Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Berlin - on tape

Sunday morning was the Berlin Marathon... Lily was stuck at work, so I had to roll solo. I showed up Saturday morning, immediately got hassled by the Berlin transit cops for not having a subway pass, thinking my ticket from Kassel covered the subway. Apparently "NO" is the right answer when they tell you that you will have to pay a 40Euro fine... I just flat refused and after an awkward pause, they let me go. I caught up with the bottomlessly generous Jens K for lunch at his favorite sidewalk cafe (handmade pasta the day before the race? Naturlich!), then went to see Madeline's performance (billed as a "Live drawing with tape") at Wilde Gallery in the evening.

Race morning broke clear and cool, the weather perfect. I borrowed Jens' little bicycle to ride over to the start at the Reichstag, an easy ten minutes on deserted back streets, over a little bridge. Ran the race feeling good, very steady through the first half. It's easy to be steady on a course that has all the elevation change of a pool table. I wanted to go through the halfway point in one hour twenty minutes... I went 1:20:14. DING! The second half I got on my horse and ran home, hitting my goal of running under two hours and 40 minutes, clocking in at 2:39:46 for 200th place overall (file under: nice round numbers). To give you an idea of how perfect the conditions were, and how fast the course is, this dude became the first man under 2:04 in history.

After the race, I was lucky enough to have been booked on a late evening train back to Kassel, so I got a few more hours to kick it around the capitol with Jens, Madeline, Roland, Christian and Uljana... this included champagne, sunshine, more fresh pasta, coffee, cake, and that impeccably lazy Sunday feeling magnified by autumn. Perfect.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Today we took a vacation. It lasted from 10:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. In this way it resembled a workday.

It was everything a German vacation should be:



Olde Worlde...

we had cake...

and coffee...

and looked at flowers...

I spied lily in the first fall tree...

and places where stairs used to be...

even went to Göttingen's grooviest church.

Some Animals

Spent the week preparing my poetry manuscript for submission to publishers. I have to go through this every six months or so - take a hard look at what's there, incorporate new poems, dump other poems that no longer hold water, line-edit individual poems that have "fixable" problems, basically turn the whole thing over and see what's there before sending it out again. This process is both nerve-wracking and rewarding.

This week was complicated by two things:
First, the new title I had settled on this spring ("Kino") was taken by another book of poems (by a long-dead Bulgarian poet) that came out this summer. Damn Google! Nikola Vaptsarov haunts me from the grave. So I had to change course, and that turned out well... I had resisted using a poem as "title poem" in the book, but decided "Some animals" has a nice quality...

Second was a request to send a "brief description" of the manuscript with a query. Yikes. What is this about? What is it about now (as opposed to a year ago, three years ago)? How do I articulate that? One wants to say "See: poems." So I beat my head against my desk for a couple days, sent a draft of what I had written to my trustiest critic, who PANNED it (justifiably), telling me "you're trying to sound like someone else, as if that is what is expected of you, that in order to be considered you have to do an impersonation." Tough love. She was right. So I started over and came up with this:

In Some Animals, distinctions are drawn between song birds and birds we eat. Insects are berated at the gas station. Letters are written foretelling our death. An old woman refuses to die. Horses are born and eat fire. An entire city ignores a woman who immolates herself. The ability to orgasm is found in the bushes. People hide from each other, cover themselves, go naked. An airport seduces a lonely traveler. Gardens go to seed. A woman on a ladder makes bird sounds. A man uses a pulley to fly up to her. Champagne is mistaken for sunshine. A pinpricked toe initiates a deathwatch.

The poems are populated by solitary characters and characters making an effort to connect to each other. The poems are intimate in address, but that intimacy is often in conflict with a loneliness the characters guard fiercely. They may need it later, or it may feel better. There is equal unease at the possibility of all this becoming permanent and the possibility of all this changing. Though the surfaces of the poems are unadorned, the way words fray into other words allows the poems to be unpacked, decoded slowly into their elements. There is a respiration between terse lyricism and poems that shatter and reassemble incongruous images in accumulating simple statements.

This tug between loneliness and intimacy is in some ways a reflection of my biography. I was born in Wyoming and grew up in Appalachia and Southern Indiana, places that were, for me, culturally isolating. I now live in a small city in Germany, where I communicate in a language that until recently I neither spoke nor understood. Instances spring from this isolation—a bird lands on a telephone wire in the back yard and all the traffic noise subsides, time feels impossibly slow until the bird flies away. I go about my day unable to shake what emerged and then was reabsorbed into the environment. A kind of dizziness ensues, and I am forced to concentrate on another object, a fixed point, to keep from tipping over. This continues the cycle.

So that's what it's about, or what happens, or some of the things that happen, but not everything. Better than what I had... still, I think the best description is "see: poems."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Lies and the Truth

Just this week, Johannes has started putting together our new piece, Selbstausloeser. We spent the previous 6 weeks developing movement and improvising on the themes: lying/self-deception, sexuality and gender, truth and secrets. We developed movement about trying to hide something, about something that keeps slipping away, duets where we are attracted and then repelled from one another, or inhabiting only the negative spaces around the other person, never making contact. We each developed our own solo material, mine starting from the idea that truth and lies are relative - "all in your head" - a solo full of turns and spins and circles. Theatrical tasks like: choreograph a dream sequence to 10 seconds of music of your choice. And, for a month, we spent half an hour each day going around the room in a sort of grown-up show-and-tell, bringing in an object each day that represented a secret, a wish, a lie from our personal life.

Most of what we make, or show, or write, or discuss, gets thrown out. Like Fred always says, "Art is inefficient." The small portion that remains is transformed. This is a difficult but exciting stage. Particularly difficult is the fine line one walks as a dancer, between obedience and experimentation. When we are developing material, it's necessary to let the imagination run free, and to let the body work on instinct. How else would we find unique, unusual movements and risky scenes? But very quickly this changes, and a big part of our job becomes precision - being in the right place at the right time, doing a movement just like the person next to you, being able to repeat the difficult movements over and over.

Meanwhile, I am reading Carolyn Brown's book about her time with John Cage and Merce Cunningham during the first 20 years of the company. She quotes Andre Malraux, the French Minister of Culture who, after WWII, was instrumental in developing a system of theaters throughout France: "Art - and not any social or moral system - is humanity's only permanent expression of the will to triumph over fate." And then I remember a speech I heard last month in Dusseldorf for the International Tanzmesse in August, in which a Dutch speaker said that art is one of the few things that distinguishes us from animals, because it allows us to see the world from another person's eyes.

Not that the day-to-day life of being a dancer feels fate-defying or grand. On the contrary, most of the time I feel more like a carpenter or a gardner - hammering the nails, watering the seeds, working slowly and methodically to build something. But what I have realized, is that the thing we are building is something that does not previously exist in the world. We have no script, we have no steps, we have no melodies. In this way we are unlike the actors and singers and violinists we share a theater with. We are making something from scratch. And what we make---is it the truth, or is it all lies? Both. Like Picasso said, "Art is a lie that tells the truth"

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hurricane Ike strikes Ft. Hood, TX

Niece and nephew windscreened, uninjured...

Emotional Scars

When we were little, my brother and sister were digging a hole. He had a little archeologist's pick and she was helping with her hands. At one point, a stick fell into the hole and she reached to grab it... just as my brother took a swing. Thirty-odd years later, she still has the scar where they stitched up the back of her hand. It's small, maybe less than an inch. But when you ask her about it...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Der Regie Tisch

Tomorrow night the curtain goes up on the Staatstheater's premiere of Salome, the famous Oscar Wilde/Richard Strauss opera about John the Baptist and the disfunctional family he is imprisoned by. At the center of that family stands Salome, the teenage daughter of a jealous mother and incestuous step-father, who uses her beauty and manipulative skill to get whatever she wants. How exactly does she get what she wants? By dancing. What exactly does she want? The head of John the Baptist.

Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils happens halfway through the opera, and is seen by many as the climax of the piece. Choreographing the dance was the first time I had ever worked with singers, and I was lucky to have Yamina, a beautiful singer who performs with her whole body. She made my job easy, and she is also very tall, so we had a good understanding of each other from the get-go.

The opera is the biggest production I have ever been involved with .... from that side of the director's table. Things look very different from that angle, I was quick to learn.

There are many people to manage. There are many languages to manage. You have to fight for what you want. You have to compromise. And most importantly, the collaboration with the Director herself. Gabriele Rech is incredibly talented, and honestly I never thought I would laugh so much with an opera director. She is also fiercely strong and thinks big. Perhaps most important for me to observe, she knows how to get what she needs from performers in order to set her ideas in motion, but always with grace and respect. She is the blonde below, seen from the wings through the aquariums that are part of the set.

Some rehearsals I let Yamina go home early, which meant I replaced her as Salome in the dance...

...but I was always glad to have her there, and to watch from the other side of the regie tisch.