Happy Spring (at last!) – by Bill T. Jones
This is part of a series of monthly blog posts–penned by Bill T. Jones–designed to provide further insight into his creative process, inspirations and more.
Hello! And a Happy Spring (at last!).
This blog/this essay/this stream of consciousness… Whatever you’d like to call it is going to be – depending on your point of view – in two parts or in thirty. It is an attempt to embrace fragmentation. What I mean by that is an acknowledgement of the diverse and often conflicting impulses, thoughts and responses I feel personally around life in general, New York Live Arts in particular and…
The Live Ideas Festival has just finished. For me art making is participation in the world of ideas. New York Live Arts’ mission could be said to be participation in the same world – or is it worlds?
A group of us recently met with a consultant who asked the question who we see ourselves as being and how we feel we are perceived. This was a good, though daunting, opening to a painfully probing conversation. I will not attempt to give a detailed report on what was said. I will say ours is an organization that is still trying to define the “we” that connects us.
Some months ago at the urging of a board member, we had a candid conversation over very good wine and cheese with a veteran administrator and cultural warrior with much non-profit experience and a long history of delving into the intricacies and public/private aspects of cultural organizations.
At one point, I was challenged to define our mission. I offered an answer I have shared on numerous occasions starting by saying that for 6 to 10 years prior to our merger with Dance Theater Workshop, we at the Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company had been in search of a home that would be inspired by the diverse programs of the 92nd Street Y. Again, I was challenged by this friend saying that what gave cohesion to the 92nd Street Y mission is its core Jewish identity! She pressed on, asking, “What is the core of New York Live Arts? What is the spine of our enterprise? What is there for audiences, funders, trustees and artists to latch on to?”
Of course, we are not one thing. What cultural organization is? What unites us? As I have often said, thinking is the spine of all we do and support, then, fragmentation is a virtue in my mind as we will not be readily defined – at least not yet.
Sounds right, but is it right as we look ahead? As these blogs progress, I will return to this.
In keeping with the theme of the undefined and the place that fragmentation holds for me at this point, let me share some notes, some nothing more than impressions:
Rashaun Mitchell performance at Live Arts of Light Years (April 1-4):
- • Dancer Silas Riener walking bare-bottomed and body painted around a pool of light. Was he an aborigine?
- • An alien or a denizen from our distant future, in shiny body-hugging leotard and space helmet.
- • Was the whole piece to be about the anthropological aspect of culture over the millennia?
- • Rashaun handed out context notes only as the audience was leaving. He wanted us to have no preconceptions about the work.
- • Rashaun describes Light Years as a “Black Dance” as he is bi-racial and he made it.
- • Is that what the bare-bottomed body painted white man was supposed to represent? A Black person? A more primitive human being juxtaposed to the sleek space-man or denizen from the future?
- • I recalled in the last of my Bill Chats last season, When did the Avant Garde Become Black? one of the panelists, Ishmael Houston-Jones, quoting me with some head-scratching as saying: “Black art is anything a person who identifies as being Black makes.”
- • Per the belated context notes, the spaceman could be a reference to disco culture, say club-music’s legendary Sylvester in a “space aged” and/or a “spaced-out” mood.
- • Right on! It’s always satisfying and surprising when a viewer’s characterizing of a new work gets a fierce bite in the ass because he/she (me in this instance) insist on looking in the wrong direction for meaning and/or significance – Heads up you critics/so called “informed observers”!!!
Live Ideas, Sky: Force and Wisdom in America Today curated by Laurie Anderson (April 15-19).
I was overjoyed when Laurie Anderson agreed to curate this, our third Live Ideas Festival. As her programming came into focus, I had some concern that there was no “spine”, that it was fragmented. But, looking back on the entire week, I can now recognize that there was an astonishing deep unity in Laurie’s choices. This is what I hope for New York Live Arts!
- The Keynote Conversation with Laurie was one of a number of high moments. Laurie shared with us three rules she and Lou Reed had devised for themselves:
1) Fear no one.
2) Refine one’s bullshit detector.
3) Be tender.
- The opening event, Beyond Belief, a talk by the brilliant Timothy Ferris, asked us to distinguish between belief and knowledge. Some other dualities: liberal/conservative, progressive/authoritarian, religion/science, ideas/ideology.
- Arvo Pärt’s Journey in Silence a daylong activity curated by Peter Bouteneff. Here are a few fragments from that day:
– “Pärt’s music is like looking at things without eyelids.”- Pärt is known to say, “In the beginning was the word.”
– For Pärt “text is a guardian angel.”- “Silence is more than a strategy for him.”- “His music is the search for humility.”
– “All artists need internal space.”
– “Pärt allows you time to stay with something.”
– “His art emanates from a place of prayer.”
– Pärt doesn’t play cute tricks with time.”
– I went into this day with the assumption that Pärt was a near misanthropic introvert, humorless and dower in his piety. Man was I wrong! The screening of Doria Supin’s documentary portrait, 24 Preludes for a Fugue, left me inexplicably uplifted and on the verge of tears. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this artist in particular and in the artist versus their public persona and their method in general.
– Lastly, I have come to think of Spiegel im Spiegel and Fur Alina as self-contained masterpieces, almost like precious celadon items that defy utility (choreography) and any use other than their presence as artifacts of contemplation. In other words, they’re almost dead for me being so complete. That is what I felt before I heard Pärt explain certain elements in the work and, that evening, on our stage, heard them played exquisitely. The works came alive and renewed my interest in all Pärt works and in the man himself.
- Lou Reed’s DRONES introduced and operated by Stewart Hurwood, Reed’s long-serving guitar tech:
– Everyone was concerned about the high decibels and duration of this one. Earplugs were handed out. We could sit, stand, come and go on stage and in the house.
– For me, the experience was about letting go. Letting go of concerns for who comes, who goes, who is looking, who is not.- The lights changed subtly, consistently for two hours.
– I thought of Oliver Sacks’ recent essay in the NY Times in which he wrote that he decided to let go of concerns about the world and focus on the quality of the time he has left…
– The relentless cascade of electronic sounds was like a bath.- While moving through the vortex of sound, I thought of Deborah Hay in conversation with Laurie saying, “The challenge in dancing is to be aware of the space at the back of one’s head.”
– At one point, I had to decide if I would dance or not. I asked myself “who cares?”
– Laurie had said at lunch on the first day that she “has been out at sea a while and is still not back…”
– An image came to me from Ken Burns’ documentary on WWII. After the Japanese army lost control of the Pacific island of Saipan, panic stricken islanders threw themselves into the sea for fear of being captured and eaten by the American forces. A few Japanese soldiers survived and, rather than surrender, they dived into the ocean and began swimming away from the victors on shore who decided that because the swimmers were going to drown, they might as well be shot…
- Screening of Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls:
– The film remains one of Julian’s masterpieces.- Javier Bardem was magnificent. Though I am still rankled when heterosexual actors play homosexual personalities.
– The image of Bardem’s character, Reinaldo Arena, dying of AIDS in NYC calmly sipping liquor through a straw while popping barbiturates was almost unbearable to see. It brought back waves of sadness and anger.
– I loathe the notion of the saintly dying homosexual…- I was unprepared for this film and felt too open following the two hour long experience of Lou Reed’s DRONES.
- Master Ren: Taijiquan Demonstration and Panel Featuring Lou Reed’s DRONES:
– The reprise of Lou’s DRONES was a bit like touching an area that had a moment ago been stimulated to the point of ecstasy, but now was a place of mere agony.
– Master Ren’s big, athletic body doing the Taiji form “21” (or was it “22”?) while Lou, small and intense, performed similar gestures on slides behind his beloved instructor’s demonstration and in my mind as I recalled the night Lou introduced us.
- Marjorie Morrison’s talk Proactive Military Mental Health:
– This event was one of the most profound of the week. Marjorie of the PsychArmor Institute discussing proactive military mental health with Joe Mauricio of the Shambhala Meditation Center and Lifework Services; Jason Hansman, a US Veteran and a Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; and Mateo Romero, a US Veteran and visual artist were a singular event on our stage at New York Live Arts. I regret that more from our community did not have the opportunity to meet these brave and committed persons on the front line of the rupture represented by war.
– It was important for me to examine my attitudes towards military persons in general and in this war in particular. The point was raised by one of the participants that the civilian population does not separate the persons fighting the war from the war itself. They went on to say that this started when military service was no longer a draft, but became a volunteers’ activity. The assumption being that if one volunteers for this unpopular war, one somehow or other is complicit and – upon returning to civilian life – not deserving an unconditional embrace…
– I was left with the feeling that if we accept that we will always need soldiers, then we will always have wars. The statement, “war will always be with us”, took me back to Timothy Ferris’s opening event. Is this a statement of belief or verifiable fact?
Before closing, some gratitude to Laurie and her team, Producer Kim Cullen, all the artists, speakers and personalities who participated in the Festival, Anita Shah and her tech crew and the Live Arts staff.