Bill’s Blog: The Forgotten Creek?
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.
I’m late with this entry. I intend to try shorter intervals in the future!
As I promised last time, I will be reporting on important developments at NY Live Arts in this blog, make a couple of invitations and try to describe how the phenomena of memory has persisted over these past springtime weeks.
“The sun has a rendezvous with the moon
But the moon isn’t there and the sun awaits.
Here under the sky, often we
Must do the same.
The moon is here, the moon is here
The moon is here, but the sun doesn’t see her.
To find her the night is needed
The night is needed, but the ever-shining sun doesn’t know it.”
This is a rough translation of French songwriter Charles Trenet’s “Le Soleil a Rendez-vous avec la Lune” sung by 95 year old Dora Amelan in the opening moments of my latest work, Analogy: Dora/Tramontane. This work uses an oral history I conducted with Dora Amelan, a French Jewish woman, retired social worker and nurse, survivor of WWII and mother of Bjorn, my husband and the Creative Director of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.
Dora spends much of her time recounting events of her earlier life in anecdotal, fragmentary story telling. Dora is always remembering. I see in this phenomenon of her remembering a connection to Emily Johnson’s work Shore, that ended our recent season at NY Live Arts. Shore had three parts or stages that were in fact prefaced by a number of free community oriented “actions” in the Rockaways, on Governor Island and in Brooklyn. I only saw Shore: Performance and found its first open-air ritual at the Chelsea’s PS11 playground and the silent walk from there to our theater most striking, primarily for the way storytelling was used. The walk from the park to Live Arts, we were told, followed the long buried Minetta Creek. I chose to see this walk and the story as a call to all memory buried under the sludge of time. The experience of walking the concrete and asphalt of present day Chelsea under the guidance of a Native American woman who had just told us the story of the buried stream was resonant and moving.
Separating and Reuniting
In the spirit of memory, I acknowledge the barrage of feelings I had when Jean Davidson announced that (after 8 years of marriage seven and half of which spent in a bi-coastal relation with her dear husband Ko) she would be leaving her position as CEO of NY Live Arts for a position as President and CEO of the Los Angeles Master Chorale:
First, quiet shock, then panic, then anger followed – tellingly – by an intense sense of focus and soul-searching that gripped me, the board and staff.
Here was a break with the past. We could literally feel a tearing as this capable, caring woman, who had midwifed the merger of two cultural institutions into one while being a friend and confident to me personally and a fierce strategist and protector to that new entity, was no longer to be with us.
After coming through all the above emotions, we can say proudly that we have been graced with an inspiring, energized and committed Interim Executive Director: Kim Cullen, a respected member of the performance community, long-time collaborator of Elizabeth Streb and, most recently, the Producer of this year’s Live Ideas SKY – Force and Wisdom in America Today festival (http://newyorklivearts.org/liveideas/).
We welcome Kim as we launch a national search for a permanent CEO.
The New York Times Artsbeat announcing Tommy Kriegsman’s exciting first season as NY Live Arts Director of Programs describes me as “the last to remain of the three officials who ran the organization after the merger”.In a probing meeting w/Tommy Kriegsman and Kim Cullen aimed at defining my vision for Live Arts, Kim asked me what had I been in pursuit of at the time of the merger. I said bluntly that I needed a permanent home for my 32 years old dance company, a personal “beach head” after a lifetime of what I shall colorfully call “cultural war”, but just as significantly, I wanted to participate in the building of a place where “thinking doers” and “moving thinkers” could gather, conspire by sharing work, ideas and instincts for survival. A place where the past is processed and the future created.
Sounds good? Well, it is, but it’s hard as hell to pull off and as anyone knows who’s tried it, you must constantly be seeking community (audience), resources and “truth.”
Truth as opposed to assumptions about what one’s mission, core values and vision are. This question of vision occupies us in house and me as I plan an address dealing with artists, art and art institutions. I was quite proud of a certain assumption I have developed over the years and would wave as a banner in my address. I unfurled it in an intimate meeting with Kate Levin at Bloomberg Associate. “Are the arts as important as highways and hospitals?” I asked. As is her way, Kate was direct. “Your question is poorly conceived. Why the defensive comparison that will never allow the possibility that the arts could be more important?”
Well, as my parents might have said at another time, “Slap my face!” She is right!!! What if New York Live Arts’ future was not about being defensive and apologizing, but instead, behaving as if we belonged here in brutal Gotham and are essential to the future of our society?
This change of perspective energizes me and New York Live Arts as we go forward, out of memory and into reimagining.
Stay tuned! The conversation continues…
So Where Was I?
Yes, with attention lassoed by separation, coming together and charging forward, we loose sight of various developments close to us. I received the following request:
“My name is Madison Mainwaring, and I am a writer based in New York. TheAtlantic.com has given me the assignment of writing about the decline in dance coverage at mainstream publications. In the lede I will discuss the elimination of the dance section at Time Out New York, as well as cuts to reviews at the New York Times announced last month.”
I sat with Madison Mainwaring and tried to be helpful as we indulged in a sincere and probing conversation about this question. At one point she told me of the responses she had gotten from various dance writers. Madison, in speaking with one prominent dance writer, described our present predicament of disappearing dance platforms as a “crises”. “No!” retorted this writer, “It’s a decline”. The assumption being that crises come and go, while a decline implies oblivion. If this is true, I asked myself, why don’t they (editors, publishers…) value us more? Why have we not earned their respect? Is it something lacking in our community, our output? Or is it simply that we don’t buy enough advertising?
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.
I’ve always believed (always is a ridiculous concept, isn’t it?) that dance writing serves several purposes:
Acts as a consumer advocate. Where should you give your attention and your discretionary cash?
As analysis to better understand where and how what we see in performance finds meaning
And most pertinent to this blog, as a way to remember
remember: to have or keep an image or idea in your mind (of something or someone from the past)
: to keep (information) in your mind : to not forget (something)–Merriam Webster Dictionary
Try as I might to “stay in the moment” there is the suffocating sense that the experience of live movement based performance runs the risk of being “paved over” like Emily Johnson’s Minetta Creek.
Who’s job is it to remember?
Wrapping Up (sort of)
This blog entry is getting long, but just a couple of more thoughts and another invitation.
Recently, while in residence at Bard College polishing Analogy: Dora/Tramontane and starting part II, Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka The Escape Artist, we participated in Translating the Holocaust an event organized by Roger Berkowitz (*) of the Hannah Arendt Center. We were privileged to learn of the work of H. D. Adler, a great chronicler among other of the Teresienstadt Concentration Camp and to hear from inspired scholars of that period and the problems they face in connecting us to that era and its incomprehensible events. Still, I was caught off guard when I realized that Dora Amelan’s lone, fragile memory of her experience was being categorized as being another Holocaust story. That is, her memory so dear to me, must be understood as a single stone if you will, on the Mt Everest of recollections in what we call the Holocaust.
Finally, one more invitation: For some years Roger Berkowitz and I have discussed our mutual admiration for the work of Hannah Arendt and, in particular, my attempts to work through her magisterial The Human Condition. Roger has kindly offered to lead me and any group from our New York Live Arts’ community in a tutorial of this important work which he describes as follows:
“Hannah Arendt’s book The Human Condition is perhaps the most powerful and influential book on politics, art, and labor written in the twentieth century. Arendt begins with two defining events of our time, the launch of Sputnik — the first satellite — in 1957, and the rise of automation and technology. She argues that these events inaugurate transformations in our traditional understandings of politics, private life, art, and freedom. Only in the activity of the artist can the human world endure and thrive; but Arendt fears that the modern world makes art ever more rare — and thus renders humanity increasingly precarious. The modern threat to the human condition is not a fate that cannot be avoided. And there are potential advantages to changing and leaving behind the human condition, marked as it is by death, genocide, and evil. But Arendt insists that before we abandon our human condition, we have the capacity and responsibility to think about whether or not we should do so; we must, in her words, think what we are doing.”
Who would like to join me? Please let me know as soon as possible so I can ask Roger to set aside time for what I think will be an exciting and surprising adventure.
As my friend and collaborator, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, might say: “Peace! Beautiful people”…
Bill T. Jones – June 6, 2015
Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities
at Bard College
Associate Professor of Politics, Philosophy, and Human Rights
Personal website: www.vernunft.org
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