Next month Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant will be premiering in July at Dancers Workshop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s the third installment to the Analogy Trilogy as it is based on a novel unlike the other two which are autobiographical oral histories. Seabald himself—in a book called The Emergence of Memory – says that Ambros is actually a biographical character. In an interview, someone asked him, “Did you have an uncle Ambros?” And he has a way of wiggling vaguely about it. So we are led to believe that Ambros is based on some fact in his life—which makes the story even more remarkable. He’s not around to ask how much.
The first installment in the trilogy, was based on my mother-in-law, Dora Amelan, from an oral history that I just happened to do with her (soon to be 16-17 years ago) for her sons (my husband and his brother). I did it for them. But when I began to read The Emigrants and started trying to first put the quasi-novelistic character together—a German man born in 1880’s with my Jewish mother-in-law Dora Amelan born in 1920— I thought why not try to make a piece where I fold them both together? And I realized it was too rich and didn’t know how to do it.
So why don’t we separate them out?… Oh!
This should be three parts!
And why don’t we take the one that is actually closest right now—which is Dora who I see twice a year and speak to every week on the phone. Let’s start with her. And that’s how the first part became about Dora.
And what’s in the middle?
My nephew. It’s the most personal thing. When I started doing his oral histories—inspired by Dora’s—we thought he was going to die. It was a time for truth telling. Was he novelistic? No, but he and I bonded around the idea of creating a work that was quasi-fictitious. I’m making a work looking at him try to make a work. He’s making a work and not knowing anything about making anything based around a character he created psychologically called “PRETTY.” My nephew… really right to the heart of trying to be who I am in the world… Very diverse group of friends making art that is not in the mainstream really. The only thing we have in common really is—yes we are both gay—that we are blood relatives and both interested in the arts. Of course he had a kink in it—one all too familiar— he was a drug addict which led him down a certain path. When I hear the term now, “at risk kids,”—literally my adult life has been asking me to come in to tell kids, “It’s ok to be an artist”, as an alternative to a life in the streets.
Well as for my nephew, I’m his uncle. He was accepted to San Francisco School of Ballet, but still ended up having a life full of sexual predation and drug abuse. So this idea that art can save us… This uncle who has bought the whole thing of being an artist as a way of salvation… and he, who on the brink of death, found that and trying to build on it… who is most in touch with reality? The uncle or the nephew? So, as I have interviewed Dora and Lance, the company, in a way, is interviewing Ambros.
You may have read the New York Times feature last year. I started trying to tell stories and do abstract movement at the same time that I started to make art. I was in love with the abstract possibilities of movement, but was also really intrigued by the stories that my mother and father told in the context of being in upstate New York in a German-Italian community with nice working class white people for the most part and a handful of blacks. There was this whole load of information—a lot of it before I was born—that became family lore (and I suppose every family had it)—that had to compete with American television or LIFE Magazine or the Bible. And though these stories were real—my parent’s exploits, where they came from, their childhood or their memories of the south—they might as well have been myths in themselves. So when I started, using the abstraction of my body and immediacy and minding the stories that were available to me—in the way that my mother and father would mind the stories of their childhood to entertain us, scare us, or instruct us—those worlds came together.
I didn’t want to illustrate what I was saying so I had to find other systems. Those systems came from improvisation that I learned from Richard Bol, Lois Welk (thought leader at the American Dance Asylum, Binghamton, 1970’s), and what I might understand as system-making as Trisha Brown might understand it. Telling stories and moving was a way of answering many questions for me: Where do I fit in? – not only in the dance world, but in the contemporary art world.
(Speaking to myself) What is the confessional? You’re prone to the confessional, but how do you give shape to the confessional? And how do you position it? Is it a universal story you’re telling? Or is it hyper-personal with the potential to speak to all the hyper-personal stories your audience has? Are you a black preacher exhorting the congregation which is your audience to some hard truce about life through illustrations? Or are you a poet entertaining them with sound and fury? That’s what the story telling was in the beginning. Has it continued in that way?
The Lincoln piece, Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray, was an invitation to make a work for the 200th anniversary of the birth of our president, who just happened to be “the great emancipator”… or was he? And I could do anything I wanted. I wanted to tell his story. I wanted the “story book” man to be made three-dimensional and I wanted him to be built out of the imagination of contemporary people—many of them young enough to be my children. How do we get the historical man to meet the fantasies, attention, and inattention of my organization—which is a microcosm of the world.
Arnie Zane and I use to say, “The company is not the world that we live in, it is the world we would like to live in.” Contemporary dance—or the avant garde as I understood it—was not doing characters. It was actually demonstrating something. Dance was like a 3-dimensional sculpture time-based as way of directing a group of strangers. What we did. Where we did it. It was a way to talk about things close to my heart—like politics and power—but doing it through abstraction. When small people lifted big people— Arnie Zane (5’4) lifting Bill T. Jones (6’1). And there’s something about the sweat of grappling that plays through all the fears that my parents and the southerners had about such a nation: Who is swapping spit with whom? Who is sleeping with whom? Dance has always been—or it use to be—a metaphor away from sex. But let’s just mix it up. What if anybody could dance with anybody? And what if you didn’t have to be beautiful or a god/goddess to do it? Now have that reality going on next to something Bill is saying which is maybe a memory from his mother and father or some anecdote from his life. Now that has informed [Fondly Do We Hope… Fervently Do We Pray] and also Story/Time. Big time.
Story/Time was a very self-conscious imitation of John Cage dealing with the hated narrative form. I think it’s fair to say he was against narrative—he was an Irish man so he told stories very well, but he also the thought the world was too facaded with narrative. And why did something have to start here and end there? Why couldn’t it start in the middle and then go into the beginning and then the ending? Why couldn’t everything be by chance procedure? Or why couldn’t he make stories that are all over the map and then through chance procedure organize the progression of the stories with no glue or transitions in between? It’s a very radical exercise: anti-narration. It was a challenge to me [to write and collate] 180 short stories. The concision of language—being able to understand the whole story in one minute—and now through chance procedure organize them. That is the narration running next to what? A catalogue of 30 years of creating movement. Talk about deep water here. Just have faith that you’re going to have an audience interested in the puzzle—a patient audience that you don’t have to seduce with a climax. And they will be changing the channel every minute. That is how Story/Time changed from Everybody Works/All Beasts Count—the first solo I did in 1977.
First blog of 2017!
Welcome to my first blog of 2017! I hope to catch up on what’s happening at New York Live Arts, in house and in the world. In case you’re wondering about the creature above: It is a reminder of our January 21st drive from the company’s performance of Story/Time at Santa Barbara’s Granada Theater as part of the University of California Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures Series. A sublime ride up Highway 1 wherein the only conflict was the powerful crashing of waves against the shore while the rest of the country and the world were exploding in the many Million Women’s Marches across the nation and world.
My itinerary had been:
Miami, FL for the annual Young Arts gathering wherein my role as adviser, I addressed a group of 17-18 year-old dance and theater artists about the why and how of being a professional artist. Warm feelings, some crazy laughter and even tears.Meanwhile, back in NYC, this years Fresh Tracks artists were performing at New York Live Arts.
The following day, Julio LeParc’s revelatory retrospective at the Perez Museum delighted the eye, tickled the mind and raised questions about the canons of artistic innovation: If your work happened outside of NYC, did it really happen?
Traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah for an encounter with dance students at the University of Utah and a stimulating three way conversation with performance artist Taylor Mac and Flea Theater Artistic Director, Niegel Smith, who directed Taylor’s recent astounding A 24-Decade History of Popular Music 6 decades of which were commissioned by NYLA (and was my Associate Director on Fela!). The event was moderated by Doug Fabrizio, host of Radio West, a syndicated Salt Lake NPR daily show.
Art & Activism.
The dinner that followed that encounter hosted by Raymond Tymas-Jones, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, and, Brooke Ellen Horejsi, Assistant Dean for Art & Creative Engagement at the University, was, like many such dinners these days focused on how to do the right thing under the Trump administration! What a trip!
At breakfast the following morning at our hotel we ran into the essential Black intellectual, Ta-Nehisi Coates as he prepared to give a keynote address in partnership with the University’s Office for Equity and Diversity. Thank you to Brooke Ellen Horejsi and Raymond Tymas-Jones at Utah Presents, the Office for Equity and Diversity, Utah Humanities, and Tanner Humanities Center, Bob Goldberg and Anne Freed-Goldberg. to make all of the above happen!
From Utah, Bjorn and I flew to Los Angeles. Driving from the airport to Santa Barbara for a performance of Story/Time. A big shout out to the irrepressible Celestea Billeci and Annette Caleel.
Photo credit: Dean Zatkowsky
Rain, rain, rain:
The California drought must be over by now! Right?
Our stay there allowed us to reconnect with the lovely Tana Christie – a participant in the first (1992) of Still/Here’s Survival Workshops, which was held in Austin, TX – and her husband Joe.
Upon our arrival in San Francisco, the city’s streets were still vibrating from the previous day’s Million Women’s March. Looking towards the March workshop of Opera Philadelphia’s production of We Shall Not Be Moved, the new opera composed by Daniel Bernard Roumain which I am to direct and choreograph, I met with librettist, Marc Bamuthi Joseph as we continue to develop the characters’ storyline and the overall sense of our hybrid opera. We wrestled with the final confrontation between two north-Philly bred women who come to represent poles in our national debate on police violence, minority communities, failing education system and, once again, what it means to “do the right thing”:
We both made a choice miss, you and me, shit was too real at home and we left…
But we both chose a family to run with
How come your brother cops haven’t found you here yet?
Who cries for the brown girl gone missing?
I’m just asking for a head start
I’m asking you to put the gun down
UN/SUNG (with OG)
I’m asking you for permission to try to survive
The one with the gun has the moral high ground, no?”
That evening, I delivered a lecture title Empathy at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center. The address dealt with the inevitable questions: how do we come together and find common ground in our divided era? Can we fashion a new political movement that reaches past our various bubbles?
After a couple of days home, Bjorn and I headed back out to Chicago to deliver a lecture titled Return as part of the Arts AIDS America exhibition, at the invitation of the Alphawood Foundation in collaboration with the DuSable Museum of African American History in who’s theater the lecture was held.
Me next to David Wojnarowicz’s work.
Warmly received talk and a vibrant, sometimes head-scratchily esoteric Q&A period stemming from the question: “Who in this room still believes in Democracy?”
The Museum’s Director, Perri L. Irmer, in walking us to our car took us through a powerful show, Freedom, Resistance and the Journey Towards Equality where I was confronted by one of the most chilling items I have ever seen:
A period Black Panther poster superimposed over the very bullet-ridden door the police blasted through on the night Fred Hampton was killed – a loan from painter Kerry James Marshall.
Back home again, it was snowing in the garden .
Bill’s Blog: Innocence and so on…
““Vivaldo,” she said, wearily, “just one thing. I don’t want you to be understanding. I don’t want you to be kind, okay?” She looked directly at him, and an unnameable heat and tension flashed violently alive between them, as close to hatred as it was to love. She softened and reached out, and touched his hand. “Promise me that.” “I promise you that,” he said. And then, furiously, “You seem to forget that I love you.” They stared at each other. Suddenly, he reached out and pulled her to him, trembling, with tears starting up behind his eyes, burning and blinding, and covered her face with kisses, which seemed to freeze as they fell. She clung to him; with a sigh she buried her face in his chest. There was nothing erotic in it; they were like two weary children. And it was she who was comforting him. Her long fingers stroked his back, and he began, slowly, with a horrible, strangling sound, to weep, for she was stroking his innocence out of him.” – James Baldwin – Another Country
This chilling scene occurs between interracial lovers, Ida (a black aspiring singer) and Vivaldo (a white writer), the morning after she has been unfaithful to him with a powerful white man explaining that this man could get her a job.
The many recent police shootings of black men stopped for minor offences could not prepare me for the shooting of Philando Castile in St Paul, MN. The exchange with the gun wielding policemen was filmed and streamed live on Facebook by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, as her four year-old daughter sat in the back seat witnessing everything.
Several days ago, I was invited to participate with poet Claudia Rankine and WNYC’s Producer of Special Projects on Race, Rebecca Carroll, in a segment of Leonard Lopate’s show hosted by Arun Venugopal titled On Art and Civic Unrest (Listen here). Arun asked for each of our responses to the continuous barrage of such events. My answer began trying to describe this blog centered on the notion of innocence.
At any time before this latest shooting, I would have recalled the excerpt from Baldwin’s Another Country and smiled, ruefully, convinced I knew something about this experience that shocked white Americans did not.
Two more shootings of black men followed…
Then, during peaceful protests in Dallas and Baton Rouge disgruntled former soldiers, both of them black, gunned down policemen.
My rueful smile of experience slipped as I felt my own innocence ripped away from me, not stroked. What replaced it? Ineffable sadness and a curious desire to sing it away dance it away or tell you – whoever you are – about it. And yet… nothing seemed able to replace the comfortable skin, that innocence, like a discarded suit of clothes, puddled, useless at my feet.
New York Live Arts moves forward, under the leadership of Executive Director, Kim Cullen, looking to the future with significant changes to the artistic team, breaking down silos with everyone now working collaboratively towards the mission of our organization.
My long-time collaborator and Associate Artistic Director of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Janet Wong, is now Associate Artistic Director of New York Live Arts.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Producing Director, Kyle Maude, is now Producing Director of New York Live Arts assisted by Isabella Hreljanovic who’s been promoted to the Senior Producer position.
The second part of the Analogy Trilogy, Lance: Pretty, aka The Escape Artist had a successful opening at the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC. You can read the review here.
My nephew, Lance T. Briggs, who’s oral history is excerpted in the work and who contributed some original songs to it, flew in with his mother from Tampa, FL, and attended the performances. I had last visited him this past fall on the eve of a life threatening surgery he underwent. I was moved to have him there and to see his interaction with my dancers who were very excited at this opportunity to have an exchange with the man they had been referencing in various forms throughout the months long creative process.
This confluence of my personal life with my creative team and its supporters: Jodee Nimerichter and her ADF staff, former board members/funders Ellie Friedman and Carol Tolan as well as present board member Helen Mills with her husband Gary and our fearless commissioning partner, Babs Case was extremely rewarding
At one point during the NPR On Art and Civic Unrest interview, Arun Venugopal asked about a statement I had made somewhere about my desiring that Lance’s audiences should feel something akin to being in the black church: call and response, a shout-out, embraced by a community. The truest part of my answer was that I hoped this hypothetical audience might feel my heart and the truth of the conversation between me and my nephew struggling – two black men – to love, to love each other, at all times but, particularly, at this time!
A view from Woodbox, our little house the mesa of Northern NM where I am spending the month
Spoken word artist, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the librettist for We Shall Not Be Moved, the opera composed by Daniel Bernard Roumain which I’ve been invited to direct and choreograph by Opera Philadelphia sent me the following on the occasion of Muhamad Ali’s passing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9xOiWnsK-Q&feature=youtu.be
Fear and Anger
“During the war I was only really frightened once.-Dora Amelan about her time at Gurs Internment Camp in 1942
Dora Amelan made this astounding statement to me during a recent call from Paris as I sat waiting for our flight back to NY from Jackson Hole, WY.
Dancers’ Workshop, led by the inspiring Babs Case hosted a creative residency for Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka The Escape Artist, the second installment in the Analogy Trilogy. We had just shown a preview performance of the work the night before.
“Only once?!” I said to Nick Hallett, the trilogy’s composer after hanging up. “I can’t count the times I have been afraid” retorted Nick. I agreed.
And so it is with life for many of us in our society, but for artists in particular.
When to be afraid? When to be angry?
Exhausted, but mellow, following the success of the Analogy/Lance preview, it took a while for me to come out of the extreme concentration and self-involvement of bringing such a complicated work into the world. Was it the NY Times ever erupting coverage of the horrendous slaughter at a Gay club in Orlando? Was it my nephew, Lance Briggs, missing our very regular phone exchanges asking was I alright and had I heard of the tragedy that had just happened in a neighboring city to Tampa where he is recuperating at his mother’s home? For whatever reason, I realized with some chagrin, that we had not acknowledged the previous night’s ghastly carnage to the ostensibly liberal audience at our well-attended showing. Many pieces began to fall into place:
- A few weeks earlier, in Charleston, SC, Bjorn and I stopped dead in our track upon seeing a sign posted at the entrance of a restaurant saying “Concealed weapons prohibited”!
- During break, on the afternoon of the showing in Jackson Hole, as Bjorn and I were sitting at Café Genevieve, I suddenly realized that the man with whom we had just had a very pleasant exchange about the quality of a particular beer, had a pistol strapped to his hip…
When to be afraid? When to be angry?
Charleston, SC – The Spoleto Festival
To the Poem by Frank O’Hara:
Let us do something grand
just this once Something
small and important and
unAmerican Some fine thing
will resemble a human hand
and really be merely a thing
Not needing a military band
nor an elegant forthcoming
to tease spotlights or a hand
from the public’s thinking
But be In a defiant land
of its own a real right thing
Cautious, lest I be a boorish guest who offends, or “bites the hand of his host” I read this poem to preface the remarks I had been invited to make at the opening of the 40th Anniversary Season of the Spoleto Festival USA. I made a point of framing this poem historically, drawing attention to its having been written in the 1950’s – another period when we as a country were faced with the stink of mendacious, divisive politics and a deep uncertainty as to where the truth of our national identity lay. I was aware of the gravity and symbolism of the moment as I joined 6 luminaries including Charleston’s previous and present mayors, the head of Spoleto’s board and, most significantly, The Reverend Dr. Betty Deas Clark, the pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. I was aware that my diverse audience, sitting in the midday’s blazing sun, had suffered a trauma: the June 7, 2015, assassination of eight members and the pastor of the abovementioned church at the hands of a young white supremacist and that they were in the process of “healing”.
As if it were not complex enough, two encounters with average Charlestonians in the next few days have left me wondering once again about the nature of truth, the passage of time and who’s narrative becomes the reigning one:
- Bjorn and I were met with rain upon leaving our hotel and decided to take the well-appointed black SUV that was parked in front. The driver, a large dignified Black man who commanded respect with his Southern courtly manner, held his peace for a while as we cruised down King Street. For some reason, he was inspired to say, “This city is changing by the day. This street used to have a number of Black businesses, but you won’t find one now that it’s been gentrified!” As we were crossing Calhoun Street, (named after John C. Calhoun 1782 – 1850 a statesman and political theorist from South Carolina, who is best remembered for his strong defense of slavery and for advancing the concept of minority rights in politics) I asked him “What about the name of this street?” Our driver, in his basso profundo, responded pointing back over his shoulder to the statue of the man “Yeah, some folks talk of taking that down, but you know what, it took these nine people being shot dead for that flag to come down…”
- Hurrying to the car headed to the airport after our riotously received performance of two works, Story/ to Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet and D-Man in the Waters to Mendelson’s Octet in E-flat Major, our guest, Terrance McKnight, WQXR’s mellifluous voiced classical music presenter who happens to be African American, stopped us to say, “You took the cliché of classical music and made something surprising and interesting.” I thanked him and, as a rushed afterthought, asked whether he would support a New York Live Arts driven event we are planning titled Thank You Mr. Obama. He responded, “Certainly, I respect the man”. As we pulled away, our driver – a white man about the age of the Black driver mentioned above – said, “… We had a tragedy here and we don’t need those troublemakers like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, (Mr Obama?) We can take care of our own problems!”
Meanwhile, what about Anger and Fear? New York Live Arts is what I hold to as the place where these complexities can be named and processed.
We are excited by our five fingers strategy for sustainability and growth. Hope you enjoy our new graphics – come join us!
Bill’s Blog: Who? What? Where? When? How?
WHO-Jen Rosenblit, a performance artist whose work I am just getting to know. We are co-presenting her latest work, Clap Hands with the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn.
I saw Jen in Part 3 of Miguel Gutierrez’s Age and Beauty that we commissioned and presented here at New York Live Arts last fall. At one moment, as she and a very young performer were grappling just in front of me, Jen and I made eye contact or at least I think she was looking at me. The look was opaque, neither open or guarded, maybe wary-certainly aware. She employed that gaze much of the time in Clap Hands the other night.
Bill’s Blog: How much do those pants cost?
“If the pants you are wearing cost more than $50 turn 10 times!”
This peculiar direction came to us as we, audience/observers of Farah Saleh’s Free Advice performance at New York Live Arts, stood in small groups – some of us in stocking feet – amid brightly colored exercise balls and cardboard signs, gamely participating in what was described as “highly interactive”. The artist herself never spoke, but suddenly her voice in “voice of God” mode came through the P.A. system with a cascade of questions/commands:
- “If you are barefoot move to the center of the room!”
- “If you don’t like your job, extend your left foot!”
- “If you believe you could (should?) use less resources, start acting out!”
- “If you will use less resources starting tomorrow, sit down!”
- “If you believe in a cultural boycott of Israel, change your position!”
- “If you believe in a one state solution, step forward!”
- “If you are confused, sit down!”
- “If you believe you are unable to change your reality, leave this space!”
- “If you believe you are able to change your reality, leave this space!”
As you can see, the questions were certainly designed to be interactive, striving for a variety of confrontations, social, personal, political…
I would like to focus on the pants command as the very next night at our New York Live Arts gala – the most successful to date – we held an auction lead by the strange and curiously delightful auctioneer C.K. Swett. His final lot, number 4, was a dinner at the winner’s home to be prepared by celebrity chef David Waltuck for 7 friends in the company of Claire Danes, Hugh Dancy, Bjorn Amelan and myself. The winning bid – $10,000 – was sold twice.
Going back to the night before: As I was wearing a pair of Prada leather motorcycle pants certainly valued at more than $50, I was one of only two or three people spinning in the dispersed group of about 30 or 40. I felt foolish and suddenly excluded in this hip audience of inclusion. I did laugh along with the others even when the same instruction was given a second time. Likewise, I laughed nervously at the auction as I was literally being “sold” for the purpose of making the budget that will allow Live Arts to present work that critiques the hold Money, Class and Privilege have on us all and, certainly in the case of our “mid-sized” arts institution in particular.
Here are some images from our Live Ideas Festival: MENA/Future taking place at New York Live Arts and around NYC these past three months.
One of the most exquisite dancers I have ever seen. It left me feeling like this
Do you like movies? I saw and “Eye In The sky”, the English thriller dealing with the complex, ethical questions around drone warfare.
Wishing you an ever-warmer and productive spring time!
Bill’s Blog: March
I have been following your Platform series through the committed coverage of the NY Times. You are extremely photogenic. I am, as always, moved by the picture of you sitting alone in an uninhabited room or against a graffiti’ed wall in a South American city. You often project pensive, internal sadness in your photos. I look forward to seeing the only one of your performances my schedule allows on March 17.
A-propos to our conversation, I am struck with how the writers seldom mention your ethnicity. They do comment on what you call your “old Japanese clothes”. I believe this clothing, these poetic rags, are a sort of “envelope of safety” for you, the “perpetual other”. I attribute their power to the unspoken contract we in the US have with the complex history of post-war Japan. You become a sort of cinematic or novelistic phantasm, ghost or projection. We can look at you with compassion tinged with anxiety and regret. There is a moral authority in your otherness.
You call your solos “A Body in Space”. Are you “just another body in space?” or “any body in space?” I don’t think so. Firstly, you are an accomplished master of the persona you project, but you are – likewise – firmly established as “the other” in our imagination.
When I imagine what my costume would be like offering me a place in the American mythic imagination as you have assumed, it would be a basketball uniform or a rap-artist’s drag circa 1983, or elegantly and impeccably dressed like Miles Davis circa 1961. However, I feel the mythical Black man’s garb I could best employ to match your effect, as this ghost/survivor would be simply naked, or near so, ready for the slave-block, the workhouse or the hanging tree.
And how would my ghost move? … Most likely he wouldn’t!
Your last contribution to our email conversation ends asking me about my own political activism during the 1970’s. Well, I did lead a walkout in my high school fueled by our teenage outrage at a dress code that said that girls could not wear pants. I did refuse to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance with my hand over my heart at the school’s assembly program. My parents made the self-conscious political choice to name our pathetically underfinanced, mismanaged attempt at opening a restaurant in our small, conservative town “The Kennedy Inn” because, as my mother Estella said, “These biggity (!) white folks don’t like this man because he wants to give the black man a fair break!” Later, I marched in at least one demonstration lead by Caesar Chavez in support of migrant farm workers. But mostly, I indulged in a lot of predictable posturing, as I never had to burn my draft card or flee to Canada to escape the draft during the Vietnam War. Still, I felt I was living a highly charged and political life. Was it asking a white girl to the prom? Was it dancing slowly with Arnie Zane as the only outwardly gay and interracial couple at the Black students’ extremely heterosexual gathering at the State University of NY Binghamton? Was it walking brazenly hand in hand with Arnie Zane into a Department of Sanitation’s warehouse full of leering working class white men who were to be our colleagues for the day in Johnson City, NY to do our monthly roadwork garbage detail that qualified us for food stamps and public assistance?
So, in response to your question, I am tempted to say that my most consistent political struggle is reflected in the fact that taken how antagonistic the culture was to various aspects of my personal identity – I did not die! What do I mean? I spent a great deal of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood hiding… Hiding my race, my class, my sexual dilemma. My worldview – my politics if you will – was forged in desire to be “integrated”. Yes, integrated and yet visible. I regret to say – though it hurts me like the ghost-pain in an amputated arm – I continue to do so in our era at once roiled by questions of gender, race and class. Even in this field we call the art world, which thinks itself free, color-blind and progressive.
At the Armory Show in Jack Shainman’s Gallery booth, the painting at the top of this entry – the black man in the pink suit – like so many artists in Shainman’s stable, took my breath away as I realized this man in the pink suit was the new paradigm, the ultimate insider, no longer “the other”, but representing an image of self that is industry standard for suave, sexually desirable, charming and VISIBLE!
There have been some very provocative performances recently at New York Live Arts. Our Live Feed artist, Gillian Walsh and the main stage presentation of Champagne Jerry in the Champagne Room. Both these works are dealing with volatile issues of appropriation and conversations around cultural currency. It’s my hope that I can talk Neal Medlyn and Gillian Walsh into a sit-down question and answer session that I hope to include in my next blog.
There have been two notable personal events this past month:
The Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala at NY’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel during which I was awarded their Visibility Award. Big night! Circa 1,000 people in attendance; the major political fundraising vibration. My co-honorees for the evening were Governor Andrew Cuomo who received the National Equality Award and Sigourney Weaver the Ally for Equality Award. I am not sure if the Governor was doing a political star turn, but he was certainly impassioned in his defense of transgender rights. Sigourney Weaver was elegant and moving, speaking of one of her latest films in which she plays a religiously conservative mother’s transformation from homophobe to vocal activist for equality. The great Kathleen Turner, a new friend and powerful advocate for social change gave my introduction.
On February 15 (my 64th birthday!!!) I performed a talking solo 21 (1983) as the closing speaker of TED’s 2016 opening session. It was received with great warmth and interest. I must say it was one of the high points of my entire performing career.
Spring will soon be here and we will be celebrating our annual spring gala on March 24th. Our host this year is Hugh Dancy and the evening will feature performances by Mx Justin Vivian Bond, Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Company, Sarah Jones, Tony Award-winning Playwright and Performer, Okwui Okpokwasili, Sonya Tayeh and the Bengsons, and YoungArts Alumni. More information here!
Yesterday, flying into Salt Lake City on our way to Park City where the company performs tonight, I was bowled over to see An (Sweet Bean Paste) a film by Naomi Kawase. This film succeeds on so many levels. It’s warm, it’s delicious in its depiction of what goes into a humble pastry and it’s profound in the subtle revealing of its theme of who gets included and what is a life well lived. I highly recommend it!
It was a remarkable evening we shared last week. Sitting in the dinner theater audience at Michael Feinstein’s 54 Below with you and Bjorn watching Ben Vereen seemed almost dreamlike at the time and certainly more so with the steady stream of events, personalities and places we live through every day.
Bill’s Blog: HAPPY NEW YEAR!
As has been the case for the past 22 years, this final week of 2015 here on the mesa of Northern NM, provides an opportunity to look back and forward.
Following the strange and abrupt premiere of A Letter To My Nephew in France (watch the trailer here, pw btjaz), the reality changing experience of which I commented upon in my last blog, the company performed a series of successful performances at the Maison de la Danse in Lyon, France. Bjorn and I left the company after its premiere, driving through the Alps to Alba, Piedmont, to accept the invitation of the Ceretto family to spend a week as guests of their artists’ residency program set amidst their beautiful Barolo vineyards.
While Bjorn worked on a painting, I spent my days in the Bill Katz designed artists’ studio and at the The Sol LeWitt and David Tremlett Chapel (in nearby Brunate, La Morra), rehearsing my first solo in 8 years, a collaboration with the wonderful contemporary music ensemble, yMusic, to a new score composed by Marcos Balter titled Which Enables Us To Fly.
This solo, alternating with Diane McIntyre dancing to the same score, was premiered at Live Arts on December 9 and marked the culmination of yMusic’s participation in our first music residency program. It was an honor to share this music with Diane, and yMusic are fantastic players and wonderful people to work with!
The New Year opens with our Live Artery Festival with over 35 performances in 2 weeks both here at Live Arts and off-site at JACK and Abrons Arts Center, including a work-in-progress showing of the second installment of my company’s trilogy, Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka The Escape Artist. (Tickets here)
I am honored to be featured at the APAP Conference (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) Opening Plenary Session Making the Arts Matter, with a special dancing lecture at NY’s Hilton Hotel on January 15. In keeping with the theme of this year’s conference, the piece will be called Making and Doing. It will be followed immediately by a panel with Stephanie Schneider (arts educator), Carla Dirlikov (founder, CEO and artistic director, The Canales Project) and Paula Kerger, (president and CEO, PBS). The panel will be moderated by Anna Deavere Smith.
We are delighted that the brilliant Sarah Jones will be bringing a preview of her much-anticipated Sell/Buy/Date directed by Caroly Cantor (Jan. 6-10 & 12-16 – tickets here).
As those of you who have been following this blog know, I started reporting of an ongoing email conversation I’ve been having with choreographer Eiko Otake and here is its third installment.
A Conversation with Eiko (part 3)
When the idea of our casual email conversation occurred to me out of my reading your introduction to and translation of Kyoko Hayashi’s From Trinity to Trinity, I thought it would be easy to find our back and forth, digging into our various work-methods, responses to issues of identity, memory, history, ethnicity and feelings such as disgruntlement or anger. Boy was I mistaken!
I had never considered just how much emotional and logistical efforts must go into creating my work with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, supporting New York Live Arts’ administrative team and Thomas Kriegsman its Director of Programs.
Likewise, I could not have foreseen the stress of a premiere of a “pièce d’occasion” A Letter To My Nephew for our tour in France and most certainly I could not have imagined how the world would change as we finished our first performance at Créteil’s Maison des Arts in Paris and walked out to witness this important city reeling from a Jihadist attack in its vibrant center. And then, making my first solo in 8 years, I had forgotten how much one must shut out the world even as one listens to hear what this naked ritual of creation needs in order to find truth. Yet, the New Year finds me full of optimism at the prospect of restarting our conversation.
Picking up where we left off in Blog #7…
September 23, 2015:
It is my hope we will be able to “swap questions” and start talking to address any number of issues that will frame our conversation such as:
• How do the specifics of our persons affect and inform the work we’re doing?
• How the reality of time and place affects us and our work?
• Does a “universal” in life and art really exist?
My first question will deal more with you than your subject of Kyoko Hayashi’s From Trinity to Trinity. In the beginning of your introduction you say “Hayashi’s work quietly and brilliantly chronicled the experience of hibakusha…”. (Hibakusha is the Japanese name for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) Later you describe what you admire in Hayashi’s writing, “…straightforwardness, perseverance, dark humor and profound quietness.”
An anecdote: My brother, an aspiring Zen Buddhist, who was living in San Francisco at one point and meditating daily at the Zen Center located literally in the “hood” largely populated by Black people, asked his teacher why the Zen temple was not more involved in its surrounding community. His teacher responded that Zen is about quiet and Black people are not quiet.
My question is: Is quiet inherently Japanese or is it a learned quality? How does this question live in your work and life?
From Eiko, September 23rd, 2015
Our conversation had started when we spoke in Jodee Nimerichter’s house, I think…
It was indeed new to talk to you eye to eye.
Can you give me some context to your second and third questions? I feel I know where the first question and your last question about “quiet” come from. But the second and the third questions are more abstract and I do not even know how to start…
Can you tell me why and how you arrive at these questions and why and how you address them to me? Or are these a set of questions you generally carry and ask of others as well? Are these your recent questions or decade long questions?
From Bill, December 21, 2015
“Why you and why now?”
As I read your translation and its introduction, I was struck by the contrast between the notion of “quietness” and Ms Kyoko Hayashi’s (and yours?) controlled sense of outrage.
Your choice of translating Hayashi’s disturbing report of being a victim of America’s atrocious military gesture coupled with the prejudice she experienced as a “hibakusha” (the Japanese word for victims of the atomic bombings) at home, allowed me to see you – perhaps for the first time – as a Japanese artist offering a specific worldview as opposed to the “universal” one we “downtown artists” have been encouraged to adopt as a sort of passport of neutrality.
I felt you were, with the most gracious politeness, objecting and drawing attention to what separates you from the downtown, race-blind, class-blind world that gave us our artistic identities. You are using history. You are stressing the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This made me wonder if anyone in our progressive, well-educated field had dared ask you about your feelings about the war and if you would be willing to speak out frankly in the complex emotional way Kyoko Hayashi has done in her writing.
I was also able to look at how I, like many others who appreciate the work you (and Koma) have done over the years, tacitly attribute its “strangeness” to your “otherness”, your “Japanese-ness”.
Now that this country’s discourse is yet again racked with questions of race and its never healed wounds, I am critical of the avant-garde’s smug confidence that we are all “the same” and can teach the world how to “get along”.
Yes, I can honestly say I have always carried these questions and yet, recent events around police violence, Black men, Black people and others have made these once again fresh and urgent.
To be continued…
Now, back to my dreamy last few days here on the mesa under a grey sky, cold wind and snow as the fires roar in our wood-burning stoves.
Yesterday, I visited Bette Winslow, a much loved dance teacher and owner of the studio that bore her name until she retired a while back. Bette and I have been friends since my early visits to the area when I rented her studio to rehearse. Ms Winslow, age 96, is still as elegant, smart and warm as ever…
Hope to see you around New York Live Arts where our season continues with many programs you don’t want to miss.
Bill’s Blog: November 15, “Qu’est qui c’est passé?” (“What happened?”)…
Our new work, A Letter to My Nephew, made especially for the first two stops in our three city French tour had just finished its second performance.
The first one had been at the Hippodrome in the north city of Douai and this one – at the Maison de la Danse in the Créteil suburb of Paris, a space the company has been regularly visiting for the past 20 years or so – had met with a very warm response from an enthusiastic public. It was, unfortunately, to be the only one for the time being!
We were winding down a spirited toast with family, friends and members of the audience in the lobby of the theater when its Artistic Programmer, Fanny Bertin (our longtime supporter, Didier Fusillier, has recently left Créteil to become President of Paris’s La Villette) inquired nervously from us whether we were going directly to our hotel because there was news of “a riot and shooting in the area of République”. At this moment I experienced a kind of splintering of consciousness. The post-performance delirium, fueled by a glass of champagne, the question of where to go for dinner, quick notes to Janet Wong for the next day’s performance and, now, this ominous warning as we were about to head to the metro.
Having walked through the Créteil shopping mall closing down for the night, all seemed normal, though the space was sad and surreal as such spaces are when not filled with shoppers, we boarded the almost empty train headed to the center of Paris. Our metro car was soon invaded by a large group of graffiti splattered, yellow overall wearing medical students singing bawdy songs and drinking – what I am not sure. We exchanged nervous, tolerant smiles with the one other passenger sitting near us as the students – in what I learned was an ancient ritual of their order – banging on walls, floor and ceiling of the car, just a step away from real violence, shouted scatological, sexual and disruptive songs repeating the refrain “Salope, Salope…” (something between “bitch” and “slut”)! With all their boisterousness, there was something sweet and even tender as these obviously bright young caregivers of the future were letting off a little steam. Little did they know – as we were about to understand – what their party was about to step out into from the train.
When we disembarked at our stop, “Liberté”, debating whether we should jump on our rental scooter to head deeper into the city for dinner at an African restaurant, we recalled what we had heard about this “riot” and, feeling not quite up to another late night such as we had experienced the evening before amidst the café goers, the crowd of the Champs Elysées, the sleek limousines, young folks of every color, we decided to investigate food options in the vicinity. The hotel lobby’s attendant gave us no indication that anything was amiss, but only said that nothing was open at that late hour in the area except a pizzeria next door.
The pizzeria was empty save for its wait staff and a large animated family group at a side table ignoring the ubiquitous TV screens, all showing images of a soccer stadium as if the game had just finished and many fans had rushed on the field, or so I thought! And then reality began to dawn on us that the game – at the Stade de France –which we had passed headed into town from the Charles de Gaule Airport a few days earlier – had been interrupted by a suicide bomb just outside.
A suicide bomb in Paris?
This chilling news was shunted aside by yet another report of “seventeen people killed in Paris’s center by machine gunners running down
the street, shooting randomly into cafes” some of which we had passed by the night before at about the same hour. And then there was the concert hall, Bataclan, just behind the Cirque d’Hiver where I had performed back in the 90’s. Now there was talk of hostages, more dead… The numbers kept rising. By the time we left the restaurant, the handsome, though ashen, faces of news commentators were reporting of 69 dead plus countless wounded.
While we were sitting in the pizzeria, certain hungry members of our cast and crew came in and some of them, suddenly realizing that there was a terrorist attack afoot, abandoned their dinner plans to race away and call family back in the States.
Back in our room, the full horror of it landed as we thought back to the Charlie Hebdo episode not so very long before and even the train bombing in Madrid, the metro bombing in London and, of course, our very own initiation into the new “normal” of war, 9/11…
Not being new media savvy enough to reach for Facebook or Twitter, we performed what even now, two days later, seems like a quaint ritual, going through our mental contact book to send emails and text messages to loved ones and other strategic individuals in the life of New York Live Arts to say “something horrible has happened in France, you’re probably just hearing about it, but we want you to know that though it is a terrible night for Western Europe (wasn’t it in fact the first suicide bomb in a major Western capital?) we are unhurt.”
Sleep was nearly impossible. The window was open as the night was humid and heavy inviting mosquitoes to attack us, adding yet more voices to the liminal post performance note-giving that played in my head: A Letter to My Nephew’s images of mob violence, relentless migrations, preening, vogue-ing, a burning car in Baltimore, a man shot in an Ohio park, the fierce, angular attack of a hip hop dance phrase, my nephew in his hospital bed, the cement wall and endless playing field of Créteil’s stripped stage echoing the TV news images of the stricken audience on the turf of the Stade the France, panicked revelers escaping the Bataclan and someone repeatedly shouting “Qu’est ce qu’il ce passe?” (“What’s happening?”)…
The next morning we woke up, both of us feeling we’d had a nightmare that was not dissipated with dawn, but confirmed by the online NY Times, Huffington Post and, it seemed, every news outlet in the world.
Our European agent, Gillian Newson, answered the question would A Letter to My Nephew have its second performance with the news that all theaters, museums, cinemas, sporting events and other public gatherings were cancelled!
The company, crew, Kim Cullen and Gillian Newson all met in the lobby for updates, logistical planning and just basic comfort. The company would be going on the next day, today, to our next venue the Maison de la Danse in Lyon. Nick Hallett and Matthew Gamble, our music team for A Letter to My Nephew, were departing and we now had serious time on our hand in a city that was once again rattled, saddened and defiant.
Wunderbaum have just finished a raucous and lively season at New York Live Arts and, on Friday, yMusic returns with our commissioned world premiere of Come Around Part III.
Please look for the continuation of my Conversation with Eiko (Part 3) in the next blog entry.