing serpentine shape came to mind, or was it a rope projected and enlivened by her maya? Obviously this subtle mistress of suggestion knew many tricks. I was already losing my objectivity. I felt as if I were leaning over the edge of the Well, peering into the depths, fascinated by my fortune.

III. Crawling Into The Well

We proceeded with our warm-up exercise lying flat on our backs in a circle with our feet towards the center. Deborah Hay, our body-spirit guide into hitherto unknown, improvisational regions, began with firm suggestions to “open up” various areas such as the top of the head, the temples, the soles of the feet, the palms of the hands and so on. Her commands were punctuated every once in awhile with a liberating “AHA!” Her opening-up suggestions induced physical relaxation without directly ordering it – as policemen and other authority figures know only too well, ordering an uptight person to relax can provoke a violent reaction. Eventually she advised us to pick a moment and to begin moving close to the floor as spontaneously as possible.

“Open your eyes. See change. Let your eyes see change constantly, ceaselessly changing,” Deborah intoned, seemingly in harmony with some transcendental power. “Brighten your performance with seeing. Your eyes are excellent indicators of where you are.” I saw I was wrapping myself around one of the church pillars as if I were an uninhibited python in paradise. In any event, we never stopped moving. We squirmed and crawled about the floor for awhile, eventually sitting up or getting onto our thighs or knees while moving every part of the body still moveable.

“Use each other to recognize change. BE everything you are in your changing,” we were instructed. Clueless and without a cue, we stood up, everyone moving, moving, moving, changing, changing, changing….

“Keep yourself free from path, create pathlessness…every cell is awake, open, stimulated…now move the spine…this dance is not your duty…this dance is the perception of the beauty and the perfection of your spine….your goal is single-mindedness…. AHA! Embrace the floor with your feet…feel the sense of vulnerability of a child embracing the floor with its feet…now let your eyes reflect that embrace…let your body follow where your eyes takes you…take your eyes, take your heart with you…now deliberately create changes in direction, be fully there, be there in the change…use your eyes to recognize one another changing….”, Deborah incanted.

During this phase I stepped back to observe, listen and take notes for future reference – I fancied I was a writer in those days. And what a sight is was to behold, thirty people wending their way to mysterious destinations, turning and curving, winding and weaving, bending here and there, always changing wholeheartedly as individuals yet bound by the bodies of the other writhing occupants in the thriving community space….

Deborah suddenly interrupted and scolded us, insisting we were not seeing yet, not really SEEING, for she could see we were shielding our eyes as city people tend to do. Instead of shielding ourselves, we were asked to “invite people to see you, invite being seen, open your eyes, show a willingness to be seen. This is one of the tricks,” she confided, “finding the balance between seeing and being seen. This is rarely achieved, but we must take this practice seriously, and if we do, we shall arrive at our goal with an AHA!”

The participants recommenced moving, now to the Zulu vocals of ‘Manguzutho.’ Deborah danced with the group. She was poetry in motion, an African dancer possessed to possess. Fleet-footed with winged feet, she flew about the church; which, despite its modern-dance reputation, had never before bore witness to such a wild liturgy. She encircled the participants with her dynamic charms; each person was in turn visibly energized: each charge was amplified, and all felt the shock of each.

Although I had withdrawn to the perimeter to record the occasion, I became enchanted by Deborah’s African sorcery. I was tempted to hurl myself into the discombobulating frenzy. The others could not see what was going on in its entirety as I did from my assumed reportorial perspective. The sight of the incongruities her sympathetic manipulations had aroused in the crew caused me to crack up and cackle in a silly manner that had, nevertheless, as most good jokes have, the import of some profound truth.

That being done, we were in the mood for the lunch break, soon to be followed by some theory and practice to temper our indiscipline. As we enjoyed our drinks and snacks, Deborah casually remarked, “The older I get, the more I return. Returning to the moment, the principle of change, I can acknowledge change, being present in the change.” I ruminated on her words as I chewed my buttered roll. The older we are, I opined, the more we return because there is more to return to. That is our pool of experience, I reflected, as I took a sip of water. We note how older people live in the past, I noted, thinking of my old friend Paul, who became so occupied remembering the glory days that he wound up sleeping in a Bowery shelter. We should admonish a young person who dwells on the past too much, I proposed to myself as a terrible memory of my childhood flashed in my mind–especially if the dwelling is negative. It is impossible to live in the past anyway, I mused, then noticed that the guy at the deli had spread the butter on my roll much too thinly.

The thought of the past, or of a future derived from past information, I went on, occurs in the present and influences my behavior. Wait a minute, I paused, Where did I put my water? What was I thinking? I wondered, after finding the bottle slightly behind me. Oh, yes, I was thinking about thoughts. Maybe thoughts do not really matter unless we are superstitious about them. I swallowed the last of the bread, finished off the water, swept the crumbs into the corner to feed the insects and mice, then was moved to further ponder my personal situation.

I cling to the past by returning to the places I have been, so here I am again in New York hoping for a repetition of the glorious Sixties I ran away from. Back and forth I oscillate in a vicious curve carved by jet flights between Hawaii and New York. That vice can only end virtuously in the present moment, when I am fully aware of the fact that everything is in flux and that, by the time I get to where I am going to recover my past, that place has changed and so have I. Only in the present world before me may I perform fully as a person. Perform: to thoroughly complete. Is not that the joy of living to a happy ending? Then we may not adjudge a man happy until his completion in death, hence the ultimate question is not how to live well but how to die well. As I try to tear myself away from the community I cannot do without and to which I must always return to refresh myself, I may be just another imagined personal mask projected by the social mirror. Still, imagined or real, the show must go on. I must not falter in mid-stage, slump and slink away, hoping I am somehow rendered invisible. I must finish well. I must die well. I must perform fully across the stage, from wing to wing, and plunge into the wings as if I know exactly where I am going. Yes, to die well, that is…..

“O.K., break’s over, let’s go,” Deborah announced to the workshop participants, halting my ponderous reverie–and I was gladdened by her voice, for I had not the slightest idea of where I was going on that old black freight train.

IV. Well Made Tricks

After our lunch break, Deborah Hay introduced us to a sequence of images taken from her choreography ‘Leaving the House’, which she was scheduled to present as a solo performance at the Roulette performance space over the weekend. She called the images “fronts for being aware”, or “references that assist us in returning to the moment to fully perform conscious movement.” She meant by “consciousness” a more contemplative, expansive state of mind than a concentrated, contracted state of mind. She gave us a little demonstration or movement hint of each image as she described it, then we experimented with each dynamic image.

LEAVING THE HOUSE

“Do a slow, well-paced run, leaving everything behind you, with a clean slate before you,” Deborah instructed, and we tried doing just that. Someone, not understanding what he saw or heard, asked what she meant by a “slow well-paced run.” She watched his effort for a moment, then advised, “Not too much down in order to go forward, just find the place where you are always travelling forward.” That did the trick for him, and he proceeded with an AHA!

‘Leaving the House’ had a surrealistic appearance. We did our best to imitate what we had seen, but because of the state of consciousness recommended for the action, the subject imitated was not an entirely objective model. And if the motion itself were imitated without consciousness of the motive, the performance did not come off well. As for running without a memory of the past, and with a clean slate: if everything were completely forgotten, we would be in an infantile state, rendering the act of running impossible; but Deborah’s suggestion was helpful to the extent thought and self-awareness did not hamper full expression of the movement. For a moment, however, being the sort of person I am, the idea of a clean slate or Nothing before me provoked me to think rather than act, inasmuch as it brought to mind the silent whistle of that ol’ black freight rain to nowhere–thinking is my favorite stalling activity. But then we moved onto the next image.

THE WAVE

The guided imagery of ‘The Wave’ is that, while running, the runner encounters a big wave breaking his forward motion, to which he reacts with a strong wavering motion in harmony with the wave. Deborah’s personal wave was uncannily realistic. I had often tried to abstract ‘waving’ while living on the North Shore, but I did not have much success, therefore Deborah won my respect. It is difficult for a dancer to successfully represent a wave or any other object with the human body so effectively that an audience will immediately recognize it. Yet when the objective is made known before it is performed, we certainly know which dancer is most faithful to it.

BUBBLING OR REFLECTING BROOK

The wave ends in a bubbling brook. The dancers’ feet become that bubbling brook with little side-steps in line and stamping indicative of a shallow brook gurgling over stones on its bed. The body above reflects and magnifies the movement below: arms wave, head rolls, torso twists and so on and so forth.

STILL SUMMER HILL

The dancer becomes a still summer hill, holding whatever pose she may strike for the expression: each person strikes a different interpretative pose. Again, the observer usually does not know precisely what object is being represented unless he is informed of the performer’s intent; then, AHA! However, if the motive of the dancer is strong enough, sometimes the still summer hill is intuitively recognized by the uninformed observer, or by the mind reader.

DISSOLVING

Now the still summer hill dissolves or melts away. Deborah was asked for tips about how to dissolve. She said the face dissolves before the rest of the body, that dissolving starts with the eyes, and the mouth relaxes and rounds. This continues throughout the body. Taking this as their cue, everyone in the group melted differently, as if they were snowmen of various sizes and shapes under different temperatures. Eventually everyone became a puddle on the floor.

SHORT FAT JUMPS

Each in their own way, the dancers started jerking some part of their bodies off the floor, eventually arising to jump up and down in a squat. Short fat jumps backward and forward. Plop! Plop! Short fat jumps from side to side. Plop! Plop! Short fat jumps around and around. Plop! Plop! Plop! Short fat jumps turning in the air. Plump! Plump! Deborah told us to “feel the weight.”

UNIVERSAL/PARTICULAR LOVE

Without prompting from anyone, the dancers wound up their short fat jumps facing the same direction, ready for the next image: Universal Love, a moving image resembling a victorious god or goddess with face lifted to the heavens, one palm lifted up and forward to receive blessings, who, with long, slow strides, leads everyone who cares to follow. Particular love is a contraction of universal love in mid-stride, a moment in the path where the extended palm returns to the body, bringing in universal love to the particular person. As the dancers repeated the movements across the floor, I envisioned dark lines flashing in the background, black neon signs forming two hexagrams from the I CHING. I looked the hexagrams up later:

‘Universal Love’ evoked the 20th hexagram for me: ‘Contemplation’ or ‘Kuan’. ‘Kuan’ means both contemplating and being seen as an example. It refers to the deepest inner concentration, between Libation and the Offering, during the sacrificial ceremony: “The ablution has been made,” states the I CHING, “but not the offering. Full of trust they look up to him.” Richard Wilhelm explains: “If piety is sincere and expressive of real faith, the contemplation of it has a transforming and awe-inspiring effect on those who witness it. Thus also in nature a holy seriousness is to be seen in the fact that natural occurrences are uniformly subject to law. Contemplation of the divine meaning underlying the workings of the universe gives to the man who is called upon to influence others the means of producing like effects.” (1)

‘Particular Love’ evoked the 61st hexagram, ‘Inner Truth’, or ‘Chung Fu.’ The humble heart is open to receive truth from outside, while being strong in inner truth. For example, when deciding tough cases, a judge should be free of prejudice and willing to hear the truth given by others, yet at the same time he should remain true to his insight. In this truthing process, we are brought into an interdependent relation with each other, as trustworthy members of the cosmos, thus resolving at once our alienation from the natural world without and the supernatural realm within.

Man’s alienation from the cosmos and his self proceeded with self-conscious thinking, the division of thinking subject from its objects, including other thinking subjects. Thus divided, homeless thinkers have yearned to return home again from their homeless state. No doubt ‘primitive’ people felt at home in the foundation of all the arts, dance, wherein they communed with God and Nature. But the formal development of thinking eventually led to the death of god and nature, aggravating man’s homelessness. The industrial-scientific revolution embedded the logical process in machines, and now the information age is gradually rendering many of us rather redundant by means of thinking machines. We are gradually being reduced to the performance of meaningless tasks for the production and consumption of vanities.

The modern dance movement recognized the modern, industrial form of alienation and sought to resolve it by casting off meaningless, impersonal routines. Modern dance made a heroic effort to re-establish the primordial harmony of man the microcosm in community with the cosmic macrocosm. For that redemption he has his human energy. He needs no other tool to apply than his human spirit. He needs no other matter to mold than his own body. Barefooted modern dancers protested ballet’s pretty lies about man’s Fall, defied ballet’s illusory defiance of gravity and grave. In other words, although the modern dancer might be striving for heaven, she dances her heavenly redemption on Earth.

Modern dance recognized that man’s recovery is from the fall to nature, and that his destiny here is to fall and recover again and again in living motion. Thus modern dance focused on the moving principle of life above dead forms, just as the Hindu goddess Sakti, in her Kali form, dances on her dead husband, Siva. Modern dance recognized and even emulated the efficient machine of the modern age, yet its dancer turned the wheel and was not crushed beneath it. Most of all, the spirit of modern dance rebelled against perfunctory dance movements which alienated the dancer from the meaning of her performance.

However, modern dance evolved into various technical cults. Before long modern dancers were taking ballet classes and ‘doing technique’ instead of dancing. But that was contrary to the leading principle of modern dance. Enter post-modern dance pioneers such as Deborah Hay to protest the stultification of dance and the alienation of the dancer. The post-modern dancer seeks unity not in formal choreography but in naturally moving awareness, when mind and body are at home with each other and at home with spirit and matter in cosmic unity. Of course that is nothing new although it is revolutionary and radical in the sense of returning to the roots of dance. There is nothing new under the Sun. All rebels are spoiled by the authorities they rebel against, and in their protest they harken back to a previous protest, ultimately to that first point and instant which is the principle of their line at any position in space and moment in time.

I think if philosophy is to know thyself, then at its best modern dance is the energetic philosophy of being thyself in motion moving through forms in contrast to striking permanent classical poses. But what do I know? In the final analysis: nothing. My philosophy shall always fail pending my end. My particular freedom is my failure to achieve the universal ideal wherein no further movement is warranted. So, again, I think the modern dancer, feeling the fire between the poles, never stops moving between and through all possible forms, which are, as Deborah Hay might say, “fronts for awareness.”

Be that as it may, During the enactment of ‘Universal Love’ and ‘Particular Love’ by our workshop, each dancer had a different manner of bringing in universal love to herself. Deborah, for example, seemed to deflect or reject Universal Love with her hand before it reached her, hence I longed to see her bring her palm boldly over her heart so the heart she shared so ardently with others could be returned to her. Sometimes she looked drawn and emptied by her giving. Perhaps she was suffering from jet lag and was now in fact exhausted as the workshop drew to a close. Be that as it may, her performance of the dynamic images of love reminded me of how I had turned away from the well a few years prior, my jug broken.

We had completed our experiments. Someone asked a final question about the images:

“Do the images really take us to the place we want to go to? Can we have, in this world, what we imagine? That is, by examining the object, can we obtain it?”

“I am not hooked on imagery” Deborah replied. “The process is a very long one. Sometimes the movement itself takes me to the place.”

Sadly, our workshop with Deborah Hay at St. Marks Church in Manhattan was drawing to a rapid close. I made sure I had the flyer, announcing her performance for the coming weekend, in my dance bag.

“I appreciate your willingness to play, “Deborah said in closing.”Your willingness to play is visible. It can be seen. But do not forget, always remember that choreography is not to be seen. What is to be seen is performance, the consciousness, the light. What is to be seen is all of the person, not just the dance, not just part of the person, but all of the person. Thank you.”

V. Questioning the Well

Yes, the Beatles were certainly right, it is “a long and winding road,” I mused as I rode the subway home. As the hours passed, I plunged into reverie to a depth where my thoughts took on a life of their own. Submarine monsters, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to any creature I had seen before, glided in the deep, occasionally illuminated by shafts of light from above, then, AHA! Without bidding from me, certain recognizable features from my past emerged, animated images, long since submerged and embedded in sandy bottoms, were now reincarnated and swept through my mind in a flood of nostalgia.

“The older I get, the more I return,” Deborah’s recent remark recurred to me as memories from the past long gone proceeded. Now willing to cooperate, I dug into my unpacked suitcase – my home was a temporary space on an old friend’s floor – and brought out phonograph records I had been lugging around unplayed for several years; I could not afford to purchase a record player while on my long and winding road. I gazed at the album covers advertising music played by the courtly, mystical gamelan, the lyres of ancient Egypt, and the long flutes of the East. Deborah had broken the cryptic seal, and now, despite my necessary concern with present exigencies, I had become the archaeologist of my own existence.

“Belay the past! Set aside the irrevocable reality of the past in brackets!” I ordered myself and withdrew abruptly from my excavation. This is the present, this is my now, I am what I am here and now, nothing more nor less, hence the past avails me not for it is forever gone and better forgotten lest it interfere with my pressing task.

Still, I could not put Deborah aside. She is an uncanny woman, I conjectured, someone who has sipped the sacred spring from the occluded well by which the dragon sleeps. As time proceeds, her suggestions will take root and grow in those of us who attended her workshop. Unbeknownst to us, her commands shall have enlightening effects above as the subliminal stalks draw sustenance from the mud below.

“I must see her perform at the Roulette this weekend!” I enthusiastically proclaimed to my alter ego, putting my records back in their rightful place under the trousers at the bottom of the beat-up suitcase doubling as my portable bureau. “But take care,” I warned myself, “and know whom you really adore. In her you see yourself mirrored, the self you actually love, and, if your self is false, so shall be your love. Hopelessly infatuated romantic do not be, then, for a romantic’s great expectations causes him always to fall short of his mark with a broken heart and, in the end, to exclaim, ‘Twas not love but mere foolishness!'”

As I traveled along the long and winding subway tracks next Friday evening to the performance space downtown, I wondered if Deborah Hay would realize her visions in public performance or if she would fall short. I determined to approach her work from a more critical, “objective” perspective. That would require the consideration of objects other than my subjective projections onto her personal screen.

Deborah had called her images “fronts for being aware.” Aware of what? What is behind the image if the image is just a front? She had also said, “I am not hooked on imagery. It’s a long process. Sometimes the movement itself takes me to the place.” And what place might that be? An invisible spiritual home? Does she dream the old dancer’s dream of reconciliation with the Object in order to BE the subjective within the objective, which is not its image or front but its spirit? Would she be one with the Universe or its Law or Energy by moving through its representative forms? Perhaps her images or fronts for awareness are fetiches. Maybe she makes an image to make a connection with the ultimate Power. Maybe she uses the image as a tool to realize the Supernatural beyond the Natural. Yet the spirit within is always unseen although it might be felt, hence any image without is incompetent to adequately express it. It would seem that, as a postmodern dancer, the images would be inconsequential to her true intent. If any particular order is irrelevant, then choreography is futile.

Well, if the indefinite spirit within cannot be seen as a sight or scene, why bother to perform before an audience? The performance might feel good to the performer, but feelings can be had anywhere. And if whatever is behind the image could be communicated to others by parapsychic means, no performance would be required.

I think postmodern dancers want to break through the traditional images and dispense with the imagination itself in order to spontaneously obtain the concrete realization of ideas; as if ideas were beings divorced from the imagination, with its relative and continuous motion of time through definite spatial boundaries perceived as forms. No matter how much we might object that our “beings” or ideas represent or are the real principle of the natural rather than the contrived supernatural, our intention is still transcendental; that is, we really want to escape. But concrete realization of the supernatural on Earth presents a paradox, for escape velocity is only achieved in death, and, although Nothing exists, Nothing cannot be portrayed or imagined in any shape or form. The danse macabre in itself is futile as a means of communicating the reality of death behind maya’s imaginary front.

Well, then, we might as well return to the pretty balletic illusion that gravity does not exist instead of bemoaning gravity and somehow trying to find our existence in the mass or in the grave. Of course modern dance would demonstrate the tragic synthesis of matter and spirit in the human being. Despite our transcendental aspirations, redemption is only had on Earth; with modern dance we can have joy in our complaints and communicate the same in sublime forms appreciable to a broad audience. But what can postmodern dance do in its protest of the modern? Where can postmodern dance go except to eventually return to the very images it protests, to return to the sophistries of classical and modern dance rhetoric in order to coherently communicate its protest?

I think we want to get behind or beyond the imagination by means of ideation, yet we are the prisoners of imagination. Our very ideas are grounded in and arise from the imagination. And I speak not only of the optical imagination, upon which most of us are too dependent, but of the imagination of the blind man as well, whose other senses are sharpened to compensate for what the seeing take for granted.

With those reflections in mind as I hurtle along the winding subterranean rails to witness Deborah Hay’s solos at Roulette, I cannot help but think my trip is unwarranted given the postmodernist rejection of objective standards. I might as well be blind to them; someday I will ask a blind man what it is like to attend a dance concert. Will he say the spiritual ambience of the postmodern audience feels better than that of the modern or classical?

I had already seen postmodern dance performed once before. I described Pooh Kaye’s choreography in my review ‘Punkmodern Object Relations.’ Her company’s performance had its sensational merits in gut feelings, but its chaotic flip-flopping around was not very handsome or pretty, nor did it communicate anything in particular; rather, it seemed to simulate a hysterical, narcissistic return to the womb. It seemed as if the rebellious dancers, feeling homeless in their alienated individuation, were struggling to leave the house forever, unaware that the process of rebellion was returning them to the house they were rebelling against. Indeed, rebels, like snails, carry that house around on their backs, but they think it is a new house, a house of freedom, when they withdraw into it at another location. But the good they flee to has its origin in the evil avoided. Their attempts to leave the orderly house behind collapses into hysterical antics. Finally, In order to overcome the dread of incest implied by the mission, the individual human is bound to return to the horrible scene of the alienating crime, where he fell into time and space as an individual.

Well, now, it is 1985 and Deborah is about to perform ‘Leaving the House’ in Manhattan. I recall she said her movement takes her “there” (wherever that might be) more than the image. But again, whoever we might be, are we not prisoners of our images? Is not a man’s epitaph an image of his work upon which is inscribed ‘He Tried To Break Free.’ And do we not as rebels against the traditional wisdom throw off our shells to travel the long and winding road to freedom, and, if we survive the circuitous road, find ourselves embracing the very concepts we rebelled against? Moreover, are we not all snails who have, besides our individual personalities housing our guilt, the same cosmic house on our backs? We would shed our skins, cast off our shells, dispense with the standards and become function itself, but function has it being through forms. Function has an objective, meaning a communicable use, and has no end in itself.

Which forms shall Deborah Hay use and to what end? What sort of solo per-formance or “through to completion” shall she present at the Roulette? That remains to be seen. Some of us might want it to be a “sight” or vision fixed to permanent reality, preferably planned out well in advance to please us with recognizable forms we are safe and sound at home with in a neat, tidy house. Others, more bold, or perhaps more foolish, want no choreography at all and would rather be thrilled by the challenge and homelessness of improvisation; they would view a continuous operation, experience every house as an never-ending house with stuff thrown all over the place to trip over. Indeed, seeing is continuous motion of the eye; nevertheless there exists. relative to the motion, the immovable sight.

Finally! The subway train is pulling into the station. I am climbing the stairs. I shall see.

VI. Reflections in the Well

That we may better understand the gravity of Deborah’s performance, we should remember that dance is the foundation of the arts. Despite Cicero’s statement that sober Romans did not dance, common sense informs us that life itself is a dance no matter how seriously we take it. No matter how silly dancers might appear to sober sages, life will never stop moving. As we settle into our seats we may rest assured that Deborah Hay is a significant example of a science and art requiring no other tool for discovery and expression than the dancer’s original triunal gift of body, mind, and spirit. After all, she is one of the founders of the “radical”, “revolutionary” and “explosive” Judson Dance Theatre. Since we heard her say that, the older she gets, the more she returns, we may expect a stunning show this evening as she approaches her radical roots.

Existentialists claim existence is prior to being no matter what the definition of being may be. Therefore we might assume that the return to existence explodes traditional conventions. However that may be, I feel guilty for the past because I believe it could have been different if only I would have taken that other path, but I could not know then what I know now, so things could not have been different then or, alas, for that matter, now…. All I can envison is the past because that is all there is therefore I am revisioning and not changing. My supposed freedom alienates me. I want freedom from freedom, freedom from guilt, freedom from thinking that it could have been otherwise than it was, freedom from my revisioning…. There is always some thing, person or god to blame for the inevitable, but I do not want to give up this freedom that irks me…. Maybe the past could have been different after all, maybe it can be different now…. I shall return to the primitive dance and start all over again…. Where are my explosive plastics?

Cram a woman in a box and she might seem rather small and pathetic until she is atomized and explodes–then all hell breaks loose. Deborah’s ‘Leaving the House’ has been critically acclaimed as a leading feminist statement of her time. I have asked her what that means. Did some man beat the hell out of her in the traditional manner? Did she have to summon all her courage to leave the house that was supposed to be her security but was actually a hell hole? I don’t know. In an attempt to dispel the “myth” that we must know something about art to appreciate art, the show bill quotes her as saying:

“When we are confronted with art, we usually think there is something we should know before we see it, but what I am dancing is what you see…whatever you see.”

So, Deborah brought us to the Roulette to spin our own answers with the aid of her visual images. Fortunately, she did not leave us with only the visual aids, but with hearing aids as well. The celebrated postmodern composer, Pauline Oliveros, armed with her glistening 120-bass accordion, personally accompanied Deborah, in ‘The Well.’ And, for ‘Leaving the House,’ Deborah used Pauline’s composition, ‘The Wheel of Time’, recorded by the Kronos String Quartet, Now Pauline has this to say about her music, which supports the proposition that knowing something about art does in fact aid our appreciation of it:

“As a musician, I am interested in the sensual nature of sound, its power of synchronization, coordination, release and change. Hearing represents the primary sense organ – hearing happens involuntarily. Listening is a voluntary process that through training and experience produces culture. All cultures develop through ways of listening. Deep Listening is listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, or one’s own thoughts as well as musical sounds. Deep Listening represents a heightened state of awareness and connects to all that there is. As a composer I make my music through Deep Listening.” (Pauline Oliveros, http://www.deeplistening.org)

The Roulette performance space, an apartment converted into a dingy and dirty, poorly lit avant-garde studio, certainly required a heightened state of aesthetic awareness in 1985. But the audience was oblivious to the dust and grime; New Yorkers are inured to dismal scenery; besides, the dreary conditions gave the theatre an air of postmodern authenticity. On second thought, no better house could have been contrived for ‘Leaving the House.’ When Deborah entered the crummy lighting, her right side appeared dark, old and lame, and her left side was bright, young and spry, lending her the appearance of a person split between despair and hope. She entered anxiously, seemingly frightened at first, then exhausted, drawn, unbalanced, clumsy, grieved, possessed, quite mad. I recalled what she had said at the workshop the day before the performance:

“What is to be seen is performance, the consciousness, the light. What is to be seen is all of the person, not just the dancer, not just part of the person.”

As Deborah staggered around, I was initially disappointed by my high expectations for her, expectations due to my previous admiration for her in her teaching role. Now all eyes were on her, and, true to her word, she made no attempt whatsoever to hide her weaknesses. I suppose I was subconsciously expecting a pretty ballerina to tombe pas de bourree glissade jete into heaven; or an equally lovely but modern Persephone to pull up a narcissus and sublimely descend in a wonderfully choreographed struggle with the underworld lord. Therefore I was saddened and embarrassed by the reality before me.

This is meaningless, I thought, as if the meaning of life must be all peaches and cream and bowls of cherries. She plunges into the abyss of despair and chaos under our noses to fathom Nothing. Still, I felt hope for her redemption welling up in my aggrieved heart. Maybe she will emerge from her grave depression, ecstatic in her dance. Perhaps in dance, in the seemingly illogical, mad unity of life and death, of spirit and matter, she will break the common mold with an uncommon revelation, obliterate the world with creative destruction, and by her portrayal of the essential madness of human life, momentarily resolve the paradox of human existence, so on and so forth. Therefore, whatever she brings back from chaos, I am now ready to receive it, to experience it vicariously, or, in other words, speaking words of wisdom: “Let it be.”

AHA! Now that I was open to her revelation, Deborah’s candor amazed me. Her performance was marvelous in the Now that I was seeing as she was seeing. Regardless of the physical tension demonstrating the images she calls “fronts for awareness,” I perceived she was inwardly open and relaxed. Her expressions communicated something fantastic, but never mind, for the intuitive experience itself was beyond any imaginable fantasy: it was….

Reality?

I don’t pretend to know. I can only describe what I saw and felt. The images I had not seen before had a greater effect on me than the ones Deborah had previously demonstrated at the workshop. I was curious. I was both stunned and inexplicably moved. Soon Deborah was crawling across the floor with her face under her body. She uttered something unintelligible to the rational mind but profoundly affective to the heart, a cry of emotive unity: fearful yet defiant; angry but loving; begging while giving, joyous in sorrow, beastly and human. She was a baby. Normally a crying baby is unappreciated at public performances, resulting in the removal of the bawling artist from the scene – provided the parents are civilized – but this baby had our deepest sympathies. I felt like picking her up. Is not that what we all cry for, since our alienating fall into the the world? for our mothers and fathers to pick us up and hold us?

Deborah convulsed. Although wracked by contradictory movements, there was still method to her madness, an awesome harmony in her disheveled disorder. What her intention was, if there was any intention, remains a mystery to me. Maybe she set out to emulate chaos, or to somehow deliberately express the inchoate, but I received the impression she was ultimately seized by some higher order superseding her contradictions. Mystified by these proceedings, we paused for an intermission.

I gazed into the amazed faces of the audience during the interlude. The conversations were hesitant and subdued. I saw the dead ancestors in the living faces. We are the dead alive, I thought. I am returning. I am looking behind me now for my future meaning. I see a grave. I would rob it, and…

And it was time for the final performance of the evening: ‘The Well.’ Pauline Oliveros played her accordion as Deborah danced. The accordion sparkled in the light, its bellows pumping life into the song of the….

What? Music from my past! I was seven-years old when a huge 120-bass Noble accordion was bestowed on me in pursuant to the acculturation movement of the Fifties. Every child was gifted in those days; every gifted child just had to play a musical instrument for their own good. My foster brother Jim got a violin: he hated it with all his heart and soul. But I loved my accordion, heavy though it was. Since there were no accordion teachers in Muskogee, Jim’s violin teacher tried to teach me to play the accordion. Fortunately for the discriminating ear, I graduated to an accordion school when I moved to Topeka. I vividly remember dragging my instrument several blocks to that school, occasionally encountering black people marching along the avenue singing “We Shall Overcome.” I was in an accordion band. I received Third Prize at the Heart of America Accordion Festival, where I also danced a Strauss waltz. When I took my seat on stage to play my solo, ‘Malagueña’, I was paralyzed with fear; my teacher loudly whispered the name of the beginning chord from the wings; somehow I got through the performance; to this day I cannot remember a bit of it. Shortly thereafter I played the accordion for the military school dance band – the colonel saddled me with a tuba for the marching band. I continued playing the accordion after military school – I was particularly fond of the kind of classical music Isadora Duncan liked to dance to. But I needed money when I got married, so I hocked my accordion: that was the end of my accordioneering career. I regret I stopped playing. We must never stop dancing our favorite pastimes.

And now Pauline Oliveros is playing her accordion at the Roulette: I am all ears. Her music comprised delicate, simple tones of various durations, gentle discordants here and there, multiple rhythms, even and uneven. It did not distract from the dance but augmented it, or rather it was the golden thread by which Deborah found her way to the Well of Inexhaustible Nourishment. When I saw Deborah enter with a bolt of cloth draped over her head, I remembered the peculiar dream dreamed for me a few nights before, of three women approaching the village well; one of them asked, “What is the difference between a Christian and a Jew?” Another responded, “It is the taste in your mouth,” and she began drawing water from the well.

As Pauline spun the fateful musical thread, Deborah, eyes covered by the cloth, paced about calmly. The burial cloth slowly slid off her head. She wrapped it around her torso, a dress of life, and proceeded with her dance. I was being drawn into a trance. I saw an Egyptian priestess, maybe Isis. I heard high-pitched screams, then very low, hollow, round, open groans. That is all I can remember until the end, when she knelt, cupped her hands and drank….

“A cup of cold water in the desert.”

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NOTES:

(1) THE I CHING, The Richard Wilhelm Translation, Transl English, Cary F. Baynes, Princeton: University Press, 1972

Official Web Site Biography of Deborah Hay (deborahhay.com)

DEBORAH HAY “is a phenomenon capable of expanding and diversifying the language of movement in the most striking and unexpected ways.” Dance Australia. Her choreography, from exquisitely meditative solos to the dances she makes for large groups of untrained and trained dancers, explores the nature of experience, perception, and attention in dance.

Born in Brooklyn in 1941, Deborah grew up making annual pilgrimages into Manhattan with her mother, to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and the New York City Ballet at City Center. She was a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, one of the most radical and explosive art movements in this century. In 1964 she danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. In 1965 she abandoned all dance training. By 1967 she was choreographing exclusively for untrained dancers thus removing herself from the performing arena.

Hay left New York in 1970 to live in a community in northern Vermont. Her daughter Savannah was born one year later. It was here that she began to follow a rigorous daily movement practice which, to this day, continues to inform her as a student, teacher, and performer. She created a series of Ten Circle Dances, which did not have public performance as a goal. Her book, Moving through the Universe in Bare Feet, Swallow Press, l975, is a collection of these simple dances.

In 1976 she moved to Austin, Texas, and began performing as a solo artist for the first time. Since l980 she has conducted fifteen annual large group workshops, each lasts four months and culminates in public performances. The group dances become the fabric for her solo performance repertory. Her book Lamb at the Altar: The Story of a Dance, Duke University Press, l994, documents this unique creative process.

Deborah received a 1983 Guggenheim Fellowship in Choreography and was awarded numerous National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowships. She was awarded the prestigious McKnight National Fellowship from the Minnesota Dance Alliance to conduct an extensive performance residency in 1996 in Minneapolis. She is also the recipient of a 1996 Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowship in collaboration with the Austin sculptor, TreArenz.

She tours extensively as a solo performer and teacher. Her writings appear in The Drama Review, Contact Quarterly, Movement Research Journal, and the Performing Arts Journal. She was just awarded a National Dance Project Touring Grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts which will help subsidize her tour My Body, The Buddhist, on Tour from January through May 2001. <i, will be available from Wesleyan University Press, Fall 2000.

Since l980 she has collaborated with composer/musicians Pauline Oliveros, Richard Landry, Terry Riley, Ellen Fullman, with poet/percussionist Bill Jeffers, visual artist Tina Girouard, and TreArenz, and theater directors SaskiaHekt and Johannes Birringer.

Chapbook Copyright 2001 David Arthur Walters
Original Art Copyright 2002 Minerva T. Bloom

Sokolow Modern Dance – Serious Business

Modern Dance HEADER 

 

MODERN DANCE – SERIOUS BUSINESS
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

 

Manhattan, December 1984

Anna Sokolow’s Player’s Project, presented at the Riverside Dance Festival, may be summed up in two words: Serious Business.

I expected to see some historical modern dance, and that’s what I got. Ms. Sokolow began her career with Martha Graham and Louis Horst, and went on to form her own group in 1937. Graham’s probable influence was evident in Ms. Sokolow’s ‘Lyric Suite’ (1953), in the form of contractions, spasmodic releases and ponderous attitudes. Furthermore, during the ‘Adagio Appassionato’, a softer sort of round dance by four lovely ladies in red gowns, I expected Graham to come onstage any moment. She did not, but Dian Dong, Kathleen Quinlan, Risa Steinberg and Susan Thomasson did an excellent job with the choreography.

During the intermission, I conversed with a matronly gentlewoman on my left. We noted how the audience consisted of mature men and women and young artists (many of the latter were dancers). The middle generation was markedly under-represented. She remarked that Anna Sokolow had been around for many, many years, and asked why I’d come to see her work. “To see the real thing,” I replied.

Following the intermission, we watched ‘Ballade’ (1965). I do not remember much of it, except that it was a ballet, and that my attention was diverted by the wonderful music of Alexander Scriabin, played live and marvelously so by Richard Justin Fields.

During the pause, my new acquaintance waxed enthusiastic about the music, then asked me if I liked the dances. I said, passing over the ballet just presented, that only the very best of ballet turns me on. However, I said I did enjoy ‘Lyric Suite’, which seemed to be a modern dance representing various emigrants landing in America (I did not have the slightest knowledge of Sokolow’s intentions).

I further remarked that I enjoy the modern form of dance not because it arouses me emotionally, but because it makes me think. My seating companion rejoined that she had been attending modern dances for a very long time, and found them boring. I had noticed that she had fallen asleep during ‘Ballade’, and was about to ask her whether her boredom was due any distinction between ballet and modern dance, or if the music simply lulled her into a pleasant nap; but the show continued before I could ask.

‘Steps of Silence’ (1984 Premiere), with an introductory narration from THE FIRST CIRCLE by Solzhenitsyn, concluded the program. The impressions given here of prisoners did not inflame the passions. However, the choreography effectively and efficiently achieved its purpose: to recreate that dull affect of shuffling prisoners limping zombie-like to occasionally huddle together here and there. They looked like brainwashed, empty shells devoid of any capacity for passion. And in the end, they were blown across the stage of life along with the newspapers that reveal, all to no avail, their most miserable plight. No, nothing spectacular here. But long live Anna Sokolow, still true to the modern tradition.

As the cast took its bows, not one smile was to be seen on a face. Yes, I thought, this is very Serious Business!

 

Modern Dance FOOTER

Dance Foundation of the Arts

DANCE LUIGI
Luigi Faccuito New York City

 

 

DANCE FOUNDATION OF THE ARTS

by David Arthur Walters

I thank my lucky stars that I am a so-called dumb dancer, for I can state unequivocally, without presenting an elaborate argument to prove it, that dance is the foundation of all the arts.

It is with that in mind that I say any writer worth reading is a good dancer, or at least a frustrated one, whether he knows it or not. And a good singer is a dancer too, as well as an orator who can move the crowd. Likewise, the sculptor and the painter liberate us by virtue of their dance. As far as I’m concerned, the arts require little deliberation and a lot of practice. I do not mean to say that the good artist is stupid. Rather, I mean too much deliberation obstructs the expressions of the profound, primordial wisdom that inspires the creative arts. We tend to give far too much credit to man-made reason, and not enough to Reason as we find it.

It takes a lot of practice to form the disciplinary vessel required to liberate the flow of meaning. I inspire by this instant practice to let the words flow rather than force them into logical forms. I therefore fervently pray that I am able to get out of the way so that a being much wiser than I may speak through me. Perhaps later, when I find confirmation somewhere or another of what I have said, maybe in a musty old book, I shall have good cause to ponder on how I came to know something before I learned it.

Dancing all day makes for a good night’s sleep. Before I fell asleep last night, I was reading Rousseau. He had a practice of modeling his political urgings into very concise forms, which he would then use as a vocabulary for choreographing many lovely combinations. I was dreaming accordingly. It was a simple dance. A very large company was on stage, a company that comprised many small groups performing diverse variations on a grand theme. The dancers within each group had their own unique characteristics. However, the differences between the groups and the individuals within them began to diminish as the dancers approached absolute unison. I could not distinguish one form from another. I felt a great tension, as if an enormous irruption was imminent. I heard an anxious choir singing, “The Union is dangerous, the Union is dangerous, the Union is dangerous!” The chanting somehow dissolved the tension. I arose pleased and refreshed, because the tension was apparently in me, and I felt my questions about the true nature of Rousseau’s political philosophy had been danced for me in my dream.

Naturally there is a relation between the arts, and there exists special relations between each and every one of us. My special way of expressing myself might seem peculiar to you, so a little background on my dearest subject might help you to understand my way of becoming. Like so many dancers before me, I went to New York shortly after I caught dance fever. I heard someone say that New York is the dance capital of the world, so I quit a very good job and made reservations with an image in mind, a vision that dancers were waiting for me with open arms to welcome me into their loving family.

Two religious acquaintances of mine said I’d fallen into Satan’s clutches. A psychologist stated that only mentally disturbed people feel the need to dance, but comforted me with his diagnosis that actors are the most neurotic people of all. Nevertheless, off to the Big Apple I went.

As I learned to dance, I also took up my childhood love, writing, to write dance reviews and to pay for my dance classes with the proceeds. It all made a lot of sense at the time. There I was, the greatest dancer and author the world had yet to know, writing dance reviews as the means to become a so-called dumb dancer. It was a neat fit!

Little did I know that I would wind up being rejected by the critical world, or that I would be sleeping on living room floors and in closets, buying cheap vegetables and fruit with the returns on my alcoholic roommate’s empty beer cans, using slugs to beat the subway fare, and eventually wind up homeless with seventeen dollars while my friends back home were almost ready for an early retirement. But I was doing what I loved to do.

And I did meet many wonderful dancers who were also wonderful people. For example, Delilah, with whom I often commiserated over a cold quart of beer and two cheap falafel-on-pita sandwiches: several dancers I knew enjoyed beer and falafel diets in those days. I’ll never forget the story she told me, about how she found out she was a “black” girl when she was twelve years old in South America: someone gave her a whitening agent and explained the facts of discrimination to her.

Well, I eventually got tired of poverty. Some of us learn faster than others. It took me awhile to realize that, in order to survive for much longer, I would have to either start chanting Hare Krishna full time or get a day job. I was given an opportunity to write news summaries for a desktop publisher, but I turned it down because it paid next to nothing; it seems everyone is a writer if not an actor in New York, so the competition is very stiff. I stopped writing; an old friend of mine, a psychoanalyst, said not to worry, for most writers are writers just because they are unable to cope with reality.

Well, to make fourteen years quite short here, I got a great job and wound up making per month what the average writer makes in a year. The job was so great that it was also part-time, affording me the opportunity to keep dancing as well, which I did with zeal; I even performed at Lincoln Center. As for writing, I forgot all about it. That is, until I got fed up with Easy Street, quit my dream job, a job that would be the envy of any struggling artist, and took up my pen again.

Yes, I am terrified by the high failure rate of writers, and the chance that I might wind up eating dog food as an old man, or not even that, for dog food is very expensive. Nevertheless, here I go again, for I am still a so-called dumb dancer, and, as far as I am concerned, dance is the foundation of all the arts, so I may succeed at the art of writing.

Honolulu 2000

Women in War and Peace

WAR DANCE
New York City dance students

 

WOMEN IN WAR AND PEACE
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

In Fond Memory of Luigi Faccuito

Why we dream certain dreams, picking up bits and pieces of memories, has fascinated many an interpreter. As everyone knows, the brain keeps running while we sleep, and when we lightly do so, it is wont to tell a story to that unity of apperception we call the self, as if the storyteller were another person split off, or half the individual divided, and a mysterious half at that because we may not intuit or directly know the introjected subject we associate with the I as it organizes our self-reflections. Yet it has a motive, a theme, or fixed idea to be divined upon awakening.

I have not seen Jill Strauss for twenty years yet she represented that motive in my dream. She taught jazz dance for Luigi Faccuito, may he never stop moving, and I took her class from time to time when she substituted for him. I still take his class in my dreams although he went to the presumably Better Place this year, and she, a pretty little woman, is almost always around, as she regularly was back in those days. I do not believe I had a crush on her, at least not consciously, though I did think she was quite cute. We both moved away from New York, she to California, me to Hawaii then Florida.

Jill starred in my dream last night. She was driving. I used to drive in my dreams, smoking cigarettes as well, until I realized in one dream that I had quit smoking, and had no driver’s license. She pulled into a charming shopping center. Judging from the Spanish architecture, we were in California.

I visited California in my youth, even stayed in San Francisco a few months, and thought Californians were weird. I liked the smaller cities, got to drive a big pink Cadillac convertible, and thought the traffic was atrocious.

I just heard from Drew a few days ago. He moved to California from South Beach a couple years ago. He said people were a lot nicer in California. I thought of moving out there. The San Bernardino shootings took place the next day, an hour’s drive from his home.

The war drums beat incessantly, bombs are away and maybe a National Socialist American Workers Party will be founded, its militant members goose-stepping in brown shirts.

I felt comfortable with Jill at the wheel as she wheeled into the mall. We approached a two-story building with a wooden façade and big windows. A dance class was ongoing inside. The studio was huge, with a very high, vaulted ceiling. There were two huge murals of modern dancers painted on two of the walls. It reminded me of Ana Lessa’s new Atma Beauty salon in South Beach.

Yesterday I encountered Ray Sullivan, a choreographer, sitting at a café in South Beach. We chatted animatedly at length about the great dancers and teachers we knew and had studied under back in the day, and bemoaned the fact that the current generation has missed the revolutionary philosophy of modern dance and along with it the passion that moves audiences to tears of joy.

Too many today are just doing technique, not dancing. The kids know little yet think they know everything, and believe they are entitled to dance choreography in their own, conceited way, instead of getting into and being engaged in The Work. I recounted, with some satisfaction, how a dancer told a top choreographer that a certain movement did not work for him, and the choreographer replied with, “Then you’re fired because you don’t work for me.”

The arts bring out the best in people when art is loved for its own sake. Woe unto me, for I no longer sing, dance, and act, and have taken up writing about politics, which brings out the meanness in me, not to mention others. And what I write about is here today and gone tomorrow. I love history, but when I try to relate current events to their historical contexts, most people are just not interested because they are inclined to repeat well worn mistakes.

So I am drawn back to art, to at least write something immortal to pass along the gifts that are not mine but of my kind. I have been preoccupied with death lately, in the form, unfortunately, of bad finales. Death is part of life, but art is about it all.

So Jill and I got out of the car in front of the California dance studio. She took my hand as I took hers, but not quite in the right way, therefore we made an adjustment until the form was perfect, and she led me into the studio. Finally I felt safe, and I awoke.

Just before falling asleep, I considered how women may now participate in combat alongside men, to actively engage in the massive murders legalized by nations. I felt uncomfortable about that.

Much of the difference between the sexes is cultivated. Still there are differences in strength and size, and in hormones: females are theoretically more nurturing than males. Female warriors are nothing new, really, and there are desperate times when women are needed to not only fight but to lead in battle instead of just throwing themselves off the walls when defeat is imminent lest they be forced to bear the children of the enemy.

If a woman wants to be a warrior and can qualify, that is fine with me. She should not be subject, however, to the draft. I believe women should be cultivated to make and keep peace among men through nonviolent means, just as she has done with the advance of civilization. She should be protected along with her children from the ravages of war.

Ray had complained about the notion that choreographers should be business managers and producers and fundraisers wrapped up in one person, which works the ruin of the choreographer’s expertise and creativity, and distracts the others from their duties as well. And too many people in Miami Beach tend to think that the mere possession of funds makes them experts. Labor must be divided into functions, so each can excel. The lack of these divisions and their purposeful coordination is why organizations fail, especially small companies.

I once read an evolutionary theory that men were relatively peaceful when they lived in the forests somewhat like bonobos, and then became violent when they left the forest and had to forage more widely and fight other groups for their sustenance. As they did so, they grew larger and stronger. Females, on the other hand, remained small by comparison so they could be carried to safe places, for they cradle the race.

Maybe that anthropological theory is not scientifically justifiable. Cultural justification is another matter. I think the memory of it brought me to Jill in my dream. She is the pretty little muse who took me by the hand and led me back to art.

XYX

Miami Beach 2015

Dance is Something to Write About – Potential Patron Trashes Reviews

 

Paul’s modern dance teacher Ruth Currier with Jose Limon

 

SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT

BY

DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

 

Two weeks ago, Paul Bowman, the greatest aspiring author the world will ever or never know, had mailed his dance reviews to Senior, the wealthy Pittsburg industrialist who said he would sponsor Paul if he liked his work. Senior had told Paul to meet him two weeks hence back at the Peculiar Pub in Greenwich Village where Senior regularly held court with his son Junior and a motley court of drunkards. So Paul entered the pub with a fluttering heart to receive Senior’s verdict.

Sure enough, there sat Senior, and, as luck would have it, there was an empty stool next to him, upon which Paul sat down. Senior noticed him immediately, turning to greet him with beer stein in hand.

“That stuff you sent isn’t worth a shit! It’s nothing but shit!” Senior exclaimed to a stunned Paul. “I’m being honest, pal, it’s nothing but shit! Tell me, who would produce or publish such shit?”

Paul wiped the flecks of Senior’s spittle from his face, and replied, “I intended to write a few dance reviews….”

“But who would produce such shit? I don’t understand! You’re trying to be a critic….”

“I’m no critic,” Paul interjected, visibly affronted by the term. “I just wrote a series of articles about dance, my favorite subject, not as a professional expert, but from the broader perspective of an innocent member of the audience who….”

“That’s what I mean, you’re trying to be a critic. Darlene (he called to the bartender), set us up with tequila shots here and you have one yourself, sweetie. So you’re trying to be a critic….”

“Look here, sir, I am not a critic!” Paul was getting hot under the collar. “I hate critics!”

“Relax, pal, and have a drink,” Senior commanded, then tossed down a shot of tequila. “You sound like a critic. I read the first five articles you wrote about dancing, and I wondered what you were doing wasting your time writing about a bunch of peons and pansies. I’m just your average Joe, and I could care less about going to see people prancing around in pink tights, let alone read what some nitwit thought about them. Take a look around the bar here, and you tell me, who gives a shit about what you think about dancing?”

“I know the market is narrow,” answered Paul with a sunken heart. “But, but I believe I could expand it. I mean, well, you know there are lots of people who read about dance, so I….”

“Hold on there,” Senior interrupted, glaring at Paul. “Did you send that shit anywhere else?”

“Yes, I sent each review to the papers and the magazines.”

“Did you get a reply? Well, did you?” Senior challenged.

“No. But one editor wrote on the rejection slip that I….”

“There ‘ya go! Forget that! How much would you make on a best seller?”

“I don’t know, maybe fifty-thousand.”

“You stupid idiot! Try a half-million bucks for size!”

“Oh.”

“So, why are you screwing yourself short with that shit? Nobody wants to read about that sissy stuff. You’ve got to write about the right stuff to make it big. Hey, Junior (he called down the bar to his son) isn’t this guy’s writings shit?” Junior nodded his assent compliantly.

“As I said, I wanted to write about something…”

“Something? Something? What do you want for your work, ten bucks?”

“Well, no,” Paul answered wanly.

“Well, that’s what it looks like!” Senior concluded and turned to talk to his son, thus leaving Paul, the greatest aspiring writer the world will ever or never know, to his reflections and a full shot of tequila.

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