Bill’s Blog: organiOctober 22

So, the autumn is on us, a time for reflection and shoring up of resources for the season ahead… New York Live Arts continues to ask questions and look for solutions. Our Interim Executive Director, Kim Cullen, with Programming Director, Tommy Kriegsman, Development Director, David Archuletta, and myself have been taking a hard look at the challenges facing the organization and considering bold moves to sustain it. Okwui Okpokwasili has just brought her highly praised and much anticipated Bronx Gothic to our stage. I saw it and it moved me to tears.

OkwuiOkpokwasili-IanDouglas-006 Looking forward we welcome back yMusic. They return with composer Marco Balter’s commission, to which Dianne McIntyre and myself will create and perform two different choreographies.

It has been my intention that this blog come out at shorter intervals, but the activity of the last month or so has challenged that. When we found out that next month’s company tour in France could not show Analogy: Dora/Tramontane for various reasons (budgetary and language) we decided to create a “piece d’occasion”. As this found us working on the second installment of the Analogy trilogy, Analogy: Lance/Pretty, aka The Escape Artist, we took this to be an opportunity for a side trip creating a tangential work arising out of related materials and to title this work A Letter to my Nephew. This work stripped of the Analogy décor and the oral history I conducted with my nephew, Lance T. Briggs was shown in our studio earlier this week as a work in progress. I must say that this creative turn of events has taken on – for me and the company – an intensely personal dimension in that Lance’s health has taken a dire turn and I am flying out on Monday to Tampa, FL, where he is hospitalized to offer support to him and his mother at this uncertain time. Here is a study we have been developing to a song – sung by Matthew Gamble in an arrangement by Nick Hallett – written by Lance titled Thank you for Sharing my Pain.:

In a period jam packed with commitments and creation, I am overjoyed to have accepted the invitation from the Academy of American Poets and the NY Public Library to participate in a public dialog with Mark Doty (winner of the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry). As these events go, this one was remarkable in that, waking up the next day, I felt I had gone to a wonderful party and met one of the most lively, warm and probing human beings I could ever wish to know. I highly recommend his latest book of poetry, Deep Lane.

A Conversation with Eiko (part 2)

This blog will be largely devoted to a conversation I am having with Eiko Otake of Eiko and Koma. Our email exchange with each other has already proven to be probing and voluminous (as Eiko says in describing herself “chatty” and I am as well).

The bulk of this conversation will be in the form of email exchanges between us. This exchange will continue in future blogs…

August 10, 2015:

Dear Eiko,

I received your very lovely translation of From Trinity to Trinity have read the introduction and started reading the poetic text. I am very interested, but have some questions. Here is a paragraph from my recent blog that I edited out:

” ‘Time and space are malleable.’ Eiko said this to me at the warm gathering ADF Director Jodee Nimerichter threw in honor of Eiko’s presentation and BTJ/AZ Dance Co. following our closing performance. Eiko was saying that this idea of space and time being ‘folded’ was brought home to her when she learned that the subject of our latest work Analogy: Dora/Tramontane uses not just another Holocaust story (there are thousands of them says Eiko), but that our subject – Dora Amelan – was alive and, what’s more, Bjorn Amelan’s mother.

Curious: why does a character in a work like Dora/Tramontane gain more dimensions/validity by being alive if this work is based on oral history of a person of extreme age? There will certainly be a time when the subject is no longer alive. Will the work lose validity as a result? I look forward to continuing this conversation.”

Now, having plunged into your book and understanding more about this great writer and survivor of Nagasaki, I am interested in talking with you about what this means to your work and what my trilogy of characters might mean to my own. I propose a casual email exchange where we ask and answer each other’s questions.

What do you think?




Dear Bill,

How  nice to hear from you.

I am deeply grateful that you are giving your precious time to From Trinity to Trinity, a book that is dear to me.

I have been in Japan and have watched many documentaries and news coverage on Hiroshima, Nagasaki and World War II as this year is the 70th year anniversary. The average age of the current survivors of the A bomb passed 80. Surely the day will come when we will hear the news that will announce, ” the last surviving victim from the atomic bombings has just passed away.”

I was interested in how you chose to work on Dora now… not before not after… but now.  I imagine Dora’s age might be a factor.  The World War II precedes our generations’ direct experiences, but we have lived with, and in many ways were formed by, the people for whom the War left such a mark. We did not experience that war, but we have experienced those people who experienced the war. They will die, many of them before us perhaps, and the only place their lives will remain are in the minds of us who knew them, unless we make such effort as to tell their stories as our own or in our own way, which you do. In a small way I have done that, too, in the Trinity book and in my teaching. I teach one college course a year about the atomic bomb and am concerned how we can personally and collectively remember what we did not live through.

Thanks for your invite to correspond…

Let me briefly try to answer your question:

… I am not saying that because Dora is alive your work that utilizes her oral history is more valid… There is this story of hers, beautifully rendered on the American Dance Festival’s stage in Durham and there is another connected story–her body that currently exists in France and holds her memories. There is this distance of TIME between the story two and more stories, one on stage and one of her body then and now.  But the way your work covers a span of time, the distance between the time of existing Dora and the time that is depicted and talked on stage changes, expands and shrinks.

And there is another distance– physical distance on this earth, how many miles between two places– her body in Europe and the American Dance Festival (ADF) stage.

These many years and many miles distances, however, are not always felt the same, though the distance of, say Durham and her house, stays the same. There seems to me some punctures, penetration. This sense of malleability, puncture, and elastic movement of the distance are important to me. The viewer’s recognition of how time and space are malleable puts us – viewers – in the movement and we make time and space move. What was once far can radically come close. This duality and malleability is sensuous.

Once the real Dora is gone, your work will continue to radiate. I have no doubt.  But again I think it makes a difference that you and your performers knew Dora as a real person. Future young performers will know someone who knew her.  So there is an evidence and insistence that she was there and here.

So it seems to me, from the audience perspective, that the fact you started this work while she is alive is significant because her existence is an anchor now and that now will becomes an anchor in the future.

Sorry, I feel like I cannot say this clearly enough, but I think this is a tender time historically and that makes our generation a conduit.

Thanks again for who you are. Love,



September 23, 2015:

Dear Eiko,

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?



To be continued…

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