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.
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